Deducing Albert Pujols’ mystery team

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ESPN’s Jayson Stark surmises that the mystery team chasing Albert Pujols is a club with an established first baseman that it would need to trade in order to make room for a shiny new three-time MVP. So, let’s run through the league to see who might qualify. I’ll exclude the Cardinals and Angels — the known suitors for Pujols — as well as the Marlins, who have already moved on.

National League
Arizona – Trying to re-sign Lyle Overbay doesn’t seem like a smokescreen.
Atlanta – Not while Liberty Media watches the purse strings. Freddie Freeman.
Chicago – Thought to be the third suitor initially, the Cubs don’t fit this description.
Cincinnati – It’d make more sense to give Joey Votto Pujols-type money than to actually sign Pujols.
Colorado – No money.
Houston – Trying to trade Carlos Lee, but committed to rebuilding.
Los Angeles – James Loney sort of qualifies, but the Dodgers have likely already used most of their payroll flexibility. Also, Loney can just be non-tendered.
Milwaukee – Would rather re-sign Prince Fielder.
New York – No money.
Philadelphia – Ryan Howard is impossible to trade with blown out Achilles’ and $125 million contract.
Pittsburgh – No established first baseman. Hard to see Pujols wanting to play here.
San Diego – No money, no first baseman to trade.
San Francisco – Trading Aubrey Huff to make room for Pujols would fit into Stark’s scenario, but the Giants don’t appear to have the money to get involved.
Washington – Everything has pointed to the Nats staying out of the mix. Still, can’t be completely ruled out.

American League
Baltimore – The Orioles would need to trade Mark Reynolds ahead of a Pujols signing. However, most everything suggests they’re sitting this one out.
Boston – Adrian Gonzalez, obviously. Hmmm.
Chicago – Paul Konerko is one of the White Sox’s few keepers as the rebuilding effort begins.
Cleveland – No money, no first baseman.
Detroit – The Tigers will go forward with Miguel Cabrera.
Kansas City – Content with Eric Hosmer.
Minnesota – No money and Justin Morneau is untradeable.
New York – Mark Teixeira has a full no-trade clause and no desire to leave New York. It’s hard to imagine him going anywhere.
Oakland – No first baseman worth worrying about and not enough money.
Seattle – The Mariners could put Justin Smoak up for bids in the event of a Pujols/Fielder signing, but it’s hardly a prerequisite. It appears that they prefer Fielder anyway.
Tampa Bay – No money, no first baseman.
Texas – Mitch Moreland isn’t an obstacle. The Rangers can still be tossed around as a possible mystery team, but they don’t make sense under Stark’s scenario.
Toronto – The Jays would want to trade Adam Lind in the event of a Pujols signing. But, again, it’s not a prerequisite. Also, they appear more interested in Fielder.

If Stark’s hunch is right — that this mystery team can only sign Pujols with a deal in place to move its first baseman — then Boston seems like the obvious choice. What if Gonzalez has decided Boston isn’t all it’s cracked up to be? There was some issue in the newspapers about his lack of leadership during the team’s September collapse, and perhaps he’s not enamored with the choice of Bobby Valentine to manage. Also, he probably wasn’t pleased that the Red Sox came up short on Heath Bell after he apparently interceded on his former teammate’s behalf. Maybe?

I’m not really buying it. I think the Red Sox would rather have Gonzalez at $154 million for the next seven years — his age 30-36 seasons — than Pujols at $220 million for 10 years — his age 32-41 seasons. But the idea of trading Gonzalez, who has only partial no-trade protection, and signing Pujols isn’t all that far-fetched. The salaries would be essentially the same, and if the Red Sox could get legitimate talent back (how crazy would a Gonzalez-for-Hanley Ramirez deal be?) then maybe it’d be worth it.

I don’t think it’s Boston, though. Stark’s theory passes the smell test, but the Cubs and Rangers still make more sense as the mystery team, if there truly is one.

And That Happened: Thursday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Cubs 5, Brewers 3: An absolute dagger of a loss for the Brewers. Chicago took a 2-0 lead early and Milwaukee fought back to take a 3-2 lead in the eighth. In the ninth Ian Happ reached on a grounder on which he should have been out — no error was called, Jeremy Jeffress just couldn’t get to the bag in time — and then Javier Baez tied things up singling Happ in with two outs. In the 10th, Kris Bryant hit a two-run homer on a high fastball that probably didn’t do everything Oliver Drake wanted it to do. Wade Davis got the final five outs of the game, in the ninth and tenth, striking out four Brewers. Chicago is now four and a half games ahead of the Brewers in the Central. Milwaukee will have to win the final three games of this series to have any shot at the division. They do remain only one back in the Wild Card, however, because Colorado keeps losing.

