Albert Pujols has made his demands to the St. Louis Cardinals. The Redbirds have until Spring Training to sign the Dominican slugger or he will put his name in the hat and become the biggest free agent the world has seen since Jennifer Aniston was dumped by Brad Pitt.
FoxSports.com's Ken Rosenthal reported on Saturday afternoon that talks between Prince Albert and St. Louis were at a stalemate, and the deadline for Pujols arrival to camp, February 18, is quickly approaching.
With Pujols seeking a contract extension comparable to Alex Rodriguez contract with the Yankees, and the St. Louis front office seeming unlikely to comply, what does the future hold for St. Louis?
Who are some likely replacements for Fat Albert via trade or free agency?
Adrian Gonzalez is a potential big time free agent in 2012; however, it's unlikely that Theo Epstein and the Boston Red Sox would be willing to part ways with Gonzalez after only one season.
Gonzalez would come closest of the potential replacements who could fill Pujols big shoes, both in the lineup and on defense. He's a two-time NL Gold Glove winner in 2008 and 2009, and is coming off of a fantastic season where he batted .298, knocking in 101 runs and 33 home runs while playing in Petco Park, considered by many to be the biggest pitcher's ballpark in the game.
It seems his numbers will likely increase with a move to Fenway.
While Gonzalez seems destined to stay in Boston for a long tenure, it is possible St. Louis would be able to pry another first baseman from Boston, not via free agency, but by a trade.
If Boston is able to lockup Gonzalez to a long-term contract, and with Kevin Youkilis setting up shop at third, it's possible St. Louis could be able to pry prospect Lars Anderson from the Red Sox.
Anderson wouldn't automatically fill the void left by a departing Albert Pujols, but he has often been considered one of the top prospects in baseball. Anderson has had a cup of coffee in the majors, and while he did struggle against major league pitching, he's still young enough at 23-years-old to be groomed into a suitable major league ballplayer.
I won't even begin to speculate what it might cost to acquire Anderson, but it's quite possible Boston might view him as an expendable player, if and when they're able to lock up Gonzalez.
Prince Fielder is coming off of his worst season in the majors in 2010. He batted .261 and knocked in 83 runs, but will look to rebound in 2011 as he's looking for that contract in 2012, the year he's able to test free agency for the first time.
The chances of Fielder returning to Milwaukee in 2012 are as slim as Fielder's chances of being mistaken for a runway model. That could provide St. Louis with just enough hope to let Pujols walk. Fielder would likely fill up some of the hole in the lineup that Pujols departure would leave behind.
The question with Fielder will always be his fitness. While he does carry a big bat, he also carries a lot of weight (270 lbs.) on a not so large frame (5'11'). While Fielder does provide an offensive spark, that combined with Matt Holliday, could carry St. Louis for years to come. It seems unlikely he's in the kind of condition to be a long-term everyday first baseman.
Unless Prince goes the Pablo Sandoval route and gets himself in better shape, he doesn't seem to be a long-term answer.
Matt LaPorta of the Cleveland Indians was acquired from Milwaukee for CC Sabathia in 2008, and was thought by many to be the next big thing. Two years into his career with the Wahoos, and things aren't really panning out for LaPorta or Cleveland.
Might a change of scenery be just the thing LaPorta needs to bring the potential he has to fruit? Possibly.
LaPorta, a lot like Lars Anderson, isn't going to be able to come in and replace Albert Pujols. He would, however, be a risk worth taking and developing. His offense has been somewhat lacking in Cleveland, but defensively he ranks among the top first basemen in the American League.
Cleveland has been sellers, rather than buyers for years. It seems unlikely anyone on their roster isn't available, including LaPorta.
Carlos Pena had a bad year in 2010 with the Tampa Bay Rays. A really bad year. A .198 batting average bad year. The catch? Carlos Pena is not a bad player.
Pena, who signed a one-year contract with the Chicago Cubs this year is looking to rebuild from a dreadful year. Perhaps getting out of the warehouse that is Tropicana Field and into a ballpark like Wrigley Field is just the thing to get his career back on track.
