If this truly is Albert Pujols' last season with the St. Louis Cardinals, he's definitely going out with a bang.
Pujols led the Cards on a magical late-season run to overtake the NL Wild Card spot on the final day of the season. After shocking the Philadelphia Phillies in the NLDS, the team now finds themselves deadlocked with their division rival, the Milwaukee Brewers, in the NLCS.
Whether the Cards win or lose doesn't even matter at this point. Although many of Pujols' numbers are down this season, his late-season surge has proven he's still one of the best hitters in Major League Baseball and he'll be highly sought after this winter.
Either way, the long-awaited day when Pujols will hit free agency is finally only a few weeks away. While many people assume he'll be back in St. Louis to round out his Hall of Fame career, it's not quite as simple as that—unless of course, the Cardinals print off their own money supply in GM John Mozeliak's office at Busch Stadium.
In light of all the uncertainty, I've decided to rate all 30 teams' chances to sign the slugger this winter. It was simple. I began with 100 percent, then divided it among all of his potential suitors.
At this point, every team in baseball has a chance at signing the superstar, but which teams will actually step up and make a run at him?
The Kansas City Royals are no doubt an up and coming young team, but there is no way they even entertain the thought of bringing in Pujols.
For one, the Royals' only priority this offseason should be to bolster their beleaguered rotation. Secondly, Eric Hosmer—who gets my vote for AL Rookie of the Year—has the tools to be one of the best first basemen in baseball.
The Padres have been planning this moment for years. They pretended they were broke by holding a fire-sale and shipping away Adrian Gonzalez, while the entire time, their sole intention was to bring Pujols to San Diego this winter.
That was sarcasm, folks.
The Padres don't even have a chance at sniffing Pujols' jock strap—even if they wanted to. Considering they have uber-prospect Anthony Rizzo ready to man first base, it's no question they'll take a pass on Pujols.
Let's be honest—Pujols wants nothing to do with the Oakland Athletics or their archaic stadium, no matter how great a GM Billy Beane is.
While signing a superstar like Pujols could lead to the A's finally getting a new stadium, don't hold your breath hoping that King Albert will don green and yellow next season. It's just not going to happen.
The White Sox will be looking to take a step back and regroup this winter after a disappointing 2011 season.
They gave incumbent first baseman Paul Konerko an extension (well worth it, if I might add) and brought in free agent Adam Dunn last winter. If you add in Alex Rios' horrible contract, they have become the Toronto Blue Jays of the J.P. Ricciardi-era.
Either way you look at it, there's no way Pujols ends up on the South Side.
There is a greater chance that the Reds will trade Joey Votto than there is of GM Walk Jocketty even entertaining the idea of talking to Pujols. As far as Jocketty is concerned, he'd just like to see Pujols outside of the NL Central.
The Reds already have top prospect Yonder Alonso ready to take over for Votto, so they are set at first base for the foreseeable future.
It's hard to believe Miguel Cabrera is still only 28 years old, yet it's easy to believe that Miggy will be manning first base in Detroit for a long, long time.
The Tigers already have former catcher Victor Martinez at DH, while Alex Avila is establishing himself as one of the best young backstops in the game.
There's no room for Pujols, and I don't even think he'd be much of an upgrade—if any—over Cabrera in the first place.
Even though Justin Morneau has struggled to stay on the field the last couple of seasons, the Twins won't even consider offering Pujols a deal.
Morneau is locked up for two more years at $14 million per year. At that point, the Twins will have their first baseman for the next decade in Joe Mauer. His knees are already bad and he's struggled to stay on the field, so the sooner they can get him to first base, the better.
I, for one, would love to see Albert Pujols in a Tampa Bay Rays uniform. It may be just what the franchise needs to put fans in the stands.
Unfortunately, all signs point to the Rays cutting payroll once again, so any big additions they make will end up being via trade.
Even if the Diamondbacks had previously considered the possibility of making a run at Pujols, it all changed upon the arrival of Paul Goldschmidt.
Goldschmidt slugged eight home runs down the stretch to help Arizona in their drive to the playoffs, then he knocked two more out of the park in the playoffs to cement himself into the D-Backs lineup for the foreseeable future.
The Miami Marlins will play their ball games in a new stadium next season, and I'm sure the few fans the team actually has would love to see Pujols in South Beach next season.
Pujols to the Marlins makes sense in quite a few ways. Unfortunately, owner Jeffrey Loria is the biggest cheapskate in Major League Baseball, so I wouldn't count on it.
It'd be great to see a team like the Dodgers snag Pujols this winter, but with the current financial state of the franchise, it's just not possible.
The Dodgers will spend any available money locking up Matt Kemp to a long-term deal, so unless Mark Cuban convinces Frank McCourt to sell him the franchise, there's no way this deal gets done.
I would do the whole "this has been the plan the whole time" analogy, but at this point, it's clear to the world that the Astros are trying to shed payroll this winter, not add to it.
They also have a young Brett Wallace settling in at first base.
The only reason I gave the Astros one percent is because of their new ownership group. Maybe Jim Crane will want to make a monumental splash during his first winter as owner?
