- Jon Greenberg, Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- If there is one player who can't bluff his way through the trade deadline, it's Aramis Ramirez.
The Cubs third baseman is plugged in like Steve Jobs.
At his locker at ancient Wrigley Field, he's often talking on the phone, while playing around on his Apple laptop before games. I doubt he's on Twitter, LinkedIn or Google+, but I've definitely seen him on Facebook.
Here's a question: Does he "like" the trade deadline? He'll say no, but I'm not so sure. I think if you "poke" him, he might change his mind.
"It's just hard, because I'm playing for the Chicago Cubs right now and I've been traded five times already to five different teams," he said before Monday's game. "People are calling me, 'You're going to Atlanta, you're going to New York, you're going to wherever.' I say, 'Nobody's me telling me anything.' That's the end of it. I'm not going anywhere right now."
"Right now" is the operative phrase. While Ramirez has repeated often that he won't waive his 10-5 no-trade rights, he's also given himself some leeway to change his mind.
I talked to him at his locker for four minutes Monday, and he offered at least five "right now" or "for now" qualifiers. Nothing is certain right now, and while he said nothing has changed about his stance on staying in Chicago, that could change after two conversations.
His agent Paul Kinzer was on his way to Chicago on Monday to talk to his favorite client, and likely the Cubs, to hash out Ramirez's future. Like any good agent, Kinzer wants Ramirez to be in a position to make optimal money in a winning situation.
That's probably not going to be in Chicago. It shouldn't be in Chicago. Unless, of course, we're talking about the South Side.
Since his much-ballyhooed arrival in 2003, Aramis Ramirez has been the most important Cub, and certainly the most productive. But it's time for him to go. Everything ends sometime, and that time is now.
Ramirez has a club option for 2012 that will pay him $16 million, or a $2 million buyout if the Cubs keep him this season and decline his option. If he's traded, the option automatically vests. Kinzer doesn't want the option, not with the way Ramirez is hitting. A team that wants him would have to agree to either waive the option or make it a player option. That makes any deal more difficult, unless a team wants him only for a rental. That's possible, but it could limit the caliber of prospects the Cubs would get in return.
"I don't see him going anywhere," Kinzer said.
But it's not that cut and dried.
Ramirez's value is at its highest peak in years. He went into Monday's game hitting .300 with 16 homers and 56 RBIs for a fifth-place team. He added a solo homer off Roy Halladay in the first inning and a sacrifice fly RBI in the third. It was his 12th home run in his past 23 games as he continues a torrid stretch offensively. He had a slow start, power-wise, which certainly didn't help as the Cubs dug themselves into a Grand Canyon.
And he's still a Lead Glover at third, but the 33-year-old is far and away the best third baseman who could be on the market for 2012.
The Cubs need to rebuild, not reload, painful as it might be for ticket sales. The group assembled for the past three playoff appearances peaked in 2008, and unless Todd Ricketts is building a flux capacitor, there's no return to that fleeting glory. For whatever reason, this team just can't get back on track.
The Cubs looked good Monday night against Halladay, and that win made them 39-58. The team has gotten progressively worse in each of the past three seasons. Everyone knows it's time to shuffle the deck.
"We shouldn't be 20 under; we're better than that," Ramirez said. "I don't know if we're a 95- or 100-win type ballclub, but we're not as bad as we're playing."
Sorry, the record is the record. The Cubs are this bad. And we're all sick of it. He should be, too.
Ramirez could actually bring back solid prospects this summer, not the C-list talent the Cubs have gotten back in recent money-saving deals. That's why the Cubs should do everything they can to get a deal done. I'm not a fan of dumping players just for the sake of change or because fans are upset. But that wouldn't be the case, necessarily.
I'm not giving Cubs general manager Jim Hendry any new ideas here. He has tough decisions to make once the trade market gets sorted out. Marlon Byrd and Carlos Pena are also very attractive options for teams looking to make a run. Pittsburgh could use all three of them. Now, that would be a reversal of fortune.
Ramirez doesn't want to waive his rights to refuse a trade, a privilege he earned by being the best Cubs third baseman since Ron Santo. He's also stated the main reason he doesn't want to leave is that he has no interest in uprooting his family -- even though they live here only during the summer.
"My family's here," he said Monday. "I got two little boys. It's hard to move in the middle of the season. I've done that before, and that's not fun. That's the end of that. I've heard a lot of it, but right now I'm not going anywhere."
But his two boys, ages 3 and 7, and his wife will go back to the Dominican Republic next month, so you wonder whether the Family Man could relent in the next two weeks. After all, he gets a $1 million kicker if he's traded. That can pay for a pretty nice apartment, even in Manhattan.
Kinzer said Ramirez has wavered on his desire to stay in Chicago a few times in conversation but has always doubled back, saying, "I know I like it here."
Kinzer, who is close with Ramirez, said he really doesn't know how Ramirez really feels right now.
"I'm going to talk to him to get a better feel," Kinzer said in a phone conversation. "If it looks like there's no chance [he stays with the Cubs in 2012], then we'll sit down and talk about it."
Kinzer has a strong relationship with Hendry. He has four clients on the current roster: Ramirez, Geovany Soto, John Grabow and most importantly Starlin Castro. But he doesn't know Tom Ricketts from Tom Selleck, and so there's no sense of what kind of team the Cubs will field in 2012 or whether Hendry will be making the decisions after the season.
"It's hard to see what the future holds for him in Chicago," Kinzer said. "We'll sit down and talk. He's always wanted to finish his career in Chicago, but sometimes, it's not the player's choice."
Ramirez said he's interested to see how the Cubs fix things here. He's been through one rebuilding already.
"Well, we'll see what happens," he said of coming back in 2012. "Of course I want to be in Chicago, but at the same time, I want to win, so I have to wait and see what's going on here."
Let me save you some time, Aramis: Go. Go to the Angels or the Yankees or whoever courts you. Go now, help yourself get a fat new deal, help another team win a pennant and help the Cubs build for the future.
It's time to log off.
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.
The time is right for the Cubs and Aramis Ramirez to part ways.