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.

Blue Jays clinch playoff berth with Orioles’ loss to Red Sox

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TORONTO — The Blue Jays clinched a postseason berth Thursday without taking the field.

Toronto was assured of an AL wild card berth when the Boston Red Sox beat the Baltimore Orioles 5-3.

If Toronto holds its current position as the first of the AL’s three wild cards, the Blue Jays would open a best-of-three wild-card series at Rogers Centre next week.

“These guys are excited to be in this position,” Blue Jays manager John Schneider said after Wednesday’s 8-3 loss to the New York Yankees. “You’ve got three really good pitchers lined up against a good Boston team, playing at home. So I think it’s more excitement more than it’s nerves or anything. I think the guys are going to come out and be ready to roll on Friday night.”

Toronto became the fourth AL team to clinch a playoff berth, joining division champions Houston, the Yankees and Cleveland. The Astros and Yankees have first-round byes.

The Blue Jays last went to the playoffs in 2020, when they were knocked out with two straight losses to Tampa Bay.

Eight of the 12 berths in the expanded postseason have been clinched: The Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis earned division titles, and Atlanta and the New York Mets are assured no worse the wild cards while still competing to win the NL East. The Dodgers have a first-round bye.