Pena will be a free agent in 2012 and a trip to the National League may be just what the doctor ordered to get his swing back. St. Louis scouts will surely be watching and seeing how Pena handles NL Central pitching. It's a contract season and potentially an audition for the Redbirds.
Nick Swisher seems to have found his place with the New York Yankees, but with a $10.25 million dollar option for 2012, Swisher could be just another name on the radar of St. Louis.
While Swisher hasn't seen much play at first in the "House that George Built", he is still a viable option for a lot of teams at the position. At a relatively young 30-years-old, Swisher would likely be a hot commodity in the free agent market. He's also coming off of a season that posted an impressive .288 batting average and a .511 slugging percentage.
Swisher makes sense for St. Louis. He's a great clubhouse guy, with an impressive bat, and likely would be a more affordable option in 2012 than Gonzalez or Fielder.
Okay, I admit it. The chances of the Chicago White Sox parting ways with Paul Konerko may not be as likely as they have been in the past, but if the price is right, I could see it happening. Chicago recently signed another first baseman/DH slugger in Adam Dunn. For the right piece of the puzzle, Konerko may just be expendable.
Konerko is coming off of a solid season in 2010 that saw him hit for a whopping .312 average and knocking in 111 runs. He would be a solid replacement for Pujols in St. Louis. Paired with Matt Holliday, Konerko would put a solid offensive threat in the St. Louis lineup.
If Chicago isn't able to make a run against a talented Minnesota Twins and Detroit Tigers in 2011, teams may come calling. However, Konerko's five-year, $60 million dollar contract may be a deal breaker for a lot of teams, including St. Louis.
Garrett Jones isn't quite as sexy of a prospect to replace Albert Pujols as Gonzalez, Fielder or Konerko, but as a Pittsburgh Pirate, he's available and cheap.
Jones doesn't provide near the spark in the lineup that Pujols does for the Cardinals, but at $425,000, he's a bargain bin first baseman who provides something the other potential replacements do not—base stealing ability (17 SB in two seasons in Pittsburgh).
With that being said, if Jones is the future at first for the Cardinals, alcohol sales in St. Louis will no doubt increase.
With the Chicago Cubs rumored to be likely suitors for Albert Pujols services, should he become a free agent in 2012, the thought of Pujols in pinstripes may be enough to drive Cards fans crazy. Wouldn't it be wild to see long time Chicago Cub Derrek Lee as a Redbird?
Derrek Lee would be a likely short-term fix for the Cardinals in 2012, should Pujols leave. He knows the National League and he knows the Central division. He also understands the rivalry with the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs.
Lee had a down year in 2011, splitting time in Chicago and Atlanta, and is now the first baseman for the Baltimore Orioles. Lee is in for a rebound year, and could also be a very affordable option for St. Louis in 2012.
The most likely replacement for Prince Albert won't come from outside the current lineup in St. Louis. That man is none other than Lance Berkman.
Big Puma will be spending his 2011 season in the outfield of Busch Stadium, but don't let that fool you. Berkman knows the division, spending most of his career in Houston, with the exception of a stint in the Bronx in 2010.
Berkman is signed to a one-year contract at $8 million dollars with St. Louis, in what could be his dress rehearsal for the 2012 season.
He's affordable. He's a solid hitter. He makes the most sense.
Coming off a season that he was traded to the Yankees to become a platoon player, Berkman has something to prove this year, and that is there is plenty left in the tank.
There will be some solid players available in 2012 to replace Prince Albert in Busch Stadium, but that doesn't mean St. Louis should have to.
A player like Albert Pujols comes around once in a lifetime. You don't let that kind of talent and character go. Pujols seems to love St. Louis. St. Louis seems to love Pujols. If Albert Pujols wants 10 years at $270 million dollars, give it to him. If he wants you to name the stadium after him, do it.
In an era when baseball players are looked at as only going where the grass and the money is greener, keeping Pujols in St. Louis for the rest of his career would go a long way to changing that image.
It wouldn't only be good for Pujols, the fans, or the Cardinals...
It'd be good for baseball.