After the news broke that the Padres and Red Sox had worked out a trade involving Adrian Gonzalez, I could’ve sworn I heard a collective sigh from Cardinal Nation. The commonly held belief is that since the Red Sox now have a stud first baseman, they will no longer be interested in Pujols when he becomes a free agent after the 2011 season. That removes one possible suitor from the short list of potential free agent destinations.
Maybe it’s just me, but I’m not breathing any easier as a result of this move. I just never saw the Red Sox as a likely fit, even though they obviously have the deep pockets necessary to sign Pujols to a megadeal. It’s just that they have one thing that doesn’t really seem to work in their favor. Hint: It’s larger than a loaf of bread, and it’s green. That’s right. It’s the “Green Monster”. It’s a huge wall that comprises left field. AP is a line drive hitter who happens to hit home runs. He doesn’t hit home runs like Adam Dunn, so the typical home run arc from a Pujols shot isn’t anything like a pitching wedge. It’s more like a scalded 2-iron. In Fenway, a typical Pujols home run could easily become a double, and some of his doubles could become really hard hit singles. Could he make an adjustment and hit the ball to right more? Sure. Of course, he wouldn’t have nearly the same impact, and pitchers would simply bust him inside constantly. Since AL pitchers tend to do that quite well, I see this whole wall thing as a non-starter.
As long as I’m on the subject of possible landing spots, it’s worth taking a look at the rest. These evaluations are not based on any assumptions about Albert’s desire to play for any other team, any other team’s desire to obtain AP, or any intangible conditions such as “fit”. I’m simply considering a few elements of the business equation. To make it interesting, I’ll start with all the teams that project payrolls at approximately $100M for 2011 & 2012, because I don’t see a team with a $80M payroll spending over 1/3 of it on a 1B. Maybe that means I’m starting with faulty logic, but I don’t see a whole lot of precedence for that, either. That means starting with the Yankees, Red Sox, Twins, White Sox, Angels, Mariners, Phillies, Braves, Mets, Cardinals, Cubs, Giants, Rockies, and Dodgers. I’m going to rate each of these teams on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being the most likely and 1 being a likelihood equivalent to the Pirates.
- Yankees – With a $200M+ payroll and Mark Teixeira signed through 2016, the Yankees don’t seem like a likely landing spot. Their roster is aging, so guys like A-Rod will be needing increasingly more at-bats at DH, and it would be a stretch to add Pujols to the mix. 2/10
- Red Sox – I’ve already discussed the big wall thing, and the A-Gon signing shuts the door on this one completely. 1/10
- Twins – 4-time AS and 1-time MVP Justin Morneau is 29 and signed through 2013 at $14M/yr. 1/10
- White Sox – If the Sox don’t re-sign Konerko ($12M in 2010) this offseason, then they’ve got Adam Dunn at 1B in 2011. Making at run at Pujols would make a lot of sense to pair with Dunn for a serious righty/lefty combo, especially since they could spell each other at 1B. 7/10
- Angels – The triumvirate of Morales/Quinlan/Trumbo isn’t exactly going to keep pitchers up at night, but it isn’t going to break the bank, either. The Angels are headed for $125M+ for 2011, but $10.9M of that is for the Gary Matthews deal. Kazmir has a $13.5M team option for 2012, so the Angels could easily clear room for AP without significantly changing the roster. 8/10
- Mariners – This team has several first basemen who really can’t hit at all. For a team that ranked 30th in just about everything (30th in obp, runs, batting average, and slugging %), AP would help, but he certainly wouldn’t be enough. 2/10
- Phillies – They already have Ryan Howard, and they have him locked up for the next 6 seasons with a team option for a 7th. For the record, the next 6 seasons cost them $20M, $20M, $20M, $25M, $25M, and $25M. The 7th season is a $23M team option with a $10M buyout. When someone refers to wanting a “Ryan Howard-type contract”, now you know what it means (if you didn’t know already). 1/10
- Braves – Chipper Jones and his $13M per year could be the key variable here. If the Braves can clear enough payroll, it’s still hard to imagine them spending all their money on 1 player, but stranger things have happened. 3/10
- Mets – Ike Davis costs just above the bare minimum, and he’s got incredible range at 1B. If he gives them 20 hr and 75-80 rbi a year along with really good defense, then it’s hard to top that bargain. For a team with several needs to address, 1B just doesn’t seem like the best place to start, even if bringing in AP would be the kind of big name signing that would wow the fans. 5/10
- Cubs – Would anything ramp up the rivalry as much as the Cubbies signing AP? Probably not. As I mentioned during my NL Central Fall Preview series here, the Cubs have as little as $44.5M committed to the 2012 payroll right now, so they could afford the contract. I look for them to fill the void long before that point, and a Prince Fielder / Wrigley Field pairing seems like a perfect match to me. 3/10
- Giants – Aubrey Huff just inked a 2 yr / $20M deal with them with a team option for a 3rd year a $10M with a $2M buyout. It would seemingly be tough to move Huff at $10M for 2012 to make room for AP and still have the money to sign AP as well. 2/10
- Rockies – Todd Helton plays 1B there, and he’s signed through 2013 as part of a 3 yr / $33.6M deal. Even though his 2012 and 2013 numbers are $4.9M and $5M respectively, the Tulowitzki deal really accelerates starting in 2013. 3/10
- Dodgers – This is one team that is hitting a really bad phase in the life cycle of a baseball team. It’s the phase in which a lot of players reach either free agency or arbitration at the same time. That means that they have to spend a lot to retain or obtain talent, and the 3 yr / $21M deal for Juan Uribe is just one example. For a team that appears to be cutting payroll, it doesn’t appear like they are doing so to make a big splash anytime soon, and they appear satisfied with James Loney for now, anyway. 2/10
I’ve saved the Cardinals for last. They’ve had an exclusive negotiating window for quite a while now, and no extension is in place yet. I’m probably in the small minority on this one, but I’m ready for some negotiating to take place. Way back in October, I wrote “The 800 lb Gorilla in the Middle of Busch” in which I outlined what I consider to be a reasonable deal for 8 yrs / $205M. That’s just slightly above the average annual value of Ryan Howard‘s contract, and it’s only exceeded by Alex Rodriguez‘s deal. I’m not suggesting a “take it or leave it approach”, but a “this is ALL we can afford AND remain competitive” attitude wouldn’t be bad at all. Do it now. Don’t wait until spring. Don’t wait until November of 2011. Do it tomorrow, and I’ll rate the team’s chances at 9/10. Get the deal done, and that small collective sigh will probably become a giant one. By waiting this long, it’s quite possible that the team has already allowed the price to rise, because A-Gon is nearly off the market. At this rate, it’s beginning to look like a long, cold winter, and the hot stove is cooling quickly in St. Louis.