Crew hopes Aramis softens loss of Prince

Crew hopes Aramis softens loss of Prince

PHOENIX -- The man pays the bills at Miller Park, making him admittedly biased. But Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio thinks everybody is missing the real story about Prince Fielder defecting to Detroit.

"We lost a Silver Slugger at first base," Attanasio said, "but we picked one up at third base. Nobody seems to be making that parallel."

The new third baseman is Aramis Ramirez, the former Cub and Pirate whose tour of the National League Central has brought him to Milwaukee. He will assume Fielder's spot in the lineup and, the Brewers hope, some of his production.

Just don't tell him he's supposed to fill Fielder's shoes.

"You can't replace Prince Fielder," Ramirez said. "You're talking about 40 homers, 120 RBIs, and it's tough to replace that. I'm going to do my best, not to replace Fielder but to have a good season and do what I do, what I've done for my whole life. I produce."

Ramirez has produced during a big league career that began with the Pirates in 1998. He has topped 100 RBIs in six different seasons and has hit at least 25 home runs nine times. Last year with the Cubs, Ramirez returned from a disappointing 2010 season to bat .306 with 26 home runs and 93 RBIs.

He's posted his numbers playing home games in Pittsburgh and Chicago, and figures that climate-controlled Miller Park should help him shed a reputation as a slow starter. That would be good news for the Brewers and three-hole hitter Ryan Braun, who for years has benefited from Fielder's presence in the on-deck circle.

Now it will be Ramirez, who happened to report to Brewers camp the same day Braun proclaimed his innocence in the wake of doping accusations.

Ramirez looked around a clubhouse packed with reporters and joked that he may have picked the wrong day to show up. Considering the ramifications of a full season for Braun, it may have actually been the opposite.

"We're talking about the National League MVP, a complete player," Ramirez said. "I look at it as an honor just to hit behind a guy like Braun. I've got to be ready for it. He's one of the best players in the game, and I know sometimes they're going to try to pitch around him. Nobody wants to get beat by him."

Game 6 of the NL Championship Series, Fielder's final game in a Brewers uniform, was barely in the scorebook when Milwaukee began its search for his replacement. Ramirez quickly emerged as a top target.

Attanasio gathered for dinner with general manager Doug Melvin and manager Ron Roenicke to discuss the team's needs. They knew they had no chance to retain Fielder. Shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt and reliever Francisco Rodriguez were also free agents expected to test the market. Third base was a question mark given Casey McGehee's disappointing season and the fact his cost was about to balloon in arbitration.

Attanasio looked at his baseball men and said, "OK, guys. First base, shortstop, third base, eighth inning. You have to choose. What would you choose?"

Attanasio was surprised when Roenicke said, "Cleanup hitter."

"I said, 'That wasn't one of the choices!'" Attanasio remembered with a laugh.

But Roenicke argued that the team's biggest hole was the lineup spot soon to be vacated by Fielder, a career Brewer who departed as the second-leading home run hitter in club history to Robin Yount. Roenicke and Melvin reasoned that by installing longtime prospect Mat Gamel at first base and adding production at third base, where the Brewers ranked 15th of 16 teams last season in production, as measured by OPS, the team could actually come out ahead in combined production from the infield corners, even with Fielder's departure.

Ramirez, meanwhile, was looking for a new baseball home following parts of nine years with the Cubs. His interest in the Brewers was relayed by agent Paul Kinzer during a lunch meeting with Melvin at Milwaukee's Pfister Hotel, the site of November's General Managers Meetings. Several weeks later, Ramirez met personally with Attanasio and Roenicke for breakfast at the Brentwood Country Club in Los Angeles for a "get to know you" session. He met with Angels officials on the same trip.

"I took away two things," from that session, Attanasio said. "No. 1, you had a player who wanted to play here. Doug talks about that a lot, trying to find guys who want to play for us. We try very hard in the offseason to identify that, because to chase a guy who doesn't want to be here doesn't help us. Aramis was very specific that this was his first choice.

"Second, there was a very nice chemistry between Aramis and Ron Roenicke. While I wasn't really looking for that in the meeting, it was evident."

It was not meant to be a serious meeting. It turned into one because of the mutual interest.

Two weeks after that, they had a deal.

Ramirez signed for three years and $36 million, much of which is deferred. It was the richest contract for a free agent position player in Brewers history -- the only hitter guaranteed more in Brewers history is Braun, who inked a $105 million extension last April.

"I had a couple of choices," Ramirez said. "But I chose to come over here because I think they have a great group of young guys. Nothing against the Angels because they are a great team, too, especially with [Albert] Pujols, but this was a good fit for me."

Some of his new teammates considered it a good fit, too.

"I feel like he's a guy who can get us back to where we were last year," said right fielder Corey Hart, who could wind up as Ramirez's protection in the five-hole. "With Prince leaving, we needed to get a big bat. I think we're going to be better off combined at the [infield] corners than we were last year."

Said Ramirez: "I'm not Prince and I don't want to be Prince. I'm just going to be me."

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brew Beat, and follow him on Twitter at @AdamMcCalvy. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.