Aramis Ramirez's free agency seemingly came at a great time. 2011 was his healthiest season since '08, and he bounced back offensively to win the National League's Silver Slugger award at third base. Also to his benefit: he's the only free agent third baseman likely to be viewed as a starter at the position.
The occasional trip to the disabled list had never affected Ramirez on the field until perhaps 2010. That year he dealt with a sore triceps, bruised thumb, and a quad injury. A .303 hitter over the previous six seasons, Ramirez slipped to .241 last year. That might have been injury-related, a fluke, or a little of both, but Ramirez preferred a $14.6MM salary for 2011 over free agency. He probably could have gotten a multiyear deal at a reduced salary.
New Cubs management would have been content with Ramirez on a one-year, $16MM deal, as they exercised their side of a mutual option in late October. Or, perhaps Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer were certain Ramirez would decline his end, and exercised theirs to avoid paying the $2MM buyout. At any rate, the longtime Cub will be with a new team in 2012.
Ramirez is a middle-of-the-order bat in a market bereft of third basemen, yet at least three teams with openings have little interest. The Marlins and Rockies are unlikely to participate in the bidding, with the Rockies reportedly balking at the number of years Ramirez seeks. The Marlins would seemingly prefer to commit six years to Jose Reyes and move Hanley Ramirez to third base for three years than pursue Ramirez. Angels GM Jerry Dipoto said outright he's not interested in Ramirez.
Ramirez is 33 years old, and his agent Paul Kinzer seeks four guaranteed years or three with an option. Perhaps that early demand has scared off the Marlins, Rockies, and Angels, but Kinzer says he has at least two teams with strong interest.
Ramirez doesn't seem a great fit for the Orioles, who have options at the infield corners and aren't close to contending. Several other teams with clearer third base openings are not close to contending either. The Red Sox or Yankees probably aren't ready to use Kevin Youkilis and Alex Rodriguez full-time at DH, so they're unlikely. The Phillies still have Placido Polanco under contract for one more year and just added Ty Wigginton. The Diamondbacks only make sense if they consider Ramirez an upgrade over the much cheaper Ryan Roberts. The Tigers, Twins, and Brewers could work for Ramirez, if they have the money. I can picture three years and as much as $42MM for Ramirez, but at this point it's unclear which team would be eager to make that commitment.