Albert Pujols Rumors: 10 Things That Must Happen For St. Louis To Trade Pujols
Shhh...do you hear that?
If you're a baseball fan, a sports enthusiast, or if you simply happen to hail from the Greater St. Louis area, I'm sure you are hearing the same thing I am.
That's right, for the first time in recent memory, the day's sporting headlines have not been dominated by Albert Pujols chatter and, I must say, the silence is deafening.
I was truly surprised to visit the ESPN website today and not see ONE update on the Pujols contract saga. Soon after, I was downright SHOCKED to see that Pujols' name was absent from the home page of MLB.com as well. It looks like, at least for the time, Pujols is staying true to his word and ceasing contract negotiations after his self-imposed Wednesday afternoon deadline.
To say the Pujols' story has been well-documented would be like saying 12 year-old girls like Justin Bieber; both are vast, vast understatements. Yet, while the obligatory "what if Pujols were traded to my team" articles and blogs have surfaced, most of the Pujols coverage has been dedicated to dissecting the extension he is demanding from the Cardinals, or the kind of deal he could get if he were to enter free agency in 2012.
The media's focus on Pujols agreeing to an extension with St. Louis is not unfounded, however. Pujols has made it clear that he wants to retire a Cardinal, and that he will block any trade on the strength of his 10-5 no-trade clause (10 years in the Majors, five with one team).
However, one has to believe that, especially in a situation that has gotten as sticky as Pujols' (Pujols and the Cards are way off on their numbers), nothing is outside of the realm of possibility.
Straight out of the "stranger things have happened" file, here are the ten things that must go down in order for Albert the Great to be traded.
1. Communication Mustn't Cease
Count this as "absolutely crucial element" number one, in the long-shot plan to get Pujols traded.
Up until now, the Cardinal first baseman has been adamant that his contract talks not become a Spring Training (or regular season) distraction for himself or his team. To avoid that, the Pujols camp set a deadline for an extension to be agreed upon.
The deadline was Wednesday at noon and, as of Sunday, no deal had been made.
Pujols has proven at every juncture to be a man of his word, and a team player, so don't expect any more flurries of action to leak to the public, as it pertains to contract discussions. All indications point to Pujols staying focused on playing his best in 2011, in an attempt to get the Cards back into the playoffs.
However it is critical that Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak (pictured here) and St' Louis ownership not let talks come to a complete halt, especially as they are the precipice of letting possibly the best player to ever wear a Redbird uniform fly out to door.
2. The No-Trade Clause
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Despite being paid WELL under his market value over the course of his career, (something like $9 million per year, on average) and despite being offered an extension WELL under his worth (the Cardinals' last offer was for nine years, at around $225 million), Albert Pujols still has a soft spot or St. Louis.
Maybe it's the fact that the Cardinals constantly put a contender on the field. Maybe it's Pujols' chummy relationship with manager Tony La Russa. Or, maybe it's the thousands of adoring fans that pack Busch Stadium every summer to pay homage to one of the best players of all time.
For whatever reason, when Pujols arrived at camp on Thursday he assured Cardinals fans that he wanted "to be a Cardinal forever".
Comforting to the fan base? Very. Written in stone? Absolutely not.
As unwavering as Pujols' loyalty might seem, it should only take a few more low-ball offers from the Cards' ownership before he starts to re-think what uniform he wants to retire in.
"Absolutely crucial element number two" is Pujols agreeing to consider waiving his no-trade clause. As of now, he says he will not. Perhaps a few more assaults on his pride will push him in the other direction.
3. Show Them The Money
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If there is one thing that is certain in this whole mess, it's that Albert wants a 10-year deal, and that he wants to be paid some serious cheddar during that time period.
The sticking point for any suitor of Pujols is likely the 10 years, more so than the money. Crazy as it may sound, teams are wary of paying $30 mil to a 41-year old with bad knees, once 2020 rolls around.
