That is the question that I will endeavor to answer over the next little bit of your read along. Though Daniel over at C70 at the Bat tackled this topic in a post of his own on Wednesday, I’m going to take a team-by-team approach to it. I’ll analyze each team’s current position and whether or not they have the place and the means to be a player in the Albert Pujols negotiations.
To really answer this question we need to discuss what is important to Albert. There are two things that really stick out. First, his desire for a winning team. Second, his desire to be recognized for his performance over the last 11 seasons. In professional sports, there is usually one way to determine who the best players in the game are and that is by looking at their paychecks.
So I have three criteria that I’ve evaluated each organization with. First, the team will have to be a winning team or have a young core of highly talented players ready to play in the major leagues. Second, the team will need to be able to pay him well. Third, I’ve assumed that he’d rather play first base everyday rather than be a DH for an American League team.
What do the grades mean. F means no chance. D means an outside chance if they make moves to make some room. C means the team meets a couple of the requirements, but he doesn’t quite fit their plans. B means a team may have the means, but maybe not the motive. A means that they have the cash and meet the requirements and should be players.
With that said, let’s jump in.
Atlanta Braves (Grade: F)
The Braves will not be a player for Pujols. They have the young Freddie Freeman who hit .282 last season with 21 HRs and 76 RBI, and that was just his rookie season. Freeman is likely there in Atlanta for the long haul as a foundation player for their future. They don’t have a need to go spend the necessary cash to bring in Pujols.
Arizona Diamondbacks (Grade: B)
The Diamondbacks could be a team with an outside shot at Pujols. They have a young core of players like Ryan Roberts, Chris Young, and Justin Upton as well as a really solid pitching staff with Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson. They’ve dealt away a lot of their talent in return for pitching production. Their payroll was the second lowest it’s been in a decade and is nearly half of what they were spending in the Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling years. They could have some money there to sign a player like Pujols, and having a premiere player of Pujols’ caliber in their lineup would change the face of the division. Would they be willing to pony up to be automatically penciled in as the best team in the NL West for the next few seasons? I’d be doing the math if I was in charge.
Baltimore Orioles (Grade: D)
The Orioles have money to spend and are in need of a first baseman for their organization. Many believed that their 1 year deal with Derrek Lee last year was specifically so they could chase Pujols in free agency. Except the big problem is that they aren’t a winning team nor are they expected to really be one any time soon. Plus, the team is currently searching for someone to lead the team as General Manager (I am currently unemployed and would love to). If it comes down to a pure money offer the Orioles could have a chance, but given that I feel Pujols is going to balance winning and his payday, the Orioles certainly don’t offer what he wants.
Boston Red Sox (Grade: F)
Adrian Gonzalez is pretty much coming off a career year both offensively and defensively. If we assume that Pujols doesn’t want to DH, Boston is out of the running.
Chicago Cubs (Grade: B)
The Cubs fans would love to steal Albert Pujols away from their rival Cardinals and believe Theo Epstein is the GM to do it. While I expect the Cubs to be in the discussion, they lose points on the winning category. They have the opening at first base and the money coming off the books, but have other flaws that need to be fixed. I would hope that Pujols wouldn’t go to the Cubs. That’d be like Jeter going to the Red Sox. Cardinals fans would go stupid crazy in the event he signed with the Cubs and I’d certainly hate to be the owner of that new Pujols statue in St. Louis because I doubt it would remain untouched.
Chicago White Sox (Grade: D)
The White Sox have Paul Konerko signed for two more years to play first base and is coming off of a year where he hit .300 with 31 HRs and 105 RBI. While they might want him, they have no need of him. Especially with Adam Dunn signed through 2014 to DH. If they could deal off Dunn, maybe they could play in the Pujols sweepstakes, but I don’t see that happening where they don’t eat a large chunk of Dunn’s contract.
Cincinnati Reds (Grade: F)
The Reds might even have a backlog of talent at first base to deal with. Joey Votto is signed for two more years and their young prospect Yonder Alonso needs a position to play. They have no need, nor a desire, to go sign Pujols.
Cleveland Indians (Grade: D)
While they have some money coming off the books and a need for a first baseman, I don’t see the Indians being a major player for Pujols. Many of their younger players will hit arbitration for the first time and will likely absorb that extra money.
Colorado Rockies (Grade: F)
The Rockies will need to look at filling first base and replacing the 37 year old Todd Helton at some point, Helton still hits fairly well and is signed through 2013. The Rockies are also about at the top of their payroll over the last decade and they just signed Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez to longterm, expensive deals.
Detroit Tigers (Grade: F)
The team has Miguel Cabrera signed through 2015 and many consider him to be the most dangerous hitting first baseman in the American League. While he is a defensive question mark, the Tigers also have Victor Martinez signed through 2014 to DH for them.
Houston Astros (Grade: F)
The Astros have been shedding payroll as of late, have a new owner, aren’t in any shape to contend, and have a long road back to contention. No way.
Kansas City Royals (Grade: B)
The Royals are the team that I’ve expected to be a dark horse for Pujols. He spent his first years in the United States there. However, the emergence of Eric Hosmer, unless they decide to move Hosmer to DH, severely diminishes the chances of Pujols finding his way to the Royals.
Los Angeles Angels (Grade: C)
While on the surface the Angels may appear to be a great contender for Pujols, they are going to find themselves in a bit of a salary crisis. Especially when they are paying Vernon Wells over $25 million a year for the next three years. Rookie Mark Trumbo also emerged this season as a viable first baseman. I think the Angels aren’t as big a threat as many think they will be.
Los Angeles Dodgers (Grade: F)
With the financial troubles this team is undergoing and the potential auctioning off of the team, I don’t see the Dodgers making a play for Pujols at all. They are looking like they’ll try to lock in Matt Kemp, however, after his breakout season.
