Thursday, February 3, 2011
Where Will Pujols Land?
For those of you keeping track, there are only 24 negotiating days left in the Albert Pujols contract extension season. If, for some reason, the two sides can't come to agreement by the official start of Spring Training (February 26th), negotiations will be suspended until after the 2011 season. Just for fun, I thought it would be interesting to go through the league, and take a team-by-team look at Pujols's potential destinations should he become a free agent. I have broken up the league into nine categories based on the likelihood he signs with each team.
Are You Serious? We Don't Have the Money to Sign Pujols!
Pittsburgh Pirates - Lyle Overbay has been tasked with holding down the fort at first base for the Pirates in 2011. Once the season ends, he'll become a free agent. With a potential opening at first base, could the Pirates make a run at Pujols? Yeah, not so much. The Pirates 2011 payroll should cap out at around $40M, and there's no reason to expect it to be significantly higher in 2012. If the Pirates were to sign Pujols at $27.5M per season, they'd have to fill out the remainder of their roster with players making the league minimum just to keep their payroll where it is now. Having a marquis player is nice, but not when it comes at the expense of the rest of your squad. Plus, there's the small issue of the Pirates nineteen seasons of futility. (Yes, I'm predicting another losing season in 2011. Shocking, I know.) Maybe it's just me, but I don't see him agreeing to spend the remainder of his prime competing for last place in the NL Central.
Oakland Athletics - While the Athletics have been far more aggressive this offseason than in the recent past, their 2011 payroll will only end up around the $65-70M level. While I'm sure Billy Beane would be happy to have Pujols on his team, he knows that it doesn't make sense to drop $27.5M on an 8 WAR true talent player when he can get 10 wins worth of talent from guys like Josh Willingham, Mark Ellis, David DeJesus, and Kurt Suzuki (using 2010 stats and salaries) for the same price. Furthermore, they already have a solid first baseman in Daric Barton who is a "walk machine," plays Fielding Bible Award quality defense, and under team control through 2014. What more could Beane ask for?
Florida Marlins - The Marlins are actually spending money these days with Hanley Ramirez, Javier Vazquez, Ricky Nolasco, Josh Johnson, and John Buck all due salaries exceeding $5M next season. Their payroll will likely end up around $55M this year, and it wouldn't be surprising to see them top $70M in 2012 to coincide with the opening of their long awaited new ball park. Even with the "splurge" in spending, it's not practical for the Marlins to sign Pujols. In order to fit Pujols onto their payroll they would probably have to find trading partners for Ramirez and Johnson (at the very least). Those moves make the team worse, not better. Additionally, with Gaby Sanchez and Logan Morrison in the fold, they have first base covered for the next 5-6 years.
Arizona Diamondbacks - It might not be fair to lump the Diamondbacks in with this group, but I'm going to anyway. Armed with a new GM and new philosophy, they appear poised for another rebuilding process. With former Yankee post-prospect Juan Miranda poised to start at first for Arizona, it's likely they'll be looking be trolling the free agent market next season in search of a proper bat to cover the right corner spot. Still, despite the roster hole, Pujols doesn't fit the organization's needs at the moment. They'll likely look for a cheaper short-term option.
San Diego Padres - This one is easy. The Padres just traded Adrian Gonzalez to the Red Sox because he was reportedly looking for Mark Teixeira money (7/$180M). Pujols is going to get a whole lot more than Mark Teixeira money. The Padres will definitely pass on Pujols.
Cleveland Indians - The Indians are up to their ears in the rebuilding process. While they only have $13M (Hafner) in guaranteed money and $15.5M in contract options (Sizemore and Carmona) on the books for the 2012 season, the Indians are unlikely to be buyers (in any sense of the word) next winter. At this point, the Indians are more likely to be more concerned with retaining the talent they already have (Choo, Sizemore, and Masterson) than acquiring new free agent talent.
Milwaukee Brewers - While their payroll is a little high to be on this list, I'm putting them here anyway. Why? Because it's pretty clear they won't pony up and give Prince Fielder the contract he's seeking (Mark Teixeira money). If they won't meet his demands, then it's doubly unlikely they'll consider meeting Pujols's demands.
