The Cubs' most productive hitter has put the ball directly in new GM Theo Epstein's court. Three weeks after saying he'd probably played his last game in Chicago, Aramis Ramirez left open the possibility of a return in an interview with the Dominican newspaper El Caribe yesterday (link in Spanish). Nevertheless, the 33-year-old third baseman gave an ultiumatum that left no doubt of his willingness to test the open market.
"I'll head to free agency if they don't give me a contract of several years," Ramirez said. "I'm going to wait and see what the team does. Otherwise, I'm going to leave Chicago."
Despite a slow start in 2010, Ramirez finished the season leading the Cubs in OPS, on-base percentage, and most offensive counting statistics, and he was behind only Carlos Pena in HR and Starlin Castro in hits. Not known as a defensive force, Ramirez's UZR of -10.5 was toward the bottom of the National League, but he dominated nearly every offensive category among senior circuit third basemen and looks even better among those in the 2012 free agent class. Ramirez has previously expressed a desire to finish his career with the Cubs, and keeping him on-board looks like the first test facing Epstein's nascent front office.