No deal at the deadline: where do Pujols and the Cardinals go from here?

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It’s now past the deadline that Albert Pujols set for the cutoff of negotiations with the Cardinals.  For all practical purposes spring training has begun for Pujols and El Hombre will not negotiate during spring training.  So now, aside from another of his usual Hall of Fame-caliber seasons,what does the future hold for Pujols and the Cardinals?

One thing that seems certain is that, unlike your typical big money free-agent-to-be, a trade is not a real possibility.  Oh sure, some people have speculated about one happening, but even they’re not doing it with a straight face.  Pujols has been in the bigs for more than ten years and with the same club for more than five and that gives him the famous “ten and five rights” which require his approval for any trade.  He is on record as saying that he will not, under any circumstances accept one.

And even if Pujols was amenable to a trade, the Cardinals would be fools to make one.  There’s no way they could get anything approaching fair value for him. He’s too close to free agency for it to make sense for any trade parter to empty the farm system for him.  The usual alternative to that — trading for another big contract — makes little sense if you’re the Cardinals given that paying Pujols seems to be an issue right now.  Why pay nearly as much for someone else’s expensive but-nowhere-near-as-good first baseman?  A first baseman who — like, say Mark Teixeira to use an example — likely also has his own no-trade clause and would be certifiably insane to go to St. Louis and attempt to fill Pujols’ shoes.

No, the season is going to play out with Albert Pujols in St. Louis.  A season during which he claims there will be no contract negotiations.

What about that claim?  Personally, I question it.  The parties have already discussed money. They’re nowhere close to a deal, but clearly the Cardinals know what Pujols wants.  Does it make any sense that if the Cardinals were to agree to meet Pujols’ demands his agent wouldn’t answer the call?  Of course not.  What if they were a million dollars short?  Heck, that’s nothing at those prices, so sure Pujols would still listen.  And he likely would if it was a $2 million gap too.  Yes, such small gaps seem unlikely, but the point here is that somewhere between  the current stalemate and a total capitulation by the Cardinals is an offer that Pujols would accept, and his agent would be silly not to hear the Cardinals out on it if the came calling with it.

All of which means that — in my opinion — this deadline that just passed is a soft one.  I believe that there will be, at some point between now and next October, real discussions between the Cardinals and Pujols.  They may not be highly publicized. They may not involve Pujols himself.  But they’ll happen in some way.

And I think a good reason they’ll happen is that Pujols knows that, for as amazing a player he is, the market doesn’t shape up wonderfully for him next fall and winter.  The usual high-bidders — the Yankees and Red Sox — already have first basemen in Mark Teixeira and Adrian Gonzalez. The Yankees also have to keep the DH slot open for Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter to occupy in their dotage.  They’re the only two teams who could write a $300 million check without gambling the franchise.  In short: if not the Cardinals, who else could possibly offer him the kind of money he’s seeking?

Maybe the Rangers would, but as we saw in December with the Cliff Lee stuff, there is a major split between the owner and the front office on how best to spend free agent dollars.  Some have mentioned the Cubs and, boy howdy would they love to steal their biggest rival’s superstar. But Chicago has some major salary commitments already and owner Tom Ricketts has suggested that the payroll will go down, not up, in the future.  The Angels? Heck, they wouldn’t pay Adrian Beltre.  The Dodgers and Mets are broke. The White Sox have Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko under contract.  The Nationals and Orioles are too far from contention to be likely to entice a player of Pujols’ stature. Against that entire backdrop is the fact that Prince Fielder will be a free agent too and, while he’s nothing close to the player Pujols is, he’s much younger and will come much cheaper.  There really isn’t any other obvious choice.

My suspicion: whether talks happen this summer or not, Albert Pujols stays in St. Louis.  He may not get his ten years and $300 million, but he’ll get something close to it.  Or at least something that can be characterized as close to it but which contains all manner of deferred money and other vesting options and incentives for both now and later to make it plausible to claim that he’s getting such a thing even if it’s less in present day dollars. But however the deal breaks down, I think it will be with the Cardinals.  No one else has the need for Pujols like the Cardinals do.  No one else has the money that Pujols wants.

Put differently: even if the passing of today’s deadline is something akin to a living hell, the Pujols-Cardinals match is one made in heaven.  And I have every bit of confidence that the relationship will continue for a long, long time.

Anthony Alford to miss 4-6 weeks following wrist surgery

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Blue Jays’ outfielder Anthony Alford will miss at least 4-6 weeks after undergoing surgery on his left wrist, the team announced on Saturday. Alford was placed on the 10-day disabled list earlier in the week after sustaining a left hamate fracture on a foul pitch, and could miss significant time in what looks to be a lengthy rehab process. MLB.com’s Gregor Chisholm reports that the procedure has been scheduled for next week and will be performed by Dr. Donald Sheridan in Arizona.

Alford, 22, was called up to the majors from Double-A New Hampshire last Friday. He went hitless in his first three outings, finally catching a break against the Brewers on Tuesday when he pinch-hit a leadoff double in the seventh. The injury occurred two innings later when Alford fouled off a pitch in the ninth inning, fracturing his wrist in the process.

Alford will join eight other players on the Blue Jays’ disabled list, including outfielders Steve Pearce (calf strain), Dalton Pompey (concussion) and Darrell Cecillani (partial shoulder dislocation). He’s expected to be replaced by 24-year-old outfield prospect Dwight Smith Jr.

Stephen Strasburg hit a new career high today

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Good luck getting a hit against the Nationals this weekend. Stephen Strasburg followed Max Scherzer‘s 13-strikeout performance on Friday with a dazzling outing of his own on Saturday afternoon. The right-hander whiffed a career-best 15 batters in seven innings, allowing just three hits and a walk in the Nats’ 3-0 win.

It took Strasburg several innings to get into a groove after pitching into (and out of) a jam in the first inning. The Padres loaded the bases with Allen Cordoba‘s leadoff single, a throwing error by Ryan Zimmerman and a four-pitch walk to Cory Spangenberg. By the third, Strasburg was cruising, striking out the side on 18 pitches and keeping the Padres off the basepaths until the sixth. He recorded his 15th and final strikeout in the seventh inning, catching Padres’ prospect Franchy Cordero swinging on a 1-2 pitch to effectively end his outing.

While 15 strikeouts set a new career record for the Nationals’ ace, he came close to reaching the mark twice before. The first time, he struck out 14 of 24 batters during his major league debut against the 2010 Pirates, though the 5-2 win did little more than keep the Nationals neck-and-neck with the Marlins at the bottom of the NL East. Five years later, he tied his 14-strikeout record against the 2015 Phillies, tossing a one-hitter in eight innings to cement his ninth victory of the season.

The only one who doesn’t seem overly enthused by the new record? Strasburg himself, who told MLB.com’s Jamal Collier and AJ Cassavell: “It’s pretty cool, but there’s another game five, six days from now. I’ll enjoy it tonight, but back to work tomorrow.”