Dodgers 5, Phillies 4: Philly took a 4-2 lead thanks to rookie sensations Nick Williams and Rhys Hoskins, but old men Curtis Granderson and Andre Ethier — still alive! who knew?! — homered in the six than seventh innings, respectively, to tie it up. The Dodgers’ own rookie sensation Cody Bellinger drove in the eventual winning run with a groundout in the seventh. With that win the Dodgers clinch at least a tie for the NL West title. They can pop champagne corks with either a win tonight or a Dbacks loss. Bad news though: Justin Turner got a bruised thumb when he was hit by a pitch from Mark Leiter Jr. in the first. X-rays were negative and he’s day-to-day, but that kind of thing can linger.

Indians 4, Angels 1: Francisco Lindor hit a three-run homer in the fifth to break a 1-1 tie and the Indians win yet again. That’s 27 of 28 now. They’re only a game behind the Dodgers for the best record in baseball which, as we’ve noted recently, matters now that home field in the World Series is determined by non-stupid means.

Orioles 3, Rays 1: Gabriel Ynoa — who, apropos of nothing, has one of the more satisfying last names to both read and pronounce in all of baseball — tossed eight innings of five-hit, one-run ball. Manny Machado hit a two-run homer and Trey Mancini knocked in a run, both coming in the first innings, for all of Baltimore’s scoring. Tampa Bay threatened in the ninth. It wasn’t anywhere near as good a threat as the one Kim Jong Un issued to Trump yesterday — really, all politics aside, that thing reads fantastically — so the O’s were able to extinguish the fire.

Royals 1, Blue Jays 0: Jason Vargas and four relievers allowed two hits and no runs to beat J.A. Happ and three relievers who allowed eight hits and one run. Melky Cabrera‘s third inning RBI single was the game’s only scoring. Can you imagine what any pitcher from before, say, 1980, must think about a 1-0 game featuring a two-hit shutout that required nine pitchers?

Twins 12, Tigers 1: The Twins had been on a mini-skid before last night, but the Tigers pitching staff will always cure what ails ya. Joe Mauer and Jorge Polanco had three hits each and four different Twins batters knocked in two runs. The Twins now have a two and a half game lead for the second Wild Card with ten days left in the season.

Cardinals 8, Reds 5: Scott Schebler hit two homers for the Reds but it was not enough to overcome the Cards. Dexter Fowler had three hits and drove in two. He was 7-for-13 with two home runs and six RBI in the three-game series, swept by St. Louis. The Cards, who were swept by the Cubs last weekend, are still alive for the Wild Card, though, sitting a game and a half back of Colorado and a half game back of Milwaukee.

Braves 3, Nationals 2: R.A. Dickey allowed two runs over eight innings to pick up his 10th win on the year. After the game he said, “I’d be lying to say I didn’t have some emotions about it. This could be my last start ever at a home venue.” So there’s a decent chance he retires after the season. Part of me hopes he doesn’t — knuckleballers can and should pitch forever and he does have a team option the Braves are likely to pick up for 2018 — but he’s got kids and stuff and it’d be totally understandable if he decided he was done.

White Sox 3, Astros 1: White Sox starter Carson Fulmer lasted one third of an inning before leaving with a blister so seven relievers covered the rest of the game, allowing only one run to the best offense in baseball. Dallas Keuchel walked in one run and allowed another to score on a double play to earn the loss. Tim Anderson hit an insurance home run in the eighth.

Rangers 4, Mariners 2: Cole Hamels allowed only one run over eight innings pitched and was backed by Adrian Beltre and Shin-Soo Choo homers and a Carlos Gomez two-run double. The Mariners have been part of the Wild Card conversation for much of the season but now they’re closer to last place in the AL West (4.5 games) than they are to the second Wild Card (5 games).

Padres 3, Rockies 0: Clayton Richard, fresh off of his two-year contract extension, tamed the Rockies, shutting them out for seven and a third, scattering seven hits. Christian Villanueva homered and drove in two. The Rockies have dropped four straight and have the Brewers and Cards breathing down their necks for the second Wild Card.

Padres, Mariners join list of teams to extend netting

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The Reds announced earlier that they plan to extend the protective netting at Great American Ball Park in time for Opening Day next season. You can add the Padres and Mariners to what will surely be a growing list.

A young fan was struck in the face by a foul ball at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday, which gave new life to the netting debate. Some fans and media types think Major League Baseball is not doing enough to protect fans. While Major League Baseball has issued guidelines for protective netting, it is ultimately up to the teams to decide just how much netting to use.