St. Louis Cardinals v Cincinnati Reds

If Albert Pujols hits free agency, it’s a near certainty that both the Yankees and Red Sox will pursue him…

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I don’t have sources. I don’t know Albert Pujols and I’ve only been to Yankee Stadium once, back when I was a 15-year-old high school sophomore. I saw Roger Clemens get his 300th win and 4,000th strikeout in the same night, then tried to pat down goosebumps as Elton John’s “Rocket Man” rang through the grainy speakers. That’s as close as I’ve ever been to the Yankees’ front office, though, and a story with absolutely nothing to do with this post.

These are my own thoughts. They don’t come from a source with knowledge of the situation. They don’t come from the Yankees, or the Cardinals, or Pujols.
I just want to throw an opinion into the mix of opinions about what’s happening with baseball’s best hitter.

Jon Heyman of SI.com wrote on Twitter this evening that there is “virtually no chance” that the Cardinals and Pujols’ representatives will be able to reach a contract extension before the slugger shows up to spring training on February 16  — his self-imposed deadline. I don’t know how Heyman came across that information and can’t really guess whether it’s true. But let’s go ahead and assume it is.

Let’s assume that Pujols arrives at spring training this year without a contract that covers him past 2011 and that he denies the Cardinals a shot at him in those five or six November days between the end of the World Series and the beginning of baseball’s free agency period. We’re talking about a guy who has hit a combined .331/.426/.624 over the past 10 seasons, and he is hitting the free agent market. The finest start to a career in the history of baseball, and he goes up for sale.

That “best ever” talk isn’t hyperbole, by the way, and those superlatives belong right where they’re written.

I love this stat from Joe Posnanski, the best sports writer on the planet:

Pujols has averaged a .331 batting average, 43 doubles, 41 home runs, 119 runs and 123 RBIs over his first 10 seasons in Major League Baseball.  Only nine players in the game’s history have produced that stat line or better in a given season, and all nine of those players did it just once.

Pujols is historically great. He has fantastic instincts defensively at first base and great range for such a big-bodied guy. People sometimes forget that he came up as an outfielder and third baseman, and I’ll tell you with certainty that he could probably still play both of those positions at a high level.

If he hits the free agent market in November, every big money team in baseball — and even some of the lower market ones — will be trying to bring Pujols in with real and legitimate bids. He’s a brand, a family man taking care of a wife and four children. One of those children, Isabella, is from his wife’s previous marriage and was diagnosed with down syndrome at birth. Pujols has provided millions in aid to down syndrome research and he actively runs his own foundation for a kid that is not his own. The dude is as genuine as it gets and marketable beyond comprehension.

Many sections of the baseball writing community have been quick to dismiss the Red Sox, and more specifically the Yankees, from the potential hunt for Pujols: The Brand. ESPN.com’s Buster Olney did it. Scores of others have, too.

To me, that’s not a realistic line of thinking.

Sure, they’re both set at first base. The Yankees have invested an eight-year, $180 million contract into Mark Teixeira, who is great defensively and should bounce back from a relatively down year at the plate. The Red Sox just made a big trade for Adrian Gonzalez, who is probably better than Tex, and they’re planning to lock him up before the end of spring training.

But look at DH. For the Yanks, Jorge Posada is going to get the majority of at-bats there this season and he’s turning 40 this year. For the Red Sox, it’ll be one final year of David Ortiz and all of his inconsistencies.

Pujols is both aggressive and talented at defense, and he plays the first base position like he enjoys it, but is he really going to turn down $20 million, or $10 million, or whatever more the Yankees and Red Sox might be bidding over other teams, for an opportunity to play the field? Both clubs can promise him twice-weekly looks at first base, and maybe more. If it’s all about the money, it’s all about the money. And it certainly appears that Pujols has directed his free agent to find the most cash possible.

The Cubs could also make a run at the man who has done so much damage against them. They’re only locked into Carlos Pena at first base for one year and Aramis Ramirez’s hideous contract is about to come off the books. It’d be a great way for the Ricketts family to get on the good side of the fanbase after a somewhat shaky beginning. To assume that Pujols cares one way or another about the rivalry would be a practice in gullibility. Welcome to the modern sports world.

