02/19/11 4:47 PM EST
Stronger and healthy, Aramis raring to go
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
"I never had that kind of first half before," said Ramirez, who batted .207 before the All-Star break. "I was expecting a lot more from myself. I got healthy and I feel strong."
This is the final year of the third baseman's contract with the Cubs, and he's not sure if this will be his last. Ramirez, 32, made it clear he doesn't want to play anywhere else.
"There's no other place I want to be," he said. "We'll see what happens. I'm still under contract for this year."
Is this year different, though, because it's the last year of Ramirez's deal?
"Not really," he said. "I just want to stay healthy and go out there and try to win ballgames. There is some stuff you can't control. The only thing I can control is going out there and playing the game."
Cubs manager Mike Quade made a point of checking on the third baseman Saturday. Ramirez was one of the last to arrive at Fitch Park.
"I look a guy in the eye and say, 'How do you feel?' Quade said. "And he said, 'I feel great, no physical problems.' That's a pretty good first day for me for a guy we're going to count so heavily on. I felt good about it, and I think he does."
Ever since Albert Pujols rejected the Cardinals' latest contract offer, there has been speculation that the Cubs will bid on the soon-to-be free agent.
"How many Major Leaguers are there? Like 300?" Ramirez said. "If you ask all of them, everybody wants Pujols on their team. At the same time, we have Carlos Pena here. You've got to respect your teammate. That's tough when you already have a first baseman here.
"But to answer your question, anybody would like Pujols."
Ricketts outlines flexibility, renovation plans
MESA, Ariz. -- Chairman Tom Ricketts said Saturday that the Cubs will have some financial flexibility and could add a player during the season, but right now, Albert Pujols is not on Ricketts' radar.
Since Pujols and the Cardinals were unable to come to an agreement before his deadline on Wednesday, the Cubs have been rumored to be a possible bidder if the first baseman becomes a free agent.
"I don't have any insights or thoughts on any of that situation," Ricketts said. "All I know is what I read in the paper. I guess it just has to sit until the end of the season."
Ricketts said Major League Baseball owners are often more concerned about the length of some of the deals than the money involved.
"If you're going to sign someone for seven, eight years, you better make sure that's the guy you want," he said.
Ricketts said any additions made in-season would be up to general manager Jim Hendry, whom the owners have had more involved talks with about budget decisions.
"All of that stuff is in Jim's court," Ricketts said. "There will be a little more financial flexibility at the end of the season than there has been in years past."
The 2011 season is the final year of Kosuke Fukudome's contract ($13.5 million) and the last for Aramis Ramirez ($14.6 million), Carlos Silva and John Grabow.
Ricketts and the Cubs are still working with city and state officials on putting together a plan to finance renovations at Wrigley Field.
"We're going to come up with a great solution, and by the time we announce what we think is the best answer, I think everyone will be very supportive," Ricketts said.
The team is also finalizing details on purchasing land in the Dominican Republic for a new academy. Ricketts' brother, Todd, will be quarterbacking a new complex in Mesa, which is scheduled to be ready for Spring Training in 2014.
The Cubs had the highest payroll in the National League last year, but Hendry creatively added players this offseason without adding much to the budget. Kerry Wood gave the team a hometown discount by signing a one-year, $1.5 million deal. Carlos Pena's $10 million contract is structured so it will pay him $5 million in January 2012. Hendry dipped into the farm system to acquire Matt Garza from the Rays.
"I think every year you have to win," Ricketts said. "Whether our payroll was lower or higher, you'd get the same message out of us. [The players] have a lot of pride and want to win this year. In the end, for these guys, how much they get paid, it's a great thing for them, but they're here to win and they know it."
Ricketts, whose family purchased the Cubs in October 2009, met with the players at Fitch Park after an early workout, which was moved up to avoid rain forecast for the area. His message?
"I think the message for the team this year and the theme for the team this year is the fact that through the last six weeks of 2010, we were one of the best teams in baseball," Ricketts said of the 24-13 finish under manager Mike Quade. "We have that team back and that manager back, and we've added to it. I think we build on that momentum and use the next 40 days to get ready for the season, and come into the season with a sense of purpose and a sense of pride, get off to a quick start and have a great year."
Soto on repaired right shoulder: It's money
MESA, Ariz. -- If the season opened now, Cubs catcher Geovany Soto would be ready.
After undergoing arthroscopic right shoulder surgery on Sept. 20, Soto is able to do all the drills in spring camp. The only change is that he has to do some additional shoulder strengthening exercises.
"I've been joking with a lot of people that I haven't felt this way in a couple years," Soto said. "[My shoulder] feels awesome. Obviously, I have to work on it and rehab it, but right now it's money.
"I'm already game-ready. If we had to play today, I'd be ready to play."
It's been nearly five months since the procedure, which did not require any ligament repair.
"It wasn't a big one," Soto said.
A healthy Soto is good for the Cubs. He is coming off a .280 campaign in which he hit 17 homers and drove in 53 runs, a significant improvement from the 2009 season in which he hit .218.
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.