Ramirez, Rumors and a Fond Farewell

Updated – 6:45pm C.T. – Bonds, Garciaparra and Thomas Leads List of Free-Agent Filings and Jacque Jones Named to the All-Star Team

Before the usual check around the rumor mill, the baseball world lost one of the good guys on Friday, former Major League pitcher Joe Niekro passed away at the age of 61. Niekro suffered a brain aneurysm on Thursday. Joe was the brother of Phil and father of Lance, who plays for the San Francisco Giants. Niekro was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 3rd round of the 1966 draft and he pitched for the Cubs, Padres, Tigers, Braves, Astros and Twins and finished his career with a 221-204 record with a 3.59 ERA.

Will Aramis Ramirez join Barry Bonds on the free-agent market? For those of you that missed it, several reports indicated on Friday afternoon (and continued on Saturday) that Barry Bonds will declare himself a free agent. The Giants named Bruce Bochy their new manager and less that 12 hours later apparently Bonds has decided to “fly the coup”. Bonds hitting the free-agent market could have an effect on the Cubs, not from a signing standpoint but from a financial one for another team.

Now that the Series is over and the free-agent filing period has begun, the attention will turn to Aramis Ramirez. Jim Hendry has 15 days to restructure his contract or lose his exclusive negotiating rights. Most still think that Ramirez will opt out of his contract and the biggest suitors seem to be out West.

Here is the latest from the mill….

Aramis Ramirez….

A report out of Los Angeles from The Press-Enterprise suggested that Aramis Ramirez is the Angels second option this off-season. With A-Rod apparently being off the market the Angels have turned their attention to Ramirez and if he stays in Chicago that “would leave the Angels without two of their biggest off-season targets”. Paul Kinzer and the Cubs are working on a contract extension that would include a 2009 option year.

“We’ve got a good idea of what teams need and who would be interested,” Kinzer said. “They (the Angels) are definitely one of the teams we’d talk to.”

According to the report Kinzer stated that Ramirez would be looking for a contract with a new team worth a lot of money and a team, like the Angels, would be looking at “six years for a lot of money.”

“With his age, we’re looking for at least six years,” he said. “We’ll let the market dictate (price). This is going to be a very robust market.”

Bruce Miles finally pointed the finger as to who allowed the opt out clause in the contract that Ramirez signed in 2005….Andy MacPhail. Kinzer said that the Cubs are his first choice but many baseball minds figure he will test the free-agent market. Miles’ report goes on to say that the Cubs are Ramirez are not close on a new deal.

Daisuke Matsuzaka….

All reports are indicating that the Cubs will bid on Matsuzaka but early indications are that the talented right-hander is looking to sign with the Yankees. Peter Gammons brought up a scenario that would have the Blue Jays outbid the Yankees and Red Sox for the rights to negotiate with him and then state they could not come to an agreement on a contract and in turn would receive their money back from the Seibu Lions. Gammons said that the bid could reach the $50 million dollar mark and will be monitored by the MLB front office.

Hiroki Huroda….

The Cubs search in Japan for a starter is apparently not reserved to Matsuzaka. According to a report by Paul Sullivan the Cubs will apparently attempt to sign a free-agent pitcher from Japan….Hiroki Kuroda of Hiroshima. Kuroda was 13-6 in 26 games last season and has a 91-81-career record with a 3.70 ERA and could fill the 3rd or 4th spot in the rotation.

Andy Pettitte….

While Pettitte has not stated whether or not he will play next season, like Bonds, Pettitte deciding to play or not will have an effect on the free-agent market. Pettitte has won with the Yankees and several reports are stating that he could make a return appearance in pinstripes. Barry Zito will be asking for at least a 5-year deal worth a minimum of $70 million (some are speculating into the $80 million range….don’t forget the Scott Boras factor) and Pettitte could be a cheaper and proven option for the Yankees.

Barry Zito and Jason Schmidt….

The two free-agent pitchers were a topic of conversation on Baseball This Morning and none of the crew thinks that either of the two will end up in Chicago. They think that Schmidt will end up back in Atlanta and Zito could end up in San Diego, either Los Angeles team, the Yankees or Boston. They reiterated that Zito is a “California Guy.” Wherever Zito ends up, a pitcher that has never been on the DL with his record and talent will bring a lot of years for a lot of money.

Alfonso Soriano….

According to a report in the New York Post, the Mets will not go after Barry Zito or Alfonso Soriano this off-season. The Mets are apparently interested in Julio Lugo and according to the Post will not pursue Soriano who is being rumored as being the Cubs number one target this off-season.

Trey Hillman….

Hillman’s name was linked to the Cubs as a possible replacement for Dusty Baker or a bench coach for Lou Piniella. With both jobs being filled it is looking like Hillman could be heading to the Rangers, according to the Star-Telegram. Hillman’s team, the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, won the Japanese World Series on Thursday.

Gary Sheffield….

Sheffield is threatening teams again. If Sheffield is traded to a team that he does not approve of, he is promising….again….to be very unhappy and to make sure everyone around him knows it. Hey Shef….Grow up why don’t ya!!!

Kerry Wood….Wade Miller….Juan Pierre

The Cubs have stated they are looking to resign Miller and restructure Wood’s contract and pay the $3 million dollar buyout. While most are concerned, for obvious reasons, with the contract status of Aramis Ramirez, little is being said about Juan Pierre. All signs are pointing toward him to signing elsewhere.

Gary Gaetti….

Former Cub and fan favorite from the 1998 season, Gary Gaetti, has entered into the rumor mill as possibly becoming the hitting coach for Lou Piniella.

A Did You Know?

The last time both teams hit under .200 for the entire World Series was the 1906 series between the Cubs and White Sox.

The main point to remember over the next couple of months is, just because a team has the money to spend on a name that does not make that name “a fit” for the team. While the comparison will be made all off-season to the Tigers, what all of the Faithful must remember is it took them two years to get to the World Series after they hit rock bottom and they did overspend to change the landscape of their team. While the Cubs have the money, the Faithful must remember that this is a process that will take time.

Well….that’s the latest from the Mill and I’m sticking to it!!!

Update – Barry Bonds, Nomar Garciaparra and Frank Thomas top the list of free-agent filings on Saturday. 59 other players filed as well.

ESPN Report

Jacque Jones is apparently feeling a lot better. Jones was named on Saturday to the roster for the Japan All-Star Series 2006 that will start next week.

Will update if any further news becomes available.

Quote of the Day

"When you play, play hard; when you work, don’t play at all." – Theodore Roosevelt