Tampa Bay Rays - After a few seasons with an elevated payroll, the Rays will be taking a step back for the next couple of season. Well, in terms of payroll anyway. Their farm system is so stacked with high end talent, they should have no problem being competitive in the AL East. With the payroll dropping to around $50M, I don't see the Rays agreeing to waste (yes, waste) half of their financial resources on just one player. The Rays have built a tremendously successful, low revenue organization through player development, shrewd trades, and targeted free agent signings. There's no chance they turn their back on that now.
Also, between 2008-2014 they're paying Evan Longoria $25M (with two additional options totaling $22.5M in salary for 2015 and 2016). Based on his age and performance over his first three seasons, it's not out of the question to think that he could produce as many as many as 45-50 wins above the replacement level during that period. Yes, this is an extreme example, but I'll take 50 wins at $25M (Longoria) over 10 wins at $27.5M (Pujols) any day. It's all about efficiency.
We'd Love to Sign Him, but that Damn B!&$# Screwed Me
Los Angeles Dodgers - The Dodgers are one of baseball's most popular franchises. They have an identifiable brand, a jewel of a ballpark, and play in the second largest TV market in America. Life should be good. With marquee power hitting first baseman, Albert Pujols, possibly entering the free agent market after the season, it'd seem logical to assume the Dodgers would be one of the first teams in line to acquire his services. Right? Yeah, not so much.
The Dodgers, to put it kindly, are a complete disaster. I'm not going to go into the sordid details because quite frankly, it's been written about enough. To put it simply, their ownership situation is a clusterf@ck, and their GM is so incompetent, he thinks it's a smart idea to go on a pitching spending spree while leaving a gaping hole in left. Still, that's besides the point. While the Dodgers only have $33.2M in guaranteed money on the books for next season, they have ten players eligible for arbitration next season and hold on player option for 2012. Between those items and a couple of poorly thought out signings by Ned Colletti (pretty safe bet, don't you think?) that should bring their payroll pretty close to the $100M mark they've been hovering around for the last few seasons. Until the ownership and cash flow situations get sorted out, the Dodgers won't be in a position to make a serious run at Pujols--or any other major free agent for that matter. In all likelihood, they'll stick with the light hitting James Loney (and his sub-.340 wOBA) for the time being.
We'd Love to Sign Him, but the Federal Government is Suing Us for $1B in Claw Backs. Damn You Bernie Madoff!
New York Mets - Do you remember when I said the Dodgers were a disaster? I probably should have added the caveat, "but they're not as bad as the Mets." Mets primary owner Fred Wilpon and his business partner Saul Katz were major investors with Madoff, When the Madoff scandal finally broke, Wilpon and Katz reportedly lost millions. While they tried to assure everyone that everything was fine, few believed them. Everyone wondered how their losses in net worth would affect the franchise in both the short and long-term.
Now, almost three years later, we're finally starting to find out exactly how much the scandal is affecting both the franchise and owner Fred Wilpon. With the federal government reportedly trying to recover as much as $1B "claw back" money, the Wilpons have decided to sell a 20-25% stake in the franchise in hopes of building some additional capital should the government win their case. As I've mentioned previously, most investment groups aren't interested in purchasing only a quarter of a sports franchise. Instead, they're interested in obtaining controlling interest. As a result, by putting up a stake of the franchise, they've put themselves at risk of losing everything, in terms of the Mets.
Until the Madoff, claw back, and ownership situations clear up, the Mets aren't likely to be major players when it comes to major free agents. Luckily for the Mets, they have a good option in Ike Davis. Davis is about to turn 24, hits for power, draws walks, and plays great defense. Plus, he's under control for the next six seasons.
We're Going the Prospect Route
Atlanta Braves - The Braves consider prospect Freddie Freeman to be the long term solution at first base. At only 21 years old, he'll be given every opportunity to hold down the job.
Seattle Mariners - After obtaining Justin Smoak in the Cliff Lee trade, the Mariners appear poised to start the 2011 season with him at first base. If the scouting reports are accurate, Smoak has the potential to be a legitimate switch hitting power threat.
Houston Astros - Prospect Brett Wallace, 24, is projected to be the starting first baseman for the Astros in 2011. While Wallace will be given every chance to win the job, he'll likely be on a relatively short leash. Wallace is with fourth organization in three seasons. If he can't hold down the job, the Astros could end up being in the market for new first baseman in 2012. Considering the state of the Astros rebuilding process, I'd say it's pretty unlikely they end up landing Pujols.
