The Super Bowl, the greatest event in sports, is only moments away. Which means baseball, my humble submission for the greatest sport, is just around the corner.
Spring Training is fast approaching, and with it, Albert Pujols' self-imposed deadline for a contract extension with the St. Louis Cardinals. By Feb. 18, Pujols expects to be the highest paid player in baseball history, relevant to his status in the game today, or else.
The “or else” part of that is getting very interesting.
If the two sides can't come to an agreement on a suitable contract, Pujols has threatened to ride out the remainder of his current deal and enter what would be the most highly anticipated free agency period since LeBron James's “Decision.”
Every sports fan in the country would have one eye on ESPN's scrolling news bar. Every baseball fan would want him on their team, whatever the cost. But of the 30 teams in major league baseball, only a small handful can take on that cost.
One of those is rumored to be the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
Now before anyone gets overly emotional about this issue one way or the other, let me be the first to say, the Angels have no shot of signing Albert Pujols. No shot. None whatsoever.
It isn't that the Angels can't sign him, per se, or that he wouldn't want to spend the rest of his baseball days playing in sunny Southern California. Indeed, the rich Hispanic culture makes Anaheim and its surrounding areas a comfortable fit for Latin ballplayers.
It is the unwillingness of the organization to enter protracted bidding wars with other teams and make long-term commitments to any one player.
Pujols is arguably the best player in the game today and is seeking a contract that reflects that status. With Alex Rodriguez, the former king of swing, making roughly $27 million per year and Ryan Howard in the $25 million range, Pujols can be expected to command a 10-year, $300 million deal without a second thought.
And barring some spectacular fall from grace—either through a down year, which he's never had; or a steroid link, which he's always denied—he will get his money.
It just won't be from the Angels.
Owner Arte Moreno has shown the financial fortitude to pay game-changing players when it makes sense, i.e. when the money stays below $90 million and the contract length doesn't exceed five years. And with their upcoming television providing even more annual revenue, the Angels are on the verge of becoming a key player on the free agent market, a la the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.
The problem is putting together an efficient offseason plan and then executing it.
Moreno talked a big game this offseason, vowing that money would be no object when it came to doing what it took to improve the team. Management made its goals clear and its free agent targets were no secret.
But when push came to shove and other teams got involved in the bidding, the Angels quickly shied away.
Next winter, the Angels may well have the money, and potentially the interest, to sign Pujols. So will other teams.
Among them, the AL West champion Texas Rangers, who beat the Angels in the bidding war over third baseman Adrian Beltre. The Yankees and Red Sox, though already set at the first base position, will also be lurking in the waters nearby.
The Angels are, themselves, perfectly happy with their first baseman...for now. Kendry Morales looks to be a perennial MVP candidate for years to come. Unfortunately, he's also represented by Scott Boras, who rarely allows his superstars to negotiate big extensions without testing free agency.
Very soon, the Angels will have a decision to make: do the impossible and successfully lock up a Boras client, or plan for life after Morales.
Pujols could go a long way toward making that decision a little easier.
But the baseball landscape has changed dramatically since the days when a team like the Angels could sign a player of his caliber to a reasonable contract. The last time it happened, they signed three in one offseason.
That future MVP Vladimir Guerrero, future Cy Young winner Bartolo Colon, and Jose Guillen all agreed to sign with the Angels at once was a truly a blessing and an anomaly even at that time.
Since then, the Angels have made exactly one major free agent signing, when Torii Hunter agreed to a deal at a local fast food joint. Any other meaningful additions have come via trades.
If a new deal can't be reached with the Cardinals, Pujols could have the greatest impact on a new team of any player since Babe Ruth joined the Yankees. The Angels could certainly use that kind of impact player to help them battle back to the top of a division they once ruled.
I just don't see it happening, whether next offseason or any thereafter.
Of course, most probably didn't imagine the New Orleans Saints could ever call themselves defending Super Bowl champions. In sports, you never know what might happen.
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