Over the last few months, I’ve spent some time unpacking the Albert Pujols quandary, aka the biggest dilemma St. Louis has seen since this.
(OK, perhaps even bigger.)
For those of you non-baseball fans who stumbled over this article on your way to a website like this, or for those who spent February pretending to be Chilean miners, Pujols called a moratorium on contract talks as of Feb. 16. Still, speculation has run rampant on whether the Cardinals will trade Pujols (though he has stated publicly he will block trades), wait for the offseason to re-sign him or simply let him go to the highest bidder.
Much to the chagrin of the Cardinal Nation, the prevailing opinion seems to be that when free agency hits, Pujols will be signed by the Cubs. Now, obviously this represents a stab-yourself-in-the-eyes scenario for any Cardinal fan and could affix Pujols with bona fide pariah status. Some are even saying the Card’s star would assume LeBron James-like status in St. Louie, but that’s just the word on the street.
Last week, I discussed what the Lovable Losers of Chi-town could package if they were to convince Pujols into allowing a trade. Today’s piece is dedicated to laying out the five most important reasons that, by hook or by crook, The Machine will be a Cub in 2012.
Cubs fans are known to hang like hell onto the phrase, “Wait ‘til next year.” Now, unlike past years, the phrase might actually carry some merit.
By shedding the hefty contracts of Kosuke Fukodome, Aramis Ramirez, and the Carlos’ Pena and Silva, the Cubbies look to open up upwards of $50 million in payroll.
If the Ricketts family intends to make good on their promise to “win the World Series” (I’m assuming they meant that literally, and not as a euphemism for breaking .500 or bagging a fine chick), they may use their newfound money pile to get a Pujols-sized jump on the competition.
Money is the reason the Cardinals find themselves in this mess.
Pujols wants it. A LOT of it. And the Cards don’t really feel like giving it to him.
Yet, the top end of Pujols' contract demands (it's widely believed he demanded something in the $200 million zip code) is only one piece of the puzzle.
If the Cardinals were just one Albert away from being a World Series contender for the next five or so years, they’d probably pony up. Unfortunately, a quick survey of the St. Louis organization shows numerous cracks in the foundation.
Staff ace Adam Wainwright has barely removed his Tommy John bandages. Chris Carpenter is well below his career numbers (1-4, 4.88 ERA) and in the last guaranteed year of his contract. And, beyond Matt Holliday and Colby Rasmus, no true offensive threats show on the horizon.
If the Cardinals have proven anything over the years, it’s that they are a smart, consistent franchise that knows how to win. They’re a small market team that is used to spending carefully. Paying more than they can for one guy when so many questions exist elsewhere?
Seems more like something the Cubs would do.
Show me a guy who likes to DH, and I’ll show you a 60-year-old softball player.
As a matter of fact, even most of those guys live in the, “I can still flash the leather” denial that big leaguers do. There’s a dude on my beer league squad with one leg who doesn’t understand why we won’t let him play right field.
No player ever likes to have his role downgraded, especially if it represents a threat to the rest of their game (which, most hitters will tell you the move to DH does).
Pujols takes pride in his defense (two Gold Gloves), so signing long-term with an American League team (especially one with a younger, talented first baseman) might not be at the top of his list.
Of all the potential Pujols suitors, Chicago most definitely has the most motivation.
Not only is Pujols a one-man Wrigley Field wrecking ball (25 bombs at the Friendly Confines), but he’s the best player on the Cubs’ bitter rival.
If Chicago can out-bid the other “evil empires” of the baseball world, adding Pujols would be like sweeping the season series versus the Cardinals. Not only would it boost their overall win total, but it would significantly weaken perennial favorite St. Louis and open up the National League Central for years.
Ever since St. Louis failed to lock up Pujols in February, the, “Where will Albert sign?” rumors have flown around like confetti in a wind tunnel. Welp, let’s go ahead and squash a few of those right now.
Boston Red Sox – They just took on two huge contracts (Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford) while already owing monster bills to guys like Josh Beckett and John Lackey through 2014. Also, by paying A-Gon the gross national product of Tonga, the Sox effectively made clear who their first baseman of the future is.
New York Yankees – Many assume that the Steinbrenner family would pay a Cracker Jack salesman $4 million if it meant a few extra wins and a shot at a title. However, I am sure the Yankees even have their limits. (OK, I’m not sure, but let’s say for a second they do). With an aging cast of characters who all scream “future DH” (Posada, Jeter, A-Rod) and a Gold Glove first baseman locked up for life, the Yanks would be hard pressed to find room for everyone.
Washington Nationals – The Nats are a possibility, seeing as they seem to be inclined to pay exorbitant amounts of cash for just about anyone, but as a putrid team in a competitive division, you’d think a Pujols-sized load would be a little too big for the development-minded Nationals to blow.
Los Angeles Angels – Another possibility, but similar to the Yanks and Sox, L.A. already has a first baseman of the future in Kendrys Morales. Now, a Pujols signing could mean shifting the rock-pawed Morales to DH. However, Albert is smart enough to know that when he hits 36 and isn’t even halfway through his deal, teams will be wont to shift him somewhere where his cement feet won’t hinder the team.
Then there’s the Cubs.
In the offseason, Chicago paid Carlos Pena about $10 million to come hit balls really far.
He’s done that five times so far in 2011, which translates roughly to 20 over the course of the season. Pair that with his .216 batting average (a number that, if history is any guide, won’t fluctuate much), and you’ve got another in a long line of Chi-town free agent busts.
The difference though, between signings like Alfonso Soriano and Milton Bradley and the Pena pick-up, is that Pena only signed for one year.
Think he could be keeping the seat warm for someone?