New Milwaukee 3B Aramis Ramirez A Big Difference-Maker In NL Central

The Milwaukee Brewers aren’t known for stepping out on big contracts—even the long-term lockup of leftfielder Ryan Braun was more about economics, as a small-market time committed to a player before he could hit the open market. So when Brewer general manager Doug Melvin takes a 33-year-old third baseman and commits $14.5 million a year over three years to him, he must like the guy an awful lot. If nothing else, the track record of third baseman Aramis Ramirez justifies the confidence.

Ramirez was as good as any third baseman in the National League a year ago when he played his eighth season in the friendly confines of Wrigley Field. His on-base percentage was .361, thanks to hitting over .300. His slugging percentage of .510 was triggered by 26 home runs. Furthermore, that production is precisely in line what he did annually from 2004-09 before a bad year in ’10 sent up question marks.

The deal Melvin committed to is the biggest for any position player in Milwaukee Brewers’ history.  The three years might be a stretch, given the organization’s limited resources, but it’s also likely that without a third year on the deal Ramirez might be playing somewhere else. Presuming that’s the case, it’s a worthwhile risk, as it makes the Brewers strong at a position where four of the five other National League Central teams have question marks. Here’s the rundown on the competition…

St. Louis Cardinals—David Freese—There’s no denying Freese’s talent, both hitting for power and average, as the baseball world saw in last year’s playoffs and World Series. But can he stay healthy for a full year? The odds are he will—the injuries he’s suffered early in his career haven’t been the recurring types—hamstrings, muscle pulls etc—so it’s probably just some bad luck that got washed away around the time his Game 6 home run in the World Series landed beyond the centerfield fence.

Chicago Cubs: Ian Stewart—he looked to be coming into his own after a 25-home run year in Colorado in 2009, but the on-base percentages have never been good, and the power’s been disappearing of late too.

Cincinnati Reds: Scott Rolen—When his shoulder holds up, he still hits for good power. At 36 years old and a recurring shoulder problem for six years, is it even reasonable to hope for good health?

Pittsburgh Pirates: Pedro Alvarez—Don’t be surprised if former Brewer Casey McGehee ends up in this spot. After a good year in ’10, McGehee played his out of Brewtown with a disastrous ’11, but between first and third base, he’ll get his chance to prove Milwaukee gave up to soon.

Houston Astros: Jimmy Paredes—At 23 years, he’s a nice young contact hitter, but a ton of work to do on plate discipline before he becomes a real offensive asset.

Milwaukee may have lost power at first base when Prince Fielder left, but the addition of Ramirez is a big-time move by Melvin to keep the Brewers in the NL Central hunt.

OTHER MILWAUKEE BREWERS POSITIONAL SPRING REPORTS
C: Jonathan Lucroy
1B: Mat Gamel
2B: Rickie Weeks
SS: Alex Gonzalez

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