Name: Albert Pujols.
Position: First baseman.
Age-31 (he’ll be 32 in January—believe it or not).
Transactions: Drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 13th round of the 1999 MLB draft.
Agent: Dan Lozano.
Might he return to the Cardinals? Yes.
Teams that could use and pay him: New York Yankees; Boston Red Sox; Toronto Blue Jays; Baltimore Orioles; Kansas City Royals; Los Angeles Angels; Seattle Mariners; Washington Nationals; Florida Marlins; St. Louis Cardinals; Chicago Cubs; Los Angeles Dodgers.
Pujols is this era’s Joe DiMaggio in both performance and stature. He’s a leader on and off the field whose stern glance at a teammate yields a better result than a verbal dressing down or grab by the shirt collar. Remarkably durable and quick healing, Pujols plays every day. He’s the most feared hitter in baseball and has earned that designation because of his annual performance in games both big and small. His short swing is resistant to slumps; he hits the ball to all fields; he rarely strikes out and is a fantastic fielder.
There will always be the hovering questions about Pujols and PEDs. He’s never been implicated, but this is a man who was not seen as a prospect in part because he was so skinny and that he had no position; he filled out and became The Machine; but given the era, the question of how he got so good has to be asked. It has nothing to do with Pujols as a human being and all the charity work he’s done; nor is it an indictment of his greatness on the field. In the same vein as Barry Bonds, Bonds was so good that he was better than other players when they were clean and he was better when they were using performance enhancers. The same would be true with Pujols.
For now, he’s clean and should be treated as such.
His age is a question. Looking at Pujols, no one would believe he’s only about to turn 32-years-old. If he’s actually 35, a team that signs him to a 10-year contract at 32, wouldn’t do that at age 35.
There’s no way of knowing the truth about that either unless, like the PEDs, someone pops up with a believable and verifiable story.
He’s going to cost a ton of money and the team that signs him has to realize that they’ll be paying a 40-year-old man what will likely be the largest paycheck on the team; if it’s a National League team, barring a drastic chance in which the DH is activated in both leagues, he’s going to have to play the field to get into the lineup.
What he’ll want: 10-years, $285 million.
What he’ll get: 8-years, $210 million with mutual option years pushing it to 10-years and $260 million; there will be a buyout if the signing club declines the options for $18 million; plus a player opt-out after 4-years.
Teams that might give it to him: Orioles; Cubs; Cardinals.
With the Yankees and Red Sox out of the mix, Pujols’s has limited destinations. It certainly doesn’t help him that the Cubs hired Theo Epstein who was torched with the Red Sox for overspending on players who didn’t live up to their salaries and is running a club with multiple needs and a situation where Pujols isn’t going to help the team contend as quickly as his mere presence would normally predicate.
The Angels can pay him, but won’t.
The Dodgers and Marlins are said to have the ability as well, but the Dodgers are being sold—one would assume that Ned Colletti won’t be able to make a gigantic signing in advance of the sale so that lets them out of the market for Prince Fielder as well.
The Marlins aren’t going to give Pujols the nearly $300 million it will take to get him to leave the Cardinals.
That leaves the Orioles and Cardinals.
With Dan Duquette taking over as Orioles GM and preferring to have that one big basher in the middle of his lineup along with a big armed starting pitcher as an anchor, would Peter Angelos okay a big bid on Pujols? He’d hit 60 homers in Baltimore and be a leader of a young team; he’s not the diva that Buck Showalter reviled when he managed the Rangers and Alex Rodriguez, but that’s a lot of money. Pujols would accord automatic credibility to the Orioles and attract star players to want to play there rather than going to Baltimore because they had nowhere else to go.
It’s entirely possible that a Pujols-Orioles negotiation would be little more than an attempt to extract more money from the Cardinals, but if the talk that Pujols wants to get paid as the best player in the game is accurate and the Orioles offer the largest contract, he might feel obligated to take it.
In the end it’s going to come down to how much the Cardinals are willing to do to keep him happy and make him feel appreciated. David Eckstein was quoted as saying if the Cardinals hire Jose Oquendo as manager, Pujols will stay in St. Louis. I consider the manager to be on the lower end of what Pujols is looking for as long as it’s not a manager who’s going to usurp Pujols’s clubhouse authority. He’d be fine with Terry Francona, Oquendo or whomever.
Pujols is the center of the Cardinals universe, but with their pitching and the players they have, they’d be able to allocate the Pujols money on several additions and would survive and contend without him.
Both sides need each other and he’s not going to depart—and ruin his DiMaggio aesthetic of playing with one team for his whole career—unless the whole negotiation comes completely apart.
That won’t happen.
Would I sign Pujols? I would not give him almost $300 million to sign, nor would I give him 10-years. I’d try for a shorter term deal with the limit at 8 and the mutual options. That said, what team wouldn’t want Albert Pujols?
Will it be a retrospective mistake for the team that signs him? Not initially; but by years 6-8, they’re going to regret it especially if there’s not DH position to stash him when he can’t move as well in the field.