Thanks, but We Already Have a First Baseman
Chicago White Sox - If the White Sox had passed on either Konerko or Dunn (or both), they'd probably be big time players for Pujols. Instead, they'll be sitting on the sidelines next year.
Detroit Tigers - Pujols is great, but it's tough to complain when you have a player like Miguel Cabrera who is capable of putting up .300/.400/.575 for you every season.
Minnesota Twins - As long as Morneau fully recovers from the concussion he suffered in mid-July, the Twins have their man. While we shouldn't expect another season in which he accumulates 5 WAR by the All-Star break, there's no reason to believe he won't end up being a consistent 3.5-5.0 win player for the next couple of years.
Kansas City Royals - They just re-upped Billy Butler, and they have super prospect Eric Hosmer waiting in the wings. The Royals are set at first base for the next 6-8 seasons. Plus, it's not like the Royals would have been serious players for Pujols anyway. They neither have the revenue stream, nor the track record of success to draw Pujols to western Missouri.
Philadelphia Phillies - It's too bad the Phillies decided to sign Howard to that terrible five year $125M extension last April (starts in 2012). If they hadn't, they probably would've been one of the favorites (if not the favorite) to land Pujols next offseason. Instead, they're stuck with a player with significantly less talent that will be making a comparable salary.
Cincinnati Reds - The Reds just signed reigning NL MVP Joey Votto to a three year $38M extension. They're set for a little while.
Colorado Rockies - The Rockies owe $15.9M to Todd Helton through 2013 (plus $13.1M in deferred payments between 2014-2023). As a near replacement level player, he's probably unmovable at this point--even with his reduced salary (due to the restructured contract extension he agreed to last March), . Without a DH slot with which to move him, the Rockies will likely stick with Helton for as long as they can.
San Francisco Giants - Back in December, the Giants signed Aubrey Huff to a two year contact worth $22M. As a result of that signing, the Giants unofficially pulled themselves out of the running to sign Albert Pujols (or Prince Fielder). While it's possible they could find a trade partner willing to accept Huff, the Giants would likely be responsible for eating the bulk (if not all) of Huff's remaining salary. Considering the amount of money they'd be committing to Pujols (or even Fielder) by signing him, that kind of trade arrangement would become somewhat cost prohibitive for the Giants.
We're Probably Not Interested, but You Never Know
Boston Red Sox - The only way the Red Sox get involved is if one of two things happen: (1) Adrian Gonzalez shows that he's not the same player as he was prior to having major shoulder surgery, or (2) the two sides can't come to terms on a deal and Gonzalez becomes a free agent. While the former is possible, it's far more likely that he fully recovers. As for the former, I don't think the Red Sox would've finalized the trade for A-Gon unless they had a pretty firm framework in place. Furthermore, I'm of the school of thought that the two sides have already agreed to terms on an extension. They're just waiting until after Opening Day to make it official. In doing so, they'll hopefully be able to avoid getting with the competitive balance tax.
New York Yankees - Any time a major free agent hits the market, you can never count the Yankees out until said player agrees to terms with another club. Still, I don't see any reasonable scenario in which the Yankees and Pujols come to an agreement. With Teixeira manning first base at $22.5M per season through 2015, A-Rod (and his creeky hip) eventually needing to be moved to DH, where do you play him? Left field? I suppose, but Pujols hasn't played there since 2003. Plus, left field at Yankee Stadium is like right field at Fenway. It's cavernous. They're better off having a second CF (Gardner) patrolling LF than a power hitting corner infielder. Oh, and please don't even try to suggest the idea of playing Pujols at 1B, A-Rod at DH, and Teixeira at 3B. That might be one of the most insane ideas I've ever heard.
