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Columnist
Piniella, Cubs could seek an upgrade at third base
By Barry Rozner | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 10/7/2007 11:54 PM

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Congrats John McDonough.

Nice going Jim Hendry.

Heck of a job Lou Piniella.

Now what?

The Cubs won a division, which gave the fans something to enjoy but not much for which to be proud.

You and 24 of your closest friends could have won the Central Division.

But the good news is it won't be any tougher next year, and the Cubs ought to repeat.

What they don't want is to repeat their playoff performance, and considering the plethora of free-swinging, undisciplined hitters on whom their offense relies, what can they do to change?

Many of their contracts are unmovable, and Alfonso Soriano's deal is on that list, but the one they might be able to unload is the four years and $62 million remaining on the contract of Aramis Ramirez.

The third baseman is overrated defensively, moves only when it seems to suit him, has taken to running out fewer and fewer groundballs and deep flies, and, as you witnessed last week, is a selfish situational hitter.

But the worst sin of all was his departure from the club right after Soriano was injured in early August.

The Cubs never needed Ramirez more, but he flew back to Chicago to have an injury examined before returning to the team a few days later.

The Cubs dropped four of six while he was out and scored 9 runs in those 4 defeats.

That's not something Piniella is likely to forget, nor is he unaware that Ramirez's demeanor is based mostly on his personal performance, not the team's.

He's got a bit of Sammy Sosa in him, and the only surprise Saturday night was that Ramirez didn't take a victory lap as Sosa did following the Braves' three-game sweep of the Cubs in 1998, which remains one of the most bizarre moments in Wrigley Field history.

If you can move Ramirez and sign Alex Rodriguez, how much better would you be?

He's a better guy, better fielder and better hitter.

True, his postseason hitting has been atrocious the last three years, but if you get him out of New York, maybe he will go back to being A-Rod again.

Prior to 2005, and including his first two playoff series with the Yanks, Rodriguez was a .330 postseason hitter with 6 homers, 8 doubles and 16 RBI in 26 games.

Plus, he loves playing for Lou Piniella, who said after the Cubs were swept: "We've had some spells this summer where we've had a week or 10 days where it was hard scoring runs, and then we've had the other kind.

"They just caught us cold. But, again, let's give (Arizona's) pitching credit, too. Our team tried. We just didn't get it done, and that's really the end of the story.''

Piniella also said, "Last time we were at home, we swung the bats as well as we did all year.''

But that was against Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, typical Central Division slop, while the D'backs offered a legitimate challenge the Cubs couldn't handle.

Piniella knows good baseball and he knows bad, and he knows what wins and what doesn't, and he made the most out of what he had this year. But he also had to be sickened by the Cubs' ludicrous approach to hitting in the playoffs.

Piniella has won World Series, and he knows good pitching beats hitting -- especially undisciplined hitting -- in the playoffs. But there was nothing he could do about it by the time the Cubs reached October, when his fate and roster were sealed.

He changed what he could this year, making over the roster several times once he got a feel for what was available to him.

Now, he'll have the winter to work with Hendry and make more changes, and maybe they can even move the all-star third baseman and collect a Hall of Famer in the process.

With Ramirez owed roughly $15 million a year for the next four, dumping him and adding A-Rod doesn't even ruin your budget. It's only another $15 million a pop for a team that has the cash.

Piniella did a lot in a short period of time during the season, but he's going to need some help to take the Cubs to the next level.

The best thing about him is that he's a realist, and he doesn't pretend to have what he doesn't, or a play a way he can't.

"I'm proud of our guys. I really am,'' Piniella said Saturday night, noting how hard the Cubs fought to turn it around after an awful start. "I told them that. I told them to have a nice, safe winter and we'll reconvene next spring and take this thing further, and that's really the bottom line.''

The Cubs spent a lot of money to win a division, and though it was fun for the paying customer, as they approach the 100th anniversary of the last World Series title, another Central Division winner is not going to satisfy the fans.

That's their bottom line.

brozner@dailyherald.com