During my time as a baseball blogger, I’ve learned that if fans of America’s pastime are going to geek out over anything during the off season, it’s going to be caused by one of two things: 1) A player acquisition, be it through free agency or trade; or 2) A paper doll cut out. That’s why we got the infinitely talented graphics department at The Score to combine the two as a means of supporting our ongoing pursuit of attention and page views.
Ahead of the winter meetings next week, we’re going to take a look at five of the top players available this winter and mention some of their potential destinations. Today, we begin our vintage image nostalgia with none other than Albert Pujols.
Mentioning any city other than St. Louis might be somewhat unnecessary when it comes to Pujols. Despite being the best player available on the free agent market, the highest WAR accumulator (by a large measure) over the last decade has inspired little in the way of chatter, rumour or innuendo in the early going of the off season.
There was a brief flirtation from the Florida Marlins, but the reported low ball offer suggests that the team was more interested in the publicity that comes from pursuing Pujols than actually landing the free agent.
Whether the lack of interest stems from it merely being the nature of the free agent beast, the wait for the new rules regarding free agency in the collective bargaining agreement to become official or the fact that no one seems willing to lay much confidence in Pujols’ supposed age, is anyone’s guess.
According to Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports:
Three executives last week suggested the number of landing spots for Pujols is frighteningly thin. A team-by-team rundown with those executives placed the St. Louis Cardinals as heavy, heavy favorites – “I’m 100 percent certain he’s going back there,” one said. They had trouble identifying another team Pujols seriously would consider.
For their part, the Cardinals have done exceedingly well with their slow roll approach. They offered Pujols a nine year contract believed to be worth $195 million this Spring and haven’t budged on that offer since. They’re incredibly aware of the thin market for Pujols’ services and the way in which more teams have come out to publicly claim their lack of interest only further supports their stance.
Consider the Texas Rangers. Last season, the World Series runner ups slummed it with Mitch Moreland’s mediocre .317 wOBA, .734 OPS and 0.4 fWAR at first base. Pujols would be an obvious, immediate and even affordable (given the team’s television deal with FOX) upgrade for a team that has twice in two years fallen just short of winning the World Series. And yet, on multiple occasions General Manager Jon Daniels and Team President Nolan Ryan have spoken out publicly about the possibility of acquiring Pujols.
Most recently, Ryan put it in no uncertain terms, when he said:
Making a seven-or-eight year deal for Fielder or Pujols is not something our organization is prepared to do. I very much expect Mitch Moreland to be our first baseman next year.
It’s somewhat easy to question the Cardinals’ ability to afford Pujols given their reputation as a small to mid market team with a bunch of debt locked up in their stadium, but the St. Louis market is larger than most realize because of its surrounding regions and the team’s use of strong radio signals to capture a rather large mid-Western fan base. With ten straight years of revenue growth and steady increases in operating income, it’s not a coincidence that Forbes recently ranked the Cardinals as the eleventh most valuable franchise in baseball.
My prediction is that St. Louis ups their offer slightly to something over the $200 million level as a means of showing respect and letting a player of Pujols stature save a little bit of face in his negotiations. He signs that deal, and while we may never see back to back 9 WAR seasons from the first baseman again, he’ll be able to contribute 50 wins above replacement over the length of the deal and make it worth the Cardinals while.
Given Pujols’ first name and history of crushing expectations, the thirteenth round draft pick always reminds me of this commercial for a Canadian automotive, hardware and sporting goods chain:
Once he signs his new contract, the question will turn from where will Pujols play to how much longer into a nine year deal will opposing managers still wish that they had a player like Albert on their team.