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Albert Pujols, Chicago Cub
If Albert Pujols leaves St. Louis, it will be to play for the rival Cubs
by Keith Glab, BaseballEvolution.com
January 29, 2011



If the Cardinals do not sign Albert Pujols by February 18, he will become a free agent at the end of 2011.  It's hard to believe that St. Louis would let him get away.  But if they did, where would Pujols land?  There is only one logical answer to that question, and Cardinals fans won't like it one bit.

Eight teams had an opening day payroll of $100 million or more in 2010: The Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies, Mets, Cubs, Tigers, White Sox, and Angels.  Since the Cardinals came into the 2010 season with a $93 million payroll, it's hard to imagine anyone outside of those eight teams offering more than St. Louis would for the man who would likely make the Hall of Fame if he retired today.

The Yankees and Red Sox were the only two teams with payrolls over $150 million last year, and they are always the first two teams you think of when a top-tier free agent hits the market.  Neither team would figure to factor in the Albert Pujols sweepstakes, however.  The Yankees are paying Mark Teixeira $22.5 million annually for the next six years.  He is a Gold Glove first baseman, so if Albert Pujols were to wear pinstripes, Teixeira would likely be upset about a move to designated hitter.  Beyond that, the Yankees need that DH slot available this decade for Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and possibly Jesus Montero.  Acquiring Albert Pujols, arguably the best defensive first baseman of our generation, makes no sense for them.

The Red Sox just traded two of the top 50 prospects in baseball plus another good prospect in order to acquire Adrian Gonzalez.  Given their investment, it makes sense for Boston to get an extension done soon.  Given that Prince Fielder and possibly Albert Pujols will hit the free agent market next year, it makes sense for Gonzalez to get a deal done soon.  Both parties are confident that a deal will be in place before Gonzalez hits free agency.  If he is indeed signed to a long-term deal, Gonzalez, a Gold-Glover himself, would not want to move to DH.  Boston is a more likely destination for Pujols than the Bronx, but is still seems like a pretty bad fit.

Philadelphia, AKA the Yankees of the NL, have Ryan Howard locked up for at least another five seasons.  While I'm certain they would love to move the big guy to DH, in the National League, that just isn't possible.  There's no way that Prince Albert becomes the Fresh Prince of Philadelphia.  As for the other New York of the NL, they would seem like an ideal choice, with only overrated prospect Ike Davis standing between Pujols and their first base position.  The question surrounding the Mets is, are they willing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a single player after having been scammed out of hundreds of millions of dollars by Bernie Madoff and after being sued for hundreds of millions more as of last month?  The most likely answer is no.

People rarely think of the Detroit Tigers as a large market team, yet their opening 2010 payroll was the sixth-highest in baseball and the seventh-place team had $17 million less on their books.  Unlike Teixeira and Gonzalez, Miguel Cabrera is no great defender and would look really good as a designated hitter.  They've got some serious money coming off the ledger after this season in the contracts of Carlos Guillen and Magglio Ordonez.  Unfortunately, they just signed Victor Martinez to a four-year deal, and his ineptitude behind the dish is going to force him to first base or DH sooner rather than later.

The White Sox have two very good designated hitters signed for several years in Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn.   One of them has to play first base, unless the Adam Dunn Outfield Adventure opens again.  Realistically, the Sox are having enough trouble affording those two.  Paying for Pujols is a pipe dream.

The Angels have a good, young first baseman in Kendry Morales, but certainly could have moved him to DH or a corner outfield spot to accommodate the best player in the game.  That is before they bafflingly agreed to take on Vernon Wells and the $86 million left on his contract.  Not only will Wells take up a corner outfield/DH spot that might have gone to Morales, but now the Angels couldn't afford Pujols if they wanted him, anyway.

When all the dust settles, the Chicago Cubs will be the most obvious suitors in terms of both need and means.  They signed Carlos Pena to a one-year, $10 million deal this winter.  Not the brightest move in the world, but Pena does give the Cubs a motivated left-handed slugger and leaves them open to pursue either Pujols or Fielder next winter.  Fielder's physique makes him less than ideal to play a bunch of day games under the hot Chicago sun, and other teams that need a first baseman but can't commit $250-$300 million for Albert Pujols will be courting Fielder.  Most likely, Fielder will sign a contract for more than his value while Pujols could be had for a relative bargain due to the lack of serious suitors.

The Chicago Cubs had the third-highest team payroll as of last April and the new ownership is finding creative ways to make Wrigley Field even more of a cash cow than it already is.  Not to mention, the Cubs have about $50 million coming off their books at the end of 2011 between the departures of Aramis Ramirez, Kosuke Fukudome, Carlos Silva, and Carlos Pena alone. 

While the Cubs have a history of overpaying for free agents, they have never, ever gotten the best free agent on the market, much less the best player in the game. That Pujols playing for the Cubs would represent a giant middle finger to Cardinals fans would just be icing on the cake for Chicago.  Adding this behemoth of baseball to a team that already has some good pieces in place would generate excitement on the North Side of Chicago that might be unparalleled in baseball history.

Don't get me wrong; I think Albert Pujols will opt to stay with the Cardinals rather than chase a few extra million in free agency.  In fact, a large part of me hopes that he does. One-team players are becoming increasingly rare and St. Louis is an incredible baseball town that deserves an incredible player of Albert Pujols' class and caliber.  But if the unthinkable happens and St. Louis actually lets him get away, the safe money is on Pujols landing instead with the rival Chicago Cubs.

If that isn't enough to end the Cubs' curse, it's at least enough to start one for the St. Louis Cardinals.


Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Keith resides in Chicago, Illinois and can be reached at keith@baseballevolution.com.


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