Despite the rumors otherwise over the last month, FOX Sports is reporting that the Cubs will pursue Albert Pujols after all. During the meetings in Milwaukee before Thanksgiving it seemed like the Cubs were interested in bringing back their existing first baseman, Carlos Pena. That seems to be in doubt with the recent news.
With the announcement of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement and the way that compensation will be divvied up to teams losing Type A free agents, the big winners are probably Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder. Previously, if their teams offered them arbitration (which the Cardinals have offered to Albert) and they went to sign with another team, the team that signed them gave up an early round draft pick. Now, the team that is losing the Type A free agents gets a pick sandwiched in before the signing team’s pick. This immediately made Pujols, Fielder, and other Type A free agents much more attractive to teams who are trying to building from within.
Just a few weeks ago I went over each team and what their potential interest in Pujols was likely to be. I still feel that while the Cubs fans would love to steal Pujols away from their arch-rivals, it doesn’t make much sense for the Cubs other than making a big splash. The team’s problems are much deeper than one 32-year-old former best player in baseball can fix. Plus, would Pujols be willing to throw away his 11 years in St. Louis for a payday?
For the Cubs, they have to consider what is actually best for the franchise. What got the previous management team in trouble in Chicago is spending big money on declining players. Albert’s last three years have been a systematic decline, plus I can’t be the only one who realizes that a player’s true prime is ages 29-31, not 32-35 as has been suggested by many in the big media.
The “cheap” option for them is to bring back Carlos Pena. Pena, 33, hit .225/.357/.462 for the Cubs last year with 28 home runs and 80 RBI. He was on a 1 year, $10 million contract trying to regain his value after a rough final year in Tampa. Given his closest free agency comparisons are likely Lance Berkman, who signed a 1 year, $12 million deal with St. Louis with far better numbers, and Adam Dunn, who will make $14 million next year in his second year of a four year deal with the White Sox. Pena is probably in the $11-13 million range to bring him back. That could be half of what it would cost to bring in a guy like Fielder or Pujols.
Pujols, who will turn 32 in February, is coming off of the worst season of his career. He hit .299/.366/.541 last year with 37 home runs and 99 RBI in what could be his final year in St. Louis. The rumored top offer stands with the Cardinals at 9 years, $198 million, which is a $22 million average annual value.
The man I think that makes far more sense to every team out there, except the Cardinals, is Price Fielder. Fielder, 27, hit .299/.415/.566 last season with 38 home runs and 120 RBI. Right now he’s put up better numbers that Pujols in their most recent season. He’s also younger and about to hit his prime years. Overall, the money commitment required to land Fielder will be less as he will likely be roughly the same AAV, but fewer years. If I was a team needing a slugging first baseman who had no existing attachment to any of the three, Fielder is my first choice.
There have been conflicting reports over the last week. Some media writers saying teams would prefer to take an overweight player like Fielder rather than an older player like Pujols. However, in his article announcing the Cubs are in on the Pujols negotiations, Ken Rosenthal claims that the Cubs are interested in Pujols because of his conditioning and concerned about Fielder’s. He also mentions their defense.
But let’s be honest here. It’s first base. It’s not a position where defense is considered a premium. No team will give up offense at first base to improve their defense there, well no team that expects to win, that is.
I think you also have to take note of their injury histories. Fielder has not yet missed time due to an injury. Pujols has been plagued by several over the years and has existing nagging injuries that many (including myself) feel have reduced his production as he plays through them.
When I lay everything out, I still think that Albert returns to the Cardinals. I just don’t see how the Cubs even think he makes sense for their organization.
There is only one team that can give Pujols everything he wants. He wants a winning team, and St. Louis is coming off a World Series championship. He wants a long-term contract, and while the latest rumor is that Albert’s contract is for significantly less than 10 years, I don’t see it getting any less than 8. It only makes sense for one team to lock him up into his forties. He wants money, and the Cardinals’ principal owner has said that they will overstep their $110 million payroll budget for this season for Albert.
And last but not least, he wants a legend. He sees all the great Cardinals of the past get received by Cardinals fans and you have to know that he wants that for himself. Spending several years in a Cubs uniform, in light of everything he’s said he’s looking for in a team, will destroy that legend in the eyes of Cardinals fans.