(Author's Note: I think it is quite possible that this is a concern that will go completely unfounded. If any player has earned their nickname over the course of their career, it's Albert "The Machine" Pujols. I'm not altogether certain that he isn't the result of some alien pod-study on human recreation habits. The prediction here is that he's mashing monster moonshots well into his mid-forties.)
Be that as it may, Pujols first choice is to stay in St. Louis, so accepting less money or less years from a competitor doesn't seem to be a possibility.
While every organization would be tickled pink to have a stud like Pujols in the middle of their lineup, in order for a trade to work, there would have to be at least one suitor willing to pony up the cash and the years that Pujols is looking for.
I said at LEAST one...
4. Heavy Interest
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It's common knowledge that Pujols is prepared to enter free agency in 2012 if he and the Cardinals can't strike a deal. So, what's to say teams interested in a Pujols trade wouldn't just wait for that to happen, and avoid sending current Major Leaguers and/or promising prospects to St. Louis in return?
In the case of Pujols (as in most questions concerning economics), his market value will probably be dictated by demand.
That is, if the only team showing interest in trading for Pujols is, say, Anaheim, the Angels front office may be content to risk riding the season out, if it means they have a shot at signing him in the offseason.
However, a commodity like Pujols doesn't come along very often. In fact, it would be fair to say that adding a guy like Pujols could be a franchise-changing acquisition, one that could resonate in the organization for generations.
If St. Louis were thinking of unloading their first baseman, and Albert were willing to consider the possibility, the only way a trade would get done would be if the affair turned into a bidding war. There is always the possibility that most interested organizations would try to wait out the situation so as not to "sell the farm", but, more likely, once the Cards and Pujols open the trade door, all eligible suitors will be lining up to rush through.
5. Cards Visualize Life "A.P." (After Pujols)
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It's easy to look at a guy like Pujols with tunnel vision. That is, Pujols has become the face of the Cardinals franchise, the gold standard of MLB talent, and it would be understandable if Cardinals fans were reluctant to ever picture their team without him.
Indeed, Pujols brings a brand of consistent dominance that no other player can match. You don't just replace a guy like Pujols once he's gone; you mourn him, you celebrate him, you try to move on from him...but there is no replacing him.
That being said, the only way Cardinals execs can even PONDER THE POSSIBILITY of moving Pujols would be if they had a plan to begin to fill the enormous footprints he left behind.
Luckily for the Cards, in the event that they would do the unthinkable (I feel like discussing a sans-Pujols Cardinals team is to St. Louis as uttering the word "Voldemert" is to Hogwarts), they might just have an apt replacement right down the road.
Drafted in the eighth round of the 2006 draft, Allen Craig currently ranks fourth on Baseball America's list of the top ten Cardinals prospects. Since his first full season (2007), all Craig, 21, has done is hit over .300 at every Minor League stop, and accumulate double-digit homers each year. Baseball America ranks Craig as the Cards' best power prospect, largely on the strength of his most recent Minor League stint, a 24-homer, 81-RBI campaign at Triple-A Memphis.
There isn't a person in the world who thinks Allen Craig could replace Albert Pujols' production. All indications are that he wouldn't get close. However, Craig is no slouch, and should offer St. Louis a comfort blanket of sorts, should they let Pujols get away.
6. The Price Has To Be Right
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Not sure if we've covered this, but Albert Pujols is good.
Good enough to have a .331 career batting average. Good enough to never dip below 32 HR's and 103 RBI's for a season. And, undoubtedly, good enough to garner a bounty of talent in a trade.
There has been no shortage of conjecture about where Pujols could end up. The Dodgers and Angels have been mentioned because they have the large-market financial flexibility to take on such a star and because they have positions to fill. The Cubs were suggested recently by PTI host and Chicago-native Michael Wilbon, for a host of convincing reasons. And, of course, the Yankees have been discussed as an option because, well, the Yankees would buy raincoats from Morty Seinfeld if they thought it would get them a ring.
