By Tyler Tjelmeland
The Major League Baseball off-season has been highlighted by some big free-agents going to new teams, with Cy Young winners Cliff Lee and Zack Grienke jumping ship from the American League to the National League.
The Milwaukee Brewers and Philadelphia Phillies couldn’t be happier.
Big bats like Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez attaching themselves to an already lethal Boston lineup seemingly propels the Red Sox to favorite in the AL East.
All of these stars, along with Jayson Werth going to the Nationals, Rafael Soriano finding himself to be the highest paid set-up man in the sport with The Bronx Bombers, and seeing Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon reunited together in Tampa really round out a delightful postseason signing period.
But the talk the past few weeks has been nothing short of yelling around the league and it has nothing to do with any of these marquee names. The name that is being tossed around in MLB signing talks is a player that is not even a free agent until the conclusion of the 2011 season. Why is the league buzzing with discussions about this player already?
Three Words… Albert freaking Pujols!
When you mention fundamentals, Albert Pujols comes to mind.
When you ask who is the best first baseman in the MLB?, nobody would be fool enough to commit the cardinal sin of not saying Pujols.
Best hitter: Pujols.
Smartest base runner: Pujols, with an incredible 75 stolen bases over 9 seasons while toting around that gigantic, stacked 6’3 230 lb figure.
Nobody doubts he will eclipse 3,000 hits, nobody doubts that he can drive in 2,000 RBI’s and with the way things are trending his way nobody doubts that Albert Pujols has a chance to go into Cooperstown as the greatest player to ever pick up a bat and glove, yes that’s right; he also has 2 gold gloves.
Albert’s contract with the redbirds expires at the end of the impending season and there has been a lot of speculation as to where this guy is going to end up.
So many questions and so few answers.
Will he resign with the Cards? If not St Louis, who?
How much is he actually worth and for how many years? Does he deserve A-Rod money or even more than that? Albert established a long time ago that he does not want his contract talks to hinder or distract The Cardinals organization during the season at all so he kindly placed a deadline on when a deal would need to be reached before this season begins. That deadline was February 16, 2011 and has come and gone.
So now what?
The offer that has been speculated as ideal for Pujols is a 10 year $300 Million deal, and the Cardinals offered him an 8 year $200 million deal. It was not enough and Pujols decided to end talks late Tuesday night with the Cardinals about the deal. All of these things considered, where does Pujols end up next season?
Does he end up in St. Louie representing rapper Nelly’s hood?
Does he end up on a bitter rival in the Chicago Cubs by chance? Does he end up in New York on a struggling New York Mets team? Do The Yankees decide that they are willing to dish out the cash even though it might not be completely responsible after all the money they have put up lately in big name players who have not panned out? Does a dark horse come out of nowhere to snag him up and give themselves a glorious nucleus to build a team around for the next decade? These questions will be answered in time and only Albert can answer them, but that is not how this blog thing works ladies and gentlemen.
Below I have compiled a list of potential suitors and those organizations chances of acquiring The Machine.
St. Louis Cardinals: The Cardinals are the front-runner for a couple reasons. The biggest one is that Albert and the organization have a great relationship. The Cardinals market themselves as a small market team with a lot of good, young talent in guys like Adam Wainwright and Colby Rasmus and that allows them to keep bringing in new guys like Lance Berkman to help out any way possible. The reality for the Cardinals is that in order to get Pujols back into the locker room in a Cardinals jersey they will need to make sacrifices. Those sacrifices include possibly letting one of the staples of your team get away in Chris Carpenter. Carpenter has been a huge contributor on the defensive side of the ball with intense stuff on the mound, but his contract is up at year’s end and in order to sign Pujols to the big deal they will need to let Carpenter’s salary loose.
The Cardinals need to also convince Albert that Tony LaRussa will be around for an extended period of time into that contract. LaRussa is 66 years old now and is not getting any younger as he is the longest tenured coach in all four of the major sports. If Pujols believes that LaRussa is going to be out soon then he might not believe that the front office can bring in a quality replacement, allowing for championship contention in the future. The relationship between the Cardinals and Pujols has been very good and he loves the city. This is the same organization that drafted a no-name kid from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic in 1999 in the 13th round, 402 overall. This team took a chance on him and now this could be his chance to return the favor.
35% chance he signs with them during free agency period and 55% chance he signs with them during the 2011 season.
