With every passing day that the St. Louis Cardinals and their star slugger remain far apart in contract extension talks, speculation grows as to where the future Hall of Famer will take his talents next season.
Pujols talents are undisputed. He is a three-time MVP and nine-time All-Star. He has won a pair of Gold Glove awards and half a dozen Silver Slugger Awards. Pujols currently ranks first among all active players in career batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and on-base plus slugging percentage. He currently has 408 career home runs, but is only 31 and should have another decade of playing to add to that total.
Barring any ill-advised "Decision" specials on ESPN (Albert, please hang up the phone instantly if you see "LeBron James" on your caller ID), Pujols will not only bring his elite caliber of play to his eventual new team, but he will arrive a fan favorite and one of the most marketable players to ever put on a baseball uniform.
Popular speculation has Pujols returning to the Cardinals at some point, likely in a last-minute deal before the start of spring training. If Pujols does reach free agency, the two favorite teams to sign Pujols will be the New York Yankees and the St. Louis Cardinals. It will, after all, be hard for Pujols to turn his back on the only organization he has ever known.
Of the other teams that will kick the tires on signing Pujols, the Giants stand out as a unique opportunity for a mutually beneficial marriage between the two sides.
The Giants are coming off of a surprising 2010 season, in which they captured the first World Series Championship since moving West from New York. They have arguably the best pitching staff in the National League. They have a young core of complementary offensive pieces to complement Pujols in the lineup: Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval, along with the eventual arrival of top prospects Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford. Possibly most importantly, they offer the most intriguing marketing angle and opportunity for endorsements as Pujols approaches career milestones and all-time records.
But the Giants already have a first baseman.
The Giants currently have Aubrey Huff penciled in as their first baseman for the 2011 and 2012 season. On the surface this would look like it would keep the Giants from having a need for Albert Pujols. Huff is experienced in the outfield, however, and both Pat Burrell and Cody Ross are free agents following the conclusion of this upcoming season, clearing a path for Huff to slide into the outfield and open up first base for Pujols.
The Giants have prospect Brandon Belt knocking on the door, and he very likely will be ready to take over first base duties at some point during this current season. Belt is not proven like Pujols, however, and it would hard for the Giants to resist the temptation of penciling Pujols and his MVP-caliber production into their lineup on a daily basis.
Belt is very athletic, and the Giants could shift him to the outfield or third base to keep his bat in their long term plans.
Pujols will demand too high of a contract.
It has been widely speculated that Pujols will seek a contract in the range of 10 years and $300 million. Indeed, this is a very steep price for any player, but Pujols is not just any player. Albert Pujols is the difference maker that the Giants have lacked since Barry Bonds left the team following the 2007 season. Pujols can be penciled in for an above .300 batting average, 40 home runs and 115+ RBI's annually, barring injury.
Speak of Barry Bonds, Albert Pujols will one day be contending for some of the very records held by Mr. Bonds.
What does Barry Bonds have to do with Albert Pujols' contract?
Barry Bonds has more to do with Albert Pujols' next contract than you would think. One of the unique negotiating points that Pujols' agent holds in any negotiations is his eventual place in MLB history. If he is able to remain healthy, it is likely that Albert Pujols will wind up chasing down the all-time home run record before his career is complete. By the time this event approaches, it is possible that Pujols will be chasing down Alex Rodriguez and not Barry Bonds, but there is perhaps no team that would be more capable of taking advantage of this angle than the San Francisco Giants.
As you have no doubt noticed if you follow the Giants, they have distanced themselves from Barry Bonds since his departure. There are few reminders around AT&T Park of Bonds or his long list of accomplishments in a Giants uniform. The steroid implications gave a black eye to the organization that they would like to shed.
Assuming Alex Rodriguez does not break the all-time home run record, the Giants can approach the milestone as the passing of the record "amongst Giants of the game."(They won't publicly bash Bonds; after all, steroids aside, he was a great San Francisco Giant.) The fans and Major League Baseball community as a whole will take note; however, it will be returning credibility to the record. The record will once again belong to a player who is considered "clean."
In the event that Rodriguez is the current holder of the record at the time, it can be approached as "returning the record to its rightful home by the Bay." The implication that credibility is being restored to the record still applies since Rodriguez was also implicated in the steroid era and admitted his guilt.
AT&T Park is a pitcher's park; he won't want to hit here.
True, AT&T Park is a ballpark that favors pitchers; however, it is also the ballpark the current home run champion called home for the final eight seasons of his career.
Pujols can remove any criticism he may otherwise take that he played in a hitter-friendly park, while Bonds played in a pitcher's park, if he were to call the same ballpark his home as he approaches these milestones.
AT&T Park also proves to be a favorable place for right-handed hitters to hit, especially during day games when the ball actually carries pretty well out to left field.
To remove all doubt, a quick look at Pujols' career statistics at AT&T show that he has had little trouble hitting in San Francisco. Twenty-nine games is a small sample size, but there is little doubt that Pujols would learn the art of hitting at AT&T in no time and improve on these statistics further.
Obviously, there would be many obstacles to overcome in order to sway Pujols away from St. Louis, New York and the many other suitors he will likely have if he reaches free agency. The Giants also will need to decide if they want to match his financial demands while they are still under the weight of existing contracts to Aaron Rowand and Barry Zito, which weigh down their financial flexibility.
Pujols is that once-in-a-generation player, who should not be overlooked because of his price tag. The ticket sales, merchandise revenue and advertising revenue that his presence will bring to the organization far outweigh any amount that his contract would cost. Albert Pujols will essentially pay for himself and create additional revenue for the organization that is able to secure his services.
The Giants will have very stiff competition for his services if they choose to involve themselves in the bidding, but the rewards far outweigh any risks.
Just imagine a rotation anchored by Tim Lincecum, supported by a lineup anchored by Albert Pujols...
Albert Pujols Career Statistics: