Albert Pujols has won the National League Most Valuable Player Award three times, the Silver Slugger Award six times and the first base Gold Glove Award twice. He has a .331 career batting average along with 408 big league home runs.
You would think that the Cardinals would pay the man his dues, wouldn't you?
There has been speculation over the past few weeks that the Cardinals may not end up re-signing Pujols, thus potentially making Pujols a free agent next winter. What an event that would be.
Remember the media attention given to LeBron James? Imagine that with a lot more money, though with a much more humble athlete.
While there are probably 30 teams in MLB who would be interested in signing Pujols, his potential contract will likely frighten off the majority of those teams. So let's assume that Pujols will not re-sign with the Cardinals. Who would be able to take on Pujols' contract? Which lucky team has a shot at landing baseball's best active hitter?
1. Chicago Cubs
Believe it or not, the Cardinals' divisional rival, the Cubs, may be in the running for Pujols. Let's start by examining Chicago's need for Pujols.
This winter, the Cubs' current first baseman, Carlos Pena, will be coming off the books, taking his $10 million contract with him. As a result, the Cubs will have an open spot for Pujols. After 2011, Aramis Ramirez will also have finished his current contract. Thus, the Cubs will have a serious need in the power department.
Signing Pujols would certainly make sense for the Cubs. However, the real question is whether or not they can afford him.
Conveniently, the Cubs have a lot of horrible contracts ending this season. As I mentioned earlier, Ramirez will be finishing his current contract in 2011, which will free up approximately $15 million for the Cubs. Also, Pena will no longer be under contract, giving the Cubs an extra $10 million to spend. Another notable contract that will no longer restrict the Cubs is that of Kosuke Fukudome. His $13.5 million will be happily released.
So there it is: The Cubs have the money for Pujols, and they are in desperate need of a foundational player. Just imagine an infield consisting of Pujols and rising star Starlin Castro.
2. New York Mets
If the Mets are able to bait Pujols, there would be a vast number of implications. Imagine a lineup consisting of Pujols, Jose Reyes, Jason Bay and David Wright hitting against the Phillies' rotation throughout the season. What a rivalry that would be.
With regards to the Mets' need for Pujols, let's be frank: The Mets could use some offensive help. While their lineup looks solid on paper, they have encountered many obstacles that have slowed this team down in the past. A Pujols signing would send this team soaring into the playoffs.
Can the Mets do it? Let's examine some of the players who have contracts running up following this season.
First and foremost is Carlos Beltran. The seven-year, $119 million contract Beltran signed back in 2005 is finally coming to an end, which will free up around $18.5 million for the Mets. The dreaded Oliver Perez contract will also give the Mets some wiggle room economically. Finally, Luis Castillo is unlikely to remain with New York after 2011, which gives the Mets $six million to work with.
The departure of Beltran will be easy to accommodate, as rising star Ike Davis can be moved to the outfield.
This feels like deja vu for New York. Don't get your expectations up unless you are prepared for another LeBron James-esque disappointment.
3. Long Shot: Detroit Tigers
This one might seem a little bit odd due to the presence of Miguel Cabrera on the Tigers. However, Cabrera has played third base in his career and could potentially return there if Pujols were to sign with Detroit.
Let's take a look at the contracts Detroit will be losing after this upcoming season. Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen are the two big ones. The aggregate of their contracts would give Detroit $23 million to work with. Jose Valverde also has a $nine million club option for 2012, which the Tigers might be willing to sacrifice as a means of signing Pujols.
So imagine this: The Tigers have about $32 million to work with this offseason. They could sign some cost-efficient replacements for their departing contracts, leaving them with approximately $25 million to work with. With players such as Brandon Inge, Jhonny Peralta and Victor Martinez all leaving by 2014, why not sign Pujols to a backloaded contract starting in the neighborhood of $25 million per year?
Imagine a lineup containing Brennan Boesch, Ryan Raburn, Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez until 2014. It would be nearly impossible to stop this team from scoring five-plus runs per game.
Is it likely? Certainly not. In all reality, this scenario has maybe a two percent chance of happening. But you never know.
In conclusion, the race to sign Albert Pujols may not feature some of the familiar names. Mark Teixeira and Adrian Gonzalez are likely stuck in New York and Boston, respectively, which puts those two out of the running, logically. Vernon Wells' contract will likely prevent the Angels from participating in this event, and Philadelphia already owns Ryan Howard's ridiculous contract.
Can you imagine this? The best player in baseball will be a free agent in 2012, and most of the usual suspects will not be the favorites.
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