However, if any team is going to end up with Pujols via a trade, it will be because they basically emptied out the personnel coffers in order to get him. Even if the Cards were convinced they would not be able to sign Pujols in free agency, his value to their 2011 squad (a team they think can go deep in the playoffs) is unparalleled. For a team to pry Pujols loose, the Cards would have to be ecstatic with the cache they got in return.
7. Albert Likes The Swap
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This one may seem rudimentary, but it still warrants mention.
We can all agree that, already, the chances of Pujols waiving his no-trade clause are remote. Consider: he plays in a town with some of the most supportive and smartest sports fans in the world, where his team consistently makes the playoffs, and where he is possibly the most beloved sports figure of all time.
In order for Pujols to OK a trade, not only would he need to get the type of mondo-deal he is demanding, he would also need to feel confident that he would be going to a winning club, and that his new destination would be an agreeable locale for his family.
For a guy like Pujols (prime of his career, best in the game), money eventually takes a back seat to other considerations. I mean face it, once you have hundreds of millions of dollars, a few extra bucks hardly registers. For athletes like Pujols, it's more about job security and stability (something he will get no matter where he goes), and the guarantee that he can contend for Championships.
We all assume New York, L.A., and Boston would offer that*, but Pujols must be convinced.
* Insert Chicago futility joke here.
8. No Pennant Race
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As previously stated, Albert is the cog that makes the St. Louis machine go.
Yes, they have two remarkable starters, in Carpenter and Wainwright. Yes, they have left-fielder Matt Holliday, an upper-echelon type player.
However, without Albert Pujols, the Cardinals become a second place team. Plain and simple.
Pujols is the one player that keeps the Cards in games, offensively, and if you remove that player, bad things happen; just ask the Padres. (Or, ask Ryan Ludwick, a former Cardinal and current Padre who once provided valuable support for Pujols in the St. Louis lineup).
So, if the Cardinals were to consider trading Pujols, it would mean they were either A) comfortable enough with their offense that they could foresee being successful without their star, or B) down enough in the standings where trading Pujols seems like a profitable move.
My guess is neither scenario is probable, as it will probably be Pujols' brilliance that keeps St. Louis in the penant hunt all year. And in that case, it's hard to see the Cardinals' front office sacrificing 2011 just in order to get a few prospects. They aren't wired that way in St. Louis.
9. Package Deal?
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It is no secret that Cardinals manager Tony La Russa has a bit of a thing for Albert Pujols. In fact, in an interview last week, La Russa appeared to try to deflect some of the negative media attention aimed Albert's way, stating he thought the MLB Player's Union was trying to 'beat up' Pujols in order to pressure him to ask for as much cash as possible.
It's not surprising that La Russa would enter the fray on this one. First, it's his job to minimize distractions in his clubhouse -- and the Pujols situation definitely threatens to be distracting. By airing his own issues with the Player's Union, La Russa is, in effect, shouldering some of the media heat in Pujols' stead and strengthening clubhouse morale.
Second, it's every manager's nightmare to lose his star player, and Tony La Russa is no exception. La Russa's comments last week would be nothing compared to his reaction if the Cards began exploring trade possibilities.
The only way a Pujols trade might work, then, is if La Russa was able to ride out of town on Albert's coattails in a manager-for-manager swap. Even though this type of thing has never happened and is completely farcical, any other scenario would likely end with La Russa blowing up Busch Stadium.
10. The Cardinals Go Insane
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This, friends, is "absolutely crucial element" number three.
There are any arguments for the Cardinals moving Pujols. They could free up payroll. The could get top-flight prospects and good young Major League talent in return. They are an organization of winners with a foundation that the loss of man could not weaken.
All these points are OK, for the sake of discussion. However, all three are also dead wrong.
Look around Major League Baseball and one thing becomes apparent: there is only ONE Albert Pujols.
No player strikes such fear into the souls of opposing pitchers and managers alike. No player fills up a stat sheet at such an impressive clip. No player is so consistently amazing night in and night out. And, no player does all of this while playing Gold Glove-caliber defense and making no waves off the field.
Indeed, there is only one Albert Pujols, and the Cardinals would have to be certifiably INSANE to let him get away.