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Aramis Contract Redux
by Derek Smart
I've been thinking about the deal that the Cubs and Aramis Ramirez agreed to yesterday, and with the cogent comments made in Alex's post on the matter, the passage of time, and a little more information, I think it's prudent for me to - if not completely re-evaluate - at least re-elucidate my stance.
Point One: The Cubs are getting a deal during the first two years.
No doubt about this in my mind. Paying in the general vicinity of $10-11M for the production Ramirez is likely to bring is a steal in today's market - even with a relative glut of third basemen in the league. The fact that he's only 27 has a lot to do with it, as his superlative 2004 may just be a stepping stone to even greater things. It's not unreasonable to think that Aramis could be in the top 5 on the next two MVP ballots.
Point Two: If Ramirez busts out during the next two years, he deserves a pay raise.
Again, I have no quibbles with this. If Aramis is able to deliver two seasons that are even better than last year, he absolutely deserves to get more cash, and I believe the Cubs will give it to him as gladly as large corporations are able. Perennial MVP candidates who anchor an offense are worth more than the money Ramirez is guaranteed in 2007-8, so paying for that seems totally fair to me.
Point Three: While Ramirez can opt out after 2006 if his value goes up, the Cubs cannot do the same if his value declines.
This is my main problem with this deal. The counter-argument says that if they had simply agreed to the four-year contract with no out clause that the team would be incurring the same risk. This is absolutely true, but the difference is that when there's no out clause, Ramirez assumes some risk - that he might be underpaid by the end of the contract - in exchange for the risk the Cubs take that he might be overpaid at the end. What's happened instead is that all risk appears to have been assumed by the club, and while I think the likelihood of Ramirez tanking or walking is low, it still bothers me that the ledger is uneven on this point.
Point Four: We are not privy to Cubs contract negotiations, and there may have been something during the process that led to this deal as a compromise.
And now we reach the sticking point. Occasionally birdies decide to sing in our ears, and in this case it appears that the opt out may have been negotiated as an alternative to guaranteeing five years on the deal. I think it's safe to assume that an extra year would push the contract into the vicinity of, say, $55M. That's a lot of money to guarantee, and a lot of years to commit to. Four doesn't seem too bad, but five starts to look troublesome.
So, if this is indeed what went down around the table, what the Cubs were faced with was a choice between being on the hook for $52-55M no matter what, or potentially saving $10-13M in a worst case scenario where Aramis dropped off the planet in exchange for paying more if he erupted on the league. Faced with that dilemma, the Cubs appear to have taken the more risk averse route.
Alex still likes the idea that Rich Lederer posted in the comments of his earlier writings on the subject - namely, to include a buyout that Aramis would have to pay in order to be allowed to rip up the contract after 2006 - and I can't say I frown on the idea (although, I have no idea if the CBA allows such a thing). But the more I think about it, the more sense the route taken by the Cubs makes to me.
It's not a perfect deal, but here are the alternatives:
Sign a free agent next year - An option made all the less palatable by the fact that the market's choice cuts will be men like Bill Mueller and Joe Randa. I mentioned something in an earlier post about getting hamburger if steak isn't available, but this would be more like getting a soup bone. It's enough food to keep you alive, but, boy, those hunger pangs hurt.
Make an offseason trade - Two problems here: First, it's known by every GM in the game that you're trying to replace a boatload of production - witness the attempts this offseason to garner a left field upgrade. When you're that far over the barrel the other teams you might be dealing with will work you over but good. Add in the second issue - that anyone remotely comparable to Ramirez isn't likely to be available in the first place - and I think you've got a legitimate rationale for avoiding this particular circle of hell.
Negotiate a more favorable deal with Ramirez after the season - I simply don't see this happening if talks had broken down. There would still be time to salvage something, but in order for your gambit to work Aramis has to have a bad year, because if he has a great season, my guess is that the player's camp comes back in November asking for more rather than less - after all, if you're going to spurn his advances in April when you're the only one he's talking to, you'd better come up with something he can't refuse when five or ten more teams enter the picture. This doesn't sound like fun.
So, upon reflection, I won't come right out and say I like the deal - the inequity in assumed risk still bothers me - but I think the compromise reached is appropriate and makes logical sense when all the factors are considered. Aramis will be a Cub until at least 2006, and if my feel for this is right, he'll be in blue pinstripes well beyond that, and that's great by me. Even if it is at a higher price.