Have you heard anything to suggest the Cubs will retain Ramirez for next year? I know he has a mutual option and would figure that he would want to stay in Chicago, considering he was willing to veto trades just to stay a Cub. However, everyone seems resigned to the fact that the Cubs will not pick up their end of the deal. Ramirez has been a centerpiece of the Cubs' lineup for years and still has the ability to be a difference-maker, as he is showing this year. There won't be a better third baseman on the free-agent market, and it's not likely they have someone waiting in the Minors to take over next year. I think $16 million is not a bad price to pay for Ramirez's production.
-- Tyler N., Mitchell, S.D.
It's very possible Ramirez could return, and for the reasons you mentioned. The list of potential free-agent third basemen includes Wilson Betemit, Casey Blake, Eric Chavez, Mark DeRosa, Greg Dobbs, Edwin Encarnacion, Wes Helms, Melvin Mora, Miguel Tejada and Omar Vizquel.
Ramirez -- who has the best numbers in that group with 23 homers, 76 RBIs and a .297 average -- could decide to test the free-agent market. But he's made it clear how much he likes Chicago and the Cubs. The team has a $16 million club option for 2012, or a $2 million buyout.
There isn't anyone in the Minor Leagues ready to step in next year. DJ LeMahieu did impress the Cubs in his brief callup, but he's hitting .256 with two homers, five doubles and 13 RBIs at Triple-A Iowa (he hit .358 at Double-A Tennessee before his promotion).
Do you see the Cubs giving Pena a two-year deal after this season? I think it's dumb to waste a chunk of money on Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder. They might become another big contract and might not produce. The Cubs should spend the free money on pitching.
-- Alex P., St. Louis Park, Minn.
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I don't know the length of a new deal, but I can see Pena returning for the same reason Ramirez could be back. Yes, Bryan LaHair is hitting for more power at Triple-A Iowa (he leads all of Minor League Baseball with 34 home runs) but defensively, Pena has the edge and has been a positive factor in the clubhouse. LaHair, 28, has definitely elevated his game this year and deserves a chance to prove he's for real. He'll get that opportunity in September, when he's called up when rosters expand.
I know fans want the Cubs to get into the bidding for Fielder and Pujols, who will both be free agents, but that's not likely to happen. You're right -- the focus for the Cubs for 2012 will be to improve their pitching.
Mike Quade has been getting tossed a lot lately. I was wondering if he's approaching a team record for manager ejections in a season?
-- Matthew M., Macomb, Ill.
Quade was ejected for the fifth time on Aug. 3. The Cubs' single-season record is seven, shared by Johnny Evers (1913) and Frankie Frisch (1950). Jim Lefebvre was the most recent Cubs manager to challenge the mark when he was tossed six times in 1993. Thanks to baseball historian Ed Hartig for doing the research.
I was at the Cubs game Aug. 9 in Pittsburgh. In the first inning, Darwin Barney was thrown out in a rundown between third and home. What was the official scoring on that play?
-- Debi C., Ashland, Ohio
You wrote Aug. 9, but the Cubs played the Nationals at Wrigley Field that day. Looking at the most recent Cubs series in Pittsburgh, the only time Barney was out in a rundown in the first was on Aug. 2.
In the first, Starlin Castro singled to lead off, stole second and reached third on Barney's single. Ramirez hit an RBI single, and Pena flied out, with Barney reaching third on that play. Marlon Byrd then reached on a fielder's choice, and Barney was caught in a 1-2-5-1-2-3 rundown (that's pitcher-catcher-third baseman-pitcher-catcher-first baseman). Geovany Soto then grounded out to end the inning.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter@CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.