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.