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.

Unprecedented sanctions: MLB bans former Braves GM for life, makes 12 signees free agents

Associated Press
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Major League Baseball has slammed the hammer down on the Atlanta Braves as the result of their violations of rules on the international free agent market.

Former Braves General Manager John Coppolella has been placed on the permanently ineligible list — the same list Pete Rose is on — banning him from a job in baseball forever. His assistant, Gordon Blakeley, will be suspended for a period of one year. Each had already been dismissed by the Braves. Other Braves’ international baseball operations employees who participated in the misconduct could still be suspended as the league finishes its investigation.

As reported earlier, 12 of the clubs’ international signees are now free agents. The Braves will lose the following players, signed during the 2015-17 international free agent signing periods:

  • Juan Contreras;
  • Yefri del Rosario;
  • Abrahan Gutierrez;
  • Kevin Maitan;
  • Juan Carlos Negret;
  • Yenci Peña;
  • Yunior Severino;
  • Livan Soto;
  • Guillermo Zuniga;
  • Brandol Mezquita;
  • Angel Rojas; and
  • Antonio Sucre

As reported earlier, Maitan was the number one overall international prospect in 2016. The Braves have, for a few years now, had among the top international signee classes. Obviously that came by virtue of cheating the system, and obviously that will lead to a reevaluation of where the clubs’ minor league system stands, talent-wise.

The penalties are not limited to the loss of those players. Commissioner Manfred is imposing what amounts to punitive damages going forward. From Commissioner Manfred’s statement:

“While the remedies discussed above will deprive the Braves of the benefits of their circumvention, I believe that additional sanctions are warranted to penalize the Club for the violations committed by its employees. Accordingly, the Braves will be prohibited from signing any international player for more than $10,000 during the 2019-20 signing period, which is the first signing period in which the Braves are not subject to any signing restrictions under our rules; and the Braves’ international signing bonus pool for the 2020-21 signing period will be reduced by 50 percent.”

There was also what appears to be an unrelated draft violation, imposing penalties along those lines as well:

“The investigation also determined that the Braves offered impermissible benefits, which were never provided, to a player they selected in the First-Year Player Draft in an attempt to convince him to sign for a lower bonus. As a penalty for the Club’s attempted circumvention involving a draft selection, the Braves will forfeit their third-round selection in the 2018 First-Year Player Draft.

The gist of the violations against the Braves involves the bundling of signing bonuses, in which the Braves got players — through their representatives in Latin America — to take lower than the amount typically allotted in one year in order to use the money to sign other, highly rated players in subsequent years, with money they wouldn’t have otherwise had. MLB’s statement describes the scheme thusly:

“The investigation established that the Braves circumvented international signing rules from 2015 through 2017. During the 2015-16 international signing period, the Braves signed five players subject to the Club’s signing bonus pool to contracts containing signing bonuses lower than the bonuses the Club had agreed to provide the players. The Club provided the additional bonus money to those players by inflating the signing bonus to another player who was exempt from their signing pool because he qualified as a ‘foreign professional’ under MLB rules.

“Consistent with the rules, the Braves could have signed all of the 2015-16 players for the full, actual signing bonus amounts. Had the Club signed the five players to contracts containing their actual bonuses, however, the Braves would have exceeded their signing bonus pool by more than five percent and would have been, under MLB rules, restricted from signing any players during the next two signing periods for contracts with bonuses greater than $300,000.

“As a result of the 2015-16 circumvention, the Braves were able to sign nine high-value players during the 2016-17 signing period who would have been unavailable to them had the Club accurately accounted for its signings during the 2015-16 signing period.”

The scheme continued like this:

“The investigation also determined that the Braves: (i) agreed to sign six players to inflated signing bonuses pursuant to an agreement with prospect Robert Puason’s agent in exchange for a commitment that Puason would sign with the Club in the 2019-20 signing period; and (ii) offered prospect Ji-Hwan Bae extra-contractual compensation. In order to remedy these violations, I am prohibiting the Club from signing Robert Puason when he becomes eligible to sign, and disapproving the contract between Bae and the Braves, which has not yet become effective.”

This is, by far, the most serious set of scouting, drafting and signing penalties ever imposed by Major League Baseball. It speaks to the sheer audacity of the Braves’ scheme to circumvent signing rules. It also sends a loud and clear signal to other teams — many who have been rumored to have engaged in similar conduct on a smaller scale — that MLB will not tolerate it.

The Braves lower minor league system has been decimated. It stands, essentially, as the head on the pike outside of the castle.