In 2011, the Brewers made the playoffs and advanced all the way to the National League Championship Series before succumbing to the Cardinals in six games.
Following the end of that campaign, the Brewers certainly were in a position where they would remain contenders. Ryan Braun was coming off an MVP campaign, Rickie Weeks developed into one of the better-hitting second baseman in baseball, Corey Hart was hitting great, and the Brewers had a strong rotation with Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum, Yovani Gallardo, and Randy Wolf.
However, Milwaukee had a couple of holes. Most notably, the Brewers were going to lose one of their best hitters, Prince Fielder, to free agency. Their shortstop situation was far from ideal. And Casey McGehee had shown in 2011 that he wasn't the long-term solution at third base, hitting just .223/.280/.346 over 155 games.
That off-season, the Brewers did lose Fielder. But they moved Corey Hart to first base and signed Norichika Aoki to play right field. They tried to fix shortstop by signing Alex Gonzalez. But they were still losing a middle of the order bat, and they still needed to find an upgrade at third base.
So the Brewers found a solution to both those issues with one player. On December 13, 2011, the Brewers signed Aramis Ramirez to a $36 million contract for three years, with a $14 million option for a fourth year.
And that contract couldn't have worked out better for the Brewers, especially not at first. Though he couldn't entirely replace Fielder's production, Ramirez came as close as could reasonably be expected. In his very first season with the Brewers, he batted .300/.360/.540 with 27 home runs and a league-leading 50 doubles. He proved he could be the secondary bat in the lineup to accompany Ryan Braun.
Unfortunately, the rest of the season didn't go as well as the Brewers had hoped. Hart had a good year and Jonathan Lucroy took a big step forward as catcher, but Weeks regressed and Gonzalez got hurt early on. The bullpen completely collapsed, with the Brewers' relief corp posting a league-worst 4.66 ERA as a unit. Randy Wolf also had a dreadful season. In the end, the Brewers finished with an 82-80 record by virtue of a hot second half even despite trading Zack Greinke.
Still, there was reason for optimism in 2013. They no longer had Greinke or Marcum, but new shortstop Jean Segura showed promise. Braun almost won a second MVP. Hart was still hitting. Aoki had a good year. Carlos Gomez looked like he might actually hit well enough to be an everyday player. And Aramis Ramirez was the steady veteran that would hold up the lineup.
The Brewers went out and again picked up a veteran pitcher, Kyle Lohse, on a three year deal to bolster the pitching staff. He wasn't going to be Greinke, but improvements to the bullpen like Burke Badenhop, Mike Gonzalez, and Tom Gorzellany would help fix what had been the weakest link on the team. Ryan Braun provided an off-season distraction after being suspended for performance enhancing drugs, then being reinstated through arbitration.
But Hart got injured in Spring Training and would miss the 2013 season, taking away one of the better hitters on the team. That left a hole at first base that would take years to fix. Weeks' bat completely tanked. The rotation was good, but not great. The bullpen was better, but not great. Braun injured his thumb, then got caught up in the biogenesis scandal and actually got suspended.
And Ramirez, who had become a rock on the team, missed a large chunk of the year. At first, he sprained his knee in spring training while sliding into second base, but returned for Opening Day. In the fourth game of the year, he re-aggravated the injury, which landed him on the DL for a month.
Upon his return, he hit well but lacked power due to the injury. From May to July, he hit .262/.351/.399 with just five home runs. In early July, he returned to the disabled list with patellar tendinitis and missed another month. Ramirez came back in August and finished out the year strong, batting .301/.387/.528 with seven homers over his final 38 games. That allowed him to finish the season with a decent .831 OPS though he played in less than 100 games.
The Brewers finished 2013 with a 74-88 record, but once again there was reason for hope. Ryan Braun was coming back from his lengthy absence and said he was healthy. Segura and Gomez and Lucroy looked real good in 2013. The Brewers got actual first basemen to play first base. Lohse looked good. And the Brewers signed Matt Garza to strengthen the rotation further.
And once again, Ramirez was expected to be that constant force in the middle of the order. After an off-season of lower body workouts to help ensure his health, he got off to a blazing hot start. And as he hit well, the Brewers played well, umping out to a big divisional lead in April. That early start led Ramirez to the All Star game as the NL starter at third base. He missed some time in May due to injury, but otherwise looked good with a .288/.336/.459 line at the break.
Ramirez's power dropped off following the All Star Game as just four of his 15 homers came following the mid-July break, but his on-base skills remained as good as ever. The team, however, cooled off dramatically and, on September 1, officially fell out of first place. By the end of the year, they were lucky to remain over .500 following a 9-16 July and 9-17 September.
The Brewers may have stunk late in the season, but once again there was reason for hope. Gomez and Lucroy breaking out into stars. Braun having cryotherapy. Acquiring Adam Lind. Ramirez choosing to come back to the Brewers rather than take free agency or retire.
But 2015 has not gone to plan. The Brewers struggled early and despite a recent run are not in the playoff race. Aramis Ramirez struggled early, but has hit well of late. And on Thursday, the Brewers traded Ramirez to the Pirates for a minor league reliever.
Aramis Ramirez never made the playoffs as a member of the Brewers, though there was reason for optimism each year he was in Milwaukee. Part of that optimism was due to Ramirez, who went from being a great hitter to being a good hitter in his time with the team. Things just never broke quite right for the Brewers to get him to the playoffs again.
In 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015, the Brewers had hoped to get Ramirez to the playoffs again each year. It never worked out, despite him batting .284/.342/.473 with 65 home runs in 455 games with the team. Now the Brewers are giving him one more chance at the playoffs, by sending him to the contending Pirates. Maybe he'll finally reach the World Series, a goal that has eluded him his entire career.
Aramis Ramirez was a hell of a signing for the Brewers and did his best to give the team success. It's sad to see him go, but both sides are better off this way at this point. Best of luck to him the rest of the way, and a happy retirement following 2015!