Pujols’ free agency, if it comes, will be an absolute circus. The Yanks and Sawx will be the ringmasters.

Report: Teams reluctant to gamble on Cliff Lee

Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Cliff Lee throws during the first inning of a baseball game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park Thursday, July 31, 2014, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
AP Photo/Alex Brandon
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In Saturday’s column for the Boston Globe, Nick Cafardo suggests that free agent Cliff Lee is seeking a guaranteed major league deal between $6 and $8 million plus incentives. That is turning some otherwise interested teams away, as the lefty is still recovering from a torn flexor tendon in his left elbow. Lee hasn’t pitched since July 31, 2014.

Last month, Lee’s agent Darek Braunecker said the pitcher would need “a perfect fit” to pitch in 2016. He also noted that Lee has begun a full offseason throwing program.

In his most recent season, Lee compiled a 3.65 ERA with 72 strikeouts and 12 walks in 81 1/3 innings for the Phillies. The Phillies had signed him to a five-year, $120 million contract in December 2010 but declined a club option for the 2016 season, instead buying him out for $12.5 million.

Orioles reconsidering signing Yovani Gallardo

Yovani Gallardo
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
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In an article for MASN on Friday, Steve Melewski noted that the Orioles were reluctant to forfeit their first round draft pick (14th overall) in order to sign free agent starter Yovani Gallardo. The club is now reconsidering its stance and rechecking the right-handers medicals, MASN’s Roch Kubatko reports.

Gallardo, who turns 30 on February 27, posted a 3.42 ERA with 121 strikeouts and 68 walks over 184 1/3 innings for the Rangers last season. The Rangers had acquired him in a trade with the Brewers, sending Luis Sardinas, Corey Knebel, and minor leaguer Marcos Diplan to Milwaukee.

Gallardo has posted an ERA below 4.00 in six of his last seven seasons. He remains unsigned into February, however, because his strikeout rate has rapidly decreased with each year since 2012. Per FanGraphs, that rate was 23.7 percent in 2012, then went to 18.6 percent, 17.9 percent, and 15.3 percent progressively. Some of that may have to do with diminishing fastball velocity, as Gallardo’s 90.4 MPH average marked a career low among his eight full seasons with at least 100 innings pitched.

The Orioles lost starter Wei-Yin Chen, who signed with the Marlins, and the back end of their rotation is highly speculative with Kevin Gausman, Mike Wright, Odrisamer Despaigne, and Tyler Wilson. Adding a veteran like Gallardo, even if he is apparently declining, may be stabilizing.

Freddy Garcia is calling it a career

Screenshot 2016-02-07 at 10.16.43 AM
Elsa/Getty Images North America
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MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez passes along word from the Dominican Republic that right-hander Freddy Garcia will hang up his cleats for good after Sunday’s Caribbean Series championship game.

Garcia will start that game for the Tigres de Aragua out of Venezuela. He’s taking on Mexico’s Venados de Mazatlan.

“Venezuelan fans are expecting something good from Freddy and so is everybody,” said Tigres de Aragua manager Eddie Perez, who also serves as the bullpen coach for the Atlanta Braves. “Knowing that it’s his last game is going to make it very special. We all hope he pitches a really good game so he can retire in a good way and bring the title for Venezuela. Everybody who is rooting for Venezuela expects him to do well.”

Garcia’s last major league game was in the 2013 postseason. The 39-year-0ld will finish with a 4.15 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, and 6.4 K/9 in 2,264 career regular-season innings. He had a 3.26 ERA in 11 playoff starts, winning a World Series title with the White Sox in 2005.

Video: 2016 will be a season to remember

Carlos+Correa+Houston+Astros+v+Arizona+Diamondbacks+Ctyu5RiU3SWl
Christian Petersen/Getty Images North America
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MLB.com put together this very cool video montage reviewing the 2015 season and setting us up for what should be a wild 2016. Young stars, veterans chasing milestones, unpredictable divisional races.

It’s so close to spring training. Let’s do this.