Another unlikely destination for Pujols, but the Pirates are a much improved team in need of a first baseman.
It's not unreasonable to believe the Pirates will someday approach a $100 million payroll. The revenue potential is there; they just need to put a quality product on the field for fans to show up at the ballpark.
I've heard many Rockies "super-fans" suggest that the team will be a player for Pujols this winter, though I entirely disagree.
Here is what I'm assuming is their mathematical reasoning—Todd Helton's salary will drop from $20 million to about $5 million per season over the next two years, plus Aaron Cook's $10 million salary will be coming off the books. So as those fans see it, the Rockies will be saving about $40 million over the next two seasons.
Unfortunately, that's why ownership set up Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez's contracts to escalate after those two salaries came off the books. Not to mention the numerous other escalating contracts on their roster.
If you think the Rockies will spend $50 to $60 million per season on three hitters, you're wrong.
The Braves would love to get Derek Lowe off their books, but even if they did, I doubt the team would make a play at Pujols anyway.
Atlanta is set at first base for years to come with NL Rookie of the Year candidate Freddie Freeman, and they already have a roster with the potential to be the class of baseball as soon as next season.
The Indians took a huge leap in the right direction this season and appear ready to begin their ascent back to the top of the AL Central.
The Indians' team salary for 2011 was a mere $49 million, which—including inflation—is less than half of their payroll from 10 years ago.
Grady Sizemore appears to be on his way out, and the team will finally be able to rid themselves of Travis Hafner after next season, Financially, the team is capable of making a run at Pujols. Whether or not they will remains to be seen.
I'll bet you the Phillies are wishing they were able to make the Ryan Howard-for-Albert Pujols trade now, eh?
It is very unlikely that the Phillies go after Howard, though we all said the same thing regarding Cliff Lee last winter, so I couldn't possibly rule them completely out of the Pujols sweepstakes.
The Brewers will make their best effort to retain Prince Fielder this offseason, though with Scott Boras as his agent, he may nab a more lucrative deal than Pujols.
If that appears to be the case early this winter, the Brewers would at least gauge Pujols' interest in joining his hated rivals in Milwaukee.
"Beast Mode" could rise to a whole new level with "The Machine" on board, so if he wants to get out of the grip of micro-manager Tony LaRussa, the Brew Crew may be a fun destination.
The Orioles made a failed attempt at bringing in Mark Teixeira before he signed with the Yankees three years ago, so the team is willing to spend if the right situation presents itself.
While they may be more serious players for Prince Fielder, there is still a possibility that the Orioles make a run at Pujols this winter as well.
The contracts of Vladimir Guerrero ($8M), Derrek Lee ($7.5M), Luke Scott ($6.5M) and Mike Gonzalez ($6M) are all off the books at this point, so they should have plenty of room to make a run at Pujols (or Fielder) so long as the bidding doesn't get too out of control.
The Mariners had a team payroll of about $95 million in 2011, though just a few years ago, it approached $120 million.
The Mariners can finally say goodbye to the expiring contracts of Milton Bradley ($13.5M) and Carlos Silva ($5.5M), leaving them with only $44 million committed to players for 2012 at this point. If you add in arbitration eligible players and a couple of re-signings, it looks to be at about $60 million, so they definitely have enough room to make a run at Pujols.
Justin Smoak has failed miserably in his attempts to secure first base in Seattle for the long-term, and the Mariners absolutely need a big bat in the heart of their order. They've already got the pitching, but they won't be able to overtake the Rangers and Angels in the AL West until they get the hitting to compliment it.
The Angels will be desperately seeking a bat for the middle of their lineup this offseason, and it's possible for the team to squeeze in Pujols' potential salary.
This scenario may have been more likely before rookie Mark Trumbo broke out for 29 home runs this season. They also have Kendry Morales, if he's ever able to return from injury.
Personally, I believe the Angels are more in need of a player like third baseman Aramis Ramirez—but after Arte Moreno agreed to take on Wells' $26-million per year salary, I can't put anything past him.
The Nationals are a very intriguing possibility for Pujols' services. They showed a willingness to spend by locking up Jayson Werth to a long-term deal, and now they're in a much better position to contend.
With Pujols, they'd be able to contend as soon as next season.
Can you imagine a lineup featuring Harper-Pujols-Zimmerman-Werth for years to come? Their payroll sat at only $68 million in 2011, and so far, they have only $44 million committed to players next season, so they definitely have room to expand their payroll if the situation presents itself.
New ownership has shown a willingness to add to their payroll this season, and we can expect that to continue going forward.
The Rangers' priority this winter will be to re-sign staff ace C.J. Wilson, but there are quite a few scenarios that would allow them to bring in Pujols as well.
For one, Josh Hamilton has proven that he can't stay healthy, averaging only 115 games per season since 2009. Hamilton is only one year younger than Pujols, and he'll be making $15.5 million next season before becoming a free agent. The Rangers' smartest move would be to let him walk.
As hard as it may be to imagine the numbers Pujols could put up in Texas' ballpark, it's definitely a real possibility.