Ultimately leading to approximately a 55% Chance he resigns with The Cardinals
Chicago Cubs: Things get very interesting when the northsiders are thrown into the discussion for The Machine. The Cubs shed a lot of cap space over the next few years with Carlos Silva, Carlos Pena, and Kosuke Fukodome coming off the books after 2011, freeing up about $40 million in cap space. Then in 2012 they shed even more cap space. Pujols has been notoriously a Cub killer and that is all the more reason to get the guy off of a team you play 16 times a year and get him into Wrigley Field where he bats extremely well.
The Cubs do not currently have a long-term 1B, with the main option now being Carlos Pena who signed a miniscule 1 year deal prior to this season. New manager Mike Quade will also be looking to get the front office to make a splash and solidify himself among the great managers of the Cubs. The Cubs need a big bat and Pujols could be the answer.
22% Chance Pujols ends up in Chicago playing for the Cubs in 2012
Toronto Blue Jays: The Blue Jays just got Vernon Wells insane contract off the books this year which frees up $21 million alone as well as Juan Rivera going off the books this year allowing for $26 Million to give to Pujols. This is not the proper amount that Pujols has been looking to get, but as of now the Blue Jays need to find a way to get over the hump of just simply playing spoiler in the AL East and spend with the big boys if they want to play with the big boys in New York and Boston.
7% Chance the Blue Jays decide that spending more than they actually have for Pujols is beneficial
New York Mets: The Mets need to figure out a way to get their financial troubles out of the way before the court Pujols, but it needs to be mentioned that New York has a young talent in Ike Davis who they want to be the future of that team and they would need to flip him if they signed Pujols because Davis is worth quite a bit of money. Financial trouble is the most important thing for the Mets to get in order before anything. Don’t write a check you can’t cash.
Mets- 10% Chance
Boston Red Sox: I personally think The Red Sox do not want Pujols now. They just signed one of the best up and coming hitters in the game in Adrian Gonzalez to play first base, but with monster David Ortiz’s monster contract coming off the books in 2011 they could be looking to grab Pujols and switch either Albert or Adrian to DH, but that would be extremely expensive for just an offensive player, when both are solid defensive attributes to an infield. I think the Red Sox sign A-Gon to a long deal and don’t have any interest in Pujols.
Red Sox- 1% Chance
Los Angeles Dodgersà James Loney is not the player that everyone thought he would be 3 years ago. They could spend the money and The Dodgers need a big boost if they want to keep up with the Rockies, Padres, and World Champion Giants. Pujols could be that answer.
Dodgers- 1% Chance
Los Angeles Angels: The Angels are interested in spending money which became very apparent in the signing of Vernon Wells. The biggest roadblock for the Angels in getting Pujols would actually be the signing of Wells because the monetary aspect might not present itself like Pujols would like it to. That being said, The Angels will have an opportunity to court Pujols but it seems unlikely.
Angels- 1% Chance
Baltimore Orioles: The Orioles do not actually have the money to sign Pujols because they play in that big market division in the AL East with the big dogs, but it could be beneficial to go after Pujols and then settle on somebody else. If the Orioles go after Pujols it could play an important role in signing other players under the pretense that they are actually making strides to try and get big name players and actually get better.
Orioles- 0% Chance of getting Pujols
New York Yankees: The Yankees have a good thing going with Mark Teixeira is their first baseman until 2017 and they are not hurting in the DH department with a ton of guys, especially Jesus Montero being the main guy. The Yankees could flip the bill for Pujols and they could always move Montero or other guys out to make room for another slugger like Pujols.
Yankees- 2% Chance
Any Other Team: An interesting swap could happen in Milwaukee. Prince Fielder could be out of Milwaukee and Albert Pujols could be in, but probably not being as Milwaukee just signed Shaun Marcum and Zack Grienke to huge deals, practically emptying out the farm system for those two names. The Washington Nationals could be a team coming out of the woodwork as well, trying to improve as much as possible, as fast as possible. They do not have the money necessarily to do it, but the fact that they have been going after big names like Cliff Lee and Grady Sizemore, it could be said that they could try and make a run at Albert.
Rest of MLB- 1% Chance a dark horse jumps into the mix and gets Albert
All of these things being said, in my “expert” opinion I believe that Albert will end up in St. Louis.
He has been the face of that franchise for nearly a decade and don’t be confused by their tactics; they want him to be the face for the next decade. Pujols deserves to be the highest paid player in baseball, there is no doubt about that and some team will make that happen.
As a Cubs fan I hope he ends up in Chicago, ends the curse, and helps the Cubs win a couple championships, but that is just a hopeful fan living in the clouds.
Either way, this is an incredible opportunity to realize how the politics of professional sports really work and everyone can learn something through this whole situation facing The Machine.
What do you think? Where will Pujols play in 2012? Leave us a comment and join the conversation.