Washington Nationals - While the Nationals technically already have a first baseman signed for 2012 (Adam LaRoche), I wouldn't be surprised to see them make a move for Pujols, if he becomes available. The Nationals were aggressive this past winter in not only signing Jayson Werth, but also making aggressive trade offers to the Royals and Rays for Zach Greinke and Matt Garza. As a result, I wouldn't be surprised to see that bold, aggressive mentality carry over into the next offseason. Before the Nationals signed Pujols (a major hypothetical), they'd have to find a way to move LaRoche, and his $8M guaranteed salary. While the Nationals will certainly find some interested parties (perhaps the Rangers, Astros, Blue Jays, or Brewers), it's possible they may have to eat a portion of the remaining contract in order to facilitate a deal.
Theoretically They're Contenders, but Unlikely Victors
Baltimore Orioles - After signing Derrek Lee to a one year $8M contract last month, the Orioles put themselves in a great position to sign a big power hitting first baseman next offseason. Unfortunately for the Orioles, they're usually used as pawns in these types of situations. While they've shown they're willing to open the coffers for the right player (see Mark Teixeira), I don't see them meeting Pujols's asking price. Considering the Orioles futility over the past thirteen seasons, it's likely they'll have to overbid in order to have a serious chance at winning the Pujols sweepstakes. Personally, I see them making a very strong run for Prince Fielder (whose demands are closer to the Orioles comfort zone) in the next Hot Stove season.
Toronto Blue Jays - There's only one reason I put the Blue Jays in this category: they have only $17M on the books for 2012. For a team whose payroll has hovered around $70-80M for the better part of the five years, that number is a bit startling at first glance. Could they make a run at Pujols? Possibly, but it's doubtful they actually land the slugging first baseman. For a franchise that follows the efficiency model popularized by the A's and Rays, the idea that the Blue Jays would give out a contract with a $27.5M average annual salary seems pretty implausible.
Texas Rangers - With a new ownership group in place, the Rangers seem poised to make another aggressive, but targeted, run in free agency next offseason. While they have a need for a slugging first baseman, Pujols's contract demands are likely outside of the range ownership considers to be reasonable. Pujols is reported to be looking for A-Rod money. The last time the Rangers committed that kind of money to a player (A-Rod's original ten year $252M contract), it literally crippled the club financially. I don't see the Rangers making that mistake again. Like the Orioles, Prince Fielder is probably a much more logical target.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim - The Angels have just completed an offseason that could be best described as an atrocity. They not only failed to meet any of their objectives via free agency, but also made one of the worst trades in baseball history when the acquired and absorbed $81M of the $86M remaining on Vernon Wells's contract.. If anyone needs a reversal of Hot Stove karma, it's the Angels. While the Angels already have a first baseman in Kendry Morales, signing Pujols would be a major upgrade both offensively and defensively. If they're successful in their quest, it's likely the Angels would shift Morales from 1B to DH.
The question with the Angels is not if they can afford to sign Pujols--it's whether or not they'll pony up the money to make it happen. Based on recent statements by their owner, Arte Moreno, I'm not convinced they will. He's made it very clear that he's not comfortable with giving out contracts that approach, meet, or exceed the $183M figure he paid to purchase the Angels in 2003. The contract Pujols is looking for will almost certainly exceed that figure.
Chicago Cubs - Imagine this...Albert Pujols in a Chicago Cubs uniform.* It's possible. With Carlos Pena only signed for one year, and the Cubs only having $66M in salary commitments (plus two players with club options and eight players eligible for arbitration) for 2012, the Cubs are in a decent position to make a run at stealing Pujols from their chief rival. With new ownership in place, you can bet the Cubs will try to make a big splash via free agency before too long. This is doubly true if they suffer through another disappointing season in 2011.
All that said, it's pretty unlikely he ends up signing with the Cubs, if only because the Cardinals will do everything in their power to keep that from happening. Furthermore, the Cubs, even with Pujols in their lineup, are still a couple of years away from being serious championship contenders. Still, we can't discount this as a viable scenario.
* Before you ask...Yes, my intention with that statement was to get every Cardinals fan reading this article to throw up in their mouths.
St. Louis Cardinals - Yes, I know. This is a painfully obvious choice. It just makes too much sense. Pujols loves playing for the Cardinals, and the Cardinals can't afford to lose Pujols. In essence, they need each other. At some point, whether it's later this month or next offseason, I predict the two sides will come to an agreement on an eight year contract worth around $200-225M.
So there you have it. If you have any questions, comments, or alternative scenarios you'd like to share, please leave them in the comments section. I'd love to hear them.