Yes, the Mets owners are in the midst of a hefty lawsuit—but they will still have plenty of money to spend this winter.
The Mets payroll sat around $142 million this season, yet they were fortunate to have multiple expiring contracts before the Pujols sweepstakes begin. They have only $66 million committed to players in 2012, while it's closer to $80 million if you include arbitration eligible players.
Either way, it's not out of the question for the team to re-sign Jose Reyes and bring in Pujols. Reyes could nab a deal paying him $17 to $20 million per season while Pujols should get between $25 and $30 million, depending on length.
Worst case, the two would cost around $50 million combined per season, and the Mets could back-load the deals until they have time to rid themselves of Jason Bay and get their finances under control.
The Mets would then be able to trade David Wright for a boatload of young pitching and take an extra $15 million off of their payroll, which could leave their team payroll sitting at least $30 million less than last season.
Furthermore, there is no question that the Mets would finally be able to fill the seats at Citi Field if Pujols was brought to New York.
I recently published an article explaining my reasoning more in depth, so check it out.
The Blue Jays' payroll approached $100 million as recently as 2008, yet it was down to about $70 million in 2011. They definitely have room to increase payroll, and bringing in Pujols would give new meaning to baseball in Canada.
The Jays have handed out monster deals in the past (see: Wells, Vernon and Rios, Alex), though GM Alex Anthopoulos quickly swept their horrendous contracts under another teams' rug.
Anthopoulos has done everything right since becoming the GM in Toronto late in 2009. Adding Pujols to a lineup featuring Jose Bautista and Adam Lind (who could move back to DH), paired with their much improved rotation, would instantly make the Blue Jays contenders in the AL East.
It is highly unlikely considering they just gave Adrian Gonzalez a deal to be their first baseman of the future, but with all the money coming off the Red Sox's books this winter, why not make a run at Pujols?
The issue would be getting either he or A-Gon to give up first base, though Pujols is a bit older, so he seems like the more logical choice to DH.
Is this scenario likely? Of course not. But it is possible.
Do the Yankees need Pujols? Of course not—but since when has that mattered?
The Yankees have Mark Teixeira—who is the same age as Pujols—locked up for five more years at $22.5 million per season, so there isn't exactly a need at first base. However, Pujols is sound defensively and if Teixeira can focus his energy solely on hitting, maybe he can get his batting average back above .250.
The Yankees have never shied away from opening their wallet to the top available free agents, so you can bet they'll at least discuss the possibility. Their team salary actually decreased in 2011, and many of their aging stars' contracts will be coming off the books in the next few years.
The possibility of Pujols donning pinstripes may hinge on what comes of CC Sabathia's contract re-negotiations, as well as whether they'd also be inclined to bring in C.J. Wilson this winter.
There was a point in time when many people believed the Cubs were the top suitors for Pujols' services when he hit the market this winter. While the Cubs remain one of his top potential suitors, the chances of him landing on the North Side took a dip when GM Jim Hendry was let go this season.
Bringing a long-awaited championship to the Cubbies would cement Pujols' place as one of the greatest players to ever take the field, which may intrigue the Cardinals' first baseman.
The Cubs will have a lot of dough coming off the books over the next two years, so it all depends on whether or not new ownership is ready to hand out their first mega-deal.
The Giants have long been in dire need of some heavy lumber in the heart of their order. Placing Pujols in front of Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval would turn their meager offense around in a hurry.
Pujols would be a much wiser investment for the team than Carlos Beltran, who will likely receive a contract which he'll never live up to.
Matt Cain and Aubrey Huff— who are due a combined $25 million next season—are just two of the names who could be made available this winter. That money could be used to lock up Pujols.
With the Giants finally seeing light at the end of the tunnel as far as the bad contracts of Barry Zito and Aaron Rowand go, they may be more willing to hand out a large contract to a premier free agent.
While some may look at 27 percent and feel that it's rather low, it's still better than two-to-one odds over the second most likely destination.
Let's be honest—no matter how good or bad the odds are of Pujols returning to St. Louis, it would be shocking to see him wearing a jersey other than the Cardinals'.
The Cardinals' payroll to begin the 2011 season was roughly $109 million, including bonuses, which already surpassed their franchise's record by $10 million. Pujols earned about $16 million while Matt Holliday earned $17 million. If Pujols re-signs, it will be as their highest paid player.
The Cards recently gave Chris Carpenter a two-year, $21 million deal, and Lance Berkman earned himself a one-year, $12 million deal, while the team is likely to pick up both of Adam Wainright's options for a combined $21 million.
Their five starting pitchers—not including Edwin Jackson—will account for $44 million next season, while Berkman, Holliday and Yadier Molina (assuming they exercise his option) will account for $29 million. That equals roughly $73 of the $80 million the Cards have committed next season. That doesn't include Pujols, any arbitration eligible players or re-signings and no free-agent deals.
Unless the team is able to dump some heavy salary early in the offseason or they are comfortable with a team payroll exceeding $130 million, the chances of the Cards retaining Pujols may not be as good as many people seem to think.
Is it a bit clearer now as to why GM John Mozeliak didn't lock up Pujols before he hit the market?