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: Wednesday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Mariners 4, White Sox 3: Mike Zunino doubled and scored and later he homered to give the M’s the lead for good and Nelson Cruz had three hits and knocked a couple in. Felix Hernandez allowed three over six and that beat James Shields who allowed four over six. That’s just math.

Astros 5, Angels 2: Justin Verlander is now 9-0 as a Houston Astro. He’s 13-1 if you count the playoffs. Either way, he continues to enjoy the hell out of wearing the orange and blue. Er, the other orange and blue. Here he allowed two runs on four hits over seven innings, striking out nine, to go to 4-0 on the year. Albert Pujols did hit a homer off of him, notching his 2,994th career hit, but Jose Altuve and Jake Marisnick went deep for Houston and Alex Bregman hit a three-run double.

Rockies 5, Padres 2: A day after getting shut out in Coors Field, San Diego went six innings without scoring a run off of Rockies starter Jon Gray, who struck out eleven Padres. I’m assuming the list of teams who have been shut out in back-to-back games in Denver is short, but at least the Padres didn’t join that one, later scratching out a couple against the San Diego pen. David Dahl and Tony Wolters each drove in a pair for Colorado.

Nationals 15, Giants 2: With the run support Max Scherzer got he didn’t need to strike out ten and allow only two runs over six innings, but he did. With the fine pitching Scherzer gave the Nats they didn’t need to score two touchdowns and a two-point conversion, but they did. Matt Adams singled and doubled in runs and hit a three-run homer. Andrew Stephenson doubled in runs on two separate occasion and took a bases-loaded walks. Trea Turner got five hits. The Nats had scored just eight runs in the four-game losing streak this victory ended. Here, 14 of their 15 runs were scored with two men out. That’s clutch, or something.

Tigers 13, Pirates 10; Pirates 8, Tigers 3: The Pirates and Tigers have been cursed this year, getting rained out *guesses* seventeen times, so they played two yesterday. Neither starter gave their managers four innings in the first one which you know Ron Gardenhire and Clint Hurdle TOTALLY loved on a doubleheader day. Nicholas Castellanos had four hits, including a homer, and drove in four and teammate Miguel Cabrera had four hits as well in the first-game victory, while Frankie Cervelli knocked in six in a losing cause. In the nightcap, Jose Osuna, who was called up specifically to be the 26-man in the twinbill, hit a three-run homer. He was then sent back to Indianapolis immediately following the game. They should’ve had David Attenborough narrate his day in the same way he’d narrate the weird and sad one-day lifespan of some rando insect on “Planet Earth,” with the homer being like that shining moment the bug got to mate before his head got eaten off or whatever.

Yankees 7, Twins 4: The Yankees won despite another bad start from Sonny Gray, who allowed three runs on six hits in four and two-thirds. Didi Gregorius homered for the fourth game in a row and singled in a run to remain white-hot, Tyler Austin had a three-run shot and Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton each hit a sac fly. The Twins have lost six straight.

Braves 5, Reds 4: The big news was the debut of Ronald Acuña. He went 1-for-5, flying out on the first two pitches he saw, striking out twice but notching his first hit as a big leaguer on an eighth inning single, after which he’d score the tying run on a Kurt Suzuki single. The Braves, who had an early lead in this one that they let slip away, ended up winning it on a Johan Camargo double in the ninth which scored Ozzie Albies. Camargo drove in two on the night. The Braves bullpen — which has not been getting the job done of late — got the job done, tossing four shutout innings.

Indians 4, Cubs 1: Trevor Bauer allowed one run over six and two-thirds and struck out eight while Brandon Guyer, Francisco Lindor and Edwin Encarnacion each went deep for Cleveland. Bad news for Cleveland, though, as Andrew Miller had to leave the game with a tight left hamstring. We’ll update later today when it’s know how long he’ll be out.

Rays 8, Orioles 4: Due to the rain on Tuesday the Rays had to wait an extra day to see their old friend Alex Cobb but it was worth the wait as they tagged him for five runs on ten hits. Joey Wendle had three hits and two RBI for the Rays and Adeiny Hechavarria homered. The highlight of the game, though, was the appearance of Rays reliever Johnny Venters, following a six-year absence from the bigs due to not one, but FOUR major elbow operations, including three Tommy John surgeries. At this point his comeback is a success even if his elbow literally falls off of his arm in his next outing. You know all of those motivational posters that say “DETERMINATION” and “PERSISTENCE” and have, like, a photo of salmon leaping up a waterfall or a beaver building a damn? They should be replaced with Venters simply lifting up a pen or something with his left arm. That he actually threw four pitches in a major league baseball game is amazing.

Phillies 5, Diamondbacks 3: Jake Arrieta outpitched Zack Greinke, allowing three — one earned — over seven innings despite not having his best stuff. Aaron Altherr hit a go-ahead three-run homer in the sixth. It was the first time the Phillies beat the Diamondbacks at home in their last nine meetings.

Red Sox 4, Blue Jays 3: Mookie Betts hit a solo homer in the first inning to put the Bosox on the board and hit a two-run homer in the seventh to bring the Bosox back from behind. I like to say Bosox. Bosox, Bosox, Bosox.

Marlins 8, Dodgers 6: Clayton Kershaw walked six dudes in five innings. That doesn’t happen every day. Heck, it doesn’t happen in three or four days for him, as he hadn’t walked a man in his previous 26 innings and had not walked six in a game since he was a rookie back in 2010. We all have a bad day sometimes, I guess. Marlins starter Trevor Richards, meanwhile, struck out 10 and pitched one-hit ball over 4.2 scoreless innings, leaving due to the pitch count and thus not qualifying for the win. Richards is an independent ball product, by the way, who spent part of last year as a substitute teacher. J.T. Realmuto homered twice and Miguel Rojas went deep for the Fish.

Rangers 4, Athletics 2: Four Rangers relievers combining for four and a third innings of no-hit, scoreless ball to help Texas end the A’s four-game winning streak. Isiah Kiner-Falefa hit a go-ahead single in the fifth for the Rangers. He is the only Isiah to ever play major league ball, by the way. You can look it up.

Cardinals 9, Mets 1Jedd Gyorko hit a two-run homer and Marcell Ozuna hit a bases-loaded single to cap a three-run third inning that put St. Louis up for good. The Cards have won 9 of 11. Ozuna was only 1-for-4 and has been in a horrendous slump, but maybe this breaks him out of it.

Brewers 6, Royals 2Jhoulys Chacin was efficient, in part because the Royals were swinging at everything. He allowed two runs while pitching into the sixth and the bullpen pitched three and a third shutout innings, running their scoreless streak to 28. In turn, the Brewers ran their winning streak to eight. It’s shaping up to be a pretty sweet pennant race between the Brewers and the Cards in the NL Central this year. If you assume, as you should, that the Cubs will step it up too, it could be the most fun division in baseball in 2018.