Miami Marlins (Grade: C)
This is another team that people think could be a sleeper. They are moving into a new ballpark and expect to make some more money from it being better located in the city, instead of a good drive out of town. They have Gaby Sanchez at first base, so they would likely have to trade him in order to make it work. Sanchez could have some serious value, seeing as he has only used up two years of eligibility, he is under team control for four more years. But the Marlins have yet to show that they want to spend money in free agency, so I doubt they’ll start now.
Milwaukee Brewers (Grade: F)
If the Brewers were going to sign an expensive first baseman out of free agency this season, they’d be going after Prince Fielder. With the extra money spent on the pitching staff last year, I think they went all in in Prince’s final year and now will scale back a bit. I’d be surprised if they made a big splash in free agency at all.
Minnesota Twins (Grade: F)
The Twins are all screwed up right now. Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer were both signed to big contracts and both spend most of last year injured. With those two on the roster, they don’t have a need to bring in another high priced player and I don’t know if they could afford one.
New York Mets (Grade: F)
The Mets have their own financial problems and are unlikely to make any big moves in free agency.
New York Yankees (Grade: F)
With Mark Teixeira at first and projecting Jesus Montero at DH for the future, they have no need to bring in Pujols. Besides, pitching is a far greater concern to the Yankees at the moment than bringing in another offensive threat.
Oakland Athletics (Grade: F)
While they have an opening at first base, they aren’t likely to spend much more on their team than they are right now. Plus, I don’t see Pujols being all too interested in playing for them.
Philadelphia Phillies (Grade: F)
The Phillies have $50 million invested in the trio of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels, not to mention another $20 million in Ryan Howard, their first baseman, I don’t see the Phillies even calling up Dan Lozano to kick the tires.
Pittsburgh Pirates (Grade: D)
The Pirates only have $6.6 million committed to 2012, and just about half of that is going to Kevin Correia. They do have 10 players due to hit arbitration and many more still under team control, so it’s not like they don’t have anyone to field a team next year, but they do have plenty of financial flexibility at this point to do what they think they need to. They don’t have anyone to play first base and have a young core of talent coming up. I doubt, though, that their ownership is ready to invest what would likely be nearly half their payroll into a single player.
San Diego Padres (Grade: F)
The Padres new ownership is still cutting payroll. Their highest paid player last season was Heath Bell, their closer, making $7.5 million. I doubt they will pick up for the phone to Lozano either. Pujols doesn’t fit with their organizational strategy.
San Francisco Giants (Grade: F)
The Giants are currently at their highest payroll of all time and broke $100 million for the first time this season. They have Aubrey Huff to play first base for at least one more year and young Brandon Belt who was expected to take the role. They’ll be spending their money to retain as much of their pitching staff as possible and they won’t be in the Pujols discussions.
Seattle Mariners (Grade: F)
While the Mariners are a team in dire need of a consistent offensive threat in their lineup, their payroll has remained pretty steady over the previous few seasons and they don’t have that much money coming off their books in 2012. Plus, they may be considering paying up to retain Felix Hernandez with an extension after his contract expires at the end of the year.
Tampa Bay Rays (Grade: F)
The Rays struggle to find money to pay their own talent. Their owner was in the press complaining that the lack of attendance makes it difficult for them to bring in and retain their talent because they need to run the business inside their budget to make a profit. And I feel for him. He’s provided them a playoff team in 3 of the last 4 years (only the Phillies have made it 4 times and the Yankees are the only other to make it 3) and still they struggle to bring fans to the stadium.
Texas Rangers (Grade: A)
The Rangers might be the biggest threat for the Cardinals through the negotiations. Mitch Moreland played the most first base for them and Pujols will definitely out perform him. You can also assume that since they didn’t spend the money they were chasing Cliff Lee with last season that they have some to spend. While I still see Prince Fielder as the better fit for the Rangers as he will ultimately cost less and be more willing to slide into the DH role as he ages, Pujols might enter their radar. While Fielder might command nearly the same money, he will likely get fewer years which lessens the investment required for a team.
Toronto Blue Jays (Grade: C)
Toronto has gone about building a young core of players over the last few seasons, so that is the #1 reason I can’t see them pursuing Pujols. While they might have a team capable of battling the likes of the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays with a couple of additions, I don’t see Pujols fitting in with their strategy. They potentially have the money to spend too.
Washington Nationals (Grade: D)
The Nationals could step in and make a play for Pujols with the thought of moving Michael Morse back into the outfield, but the young Morse is a defensive liability wherever he plays. That is an unlikely move, however, with Jayson Werth in right field and left field likely penciled for Bryce Harper. Morse enjoyed a breakout season, hitting over .300 with 31 home runs for the Nationals. They are deservedly high on him and he’s still under team control for two more years.
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And with that we reach the end. So according to me, I expect the biggest competition to the Cardinals to be the Texas Rangers. Beyond them, the Chicago Cubs, Kansas City Royals, and Arizona Diamondbacks should all be in that next tier of players.
The big problem for Pujols is that there is a younger first baseman on the market who will put similar numbers up. Fielder will likely be the first one off the market. Once that happens, Pujols’ market will be more defined, but the problem is that beyond the Cardinals it really only makes sense to just a few teams to seriously consider signing him. I’m not even sure it makes sense for the Cubs beyond the “let’s screw the Cardinals” rhetoric.
It’ll certainly be the issue that will divide the fan base this offseason and be the source of much discussio and debate. Even more so than the managerial search. Do we spend the money and keep him, do we not and invest it in shoring up the team’s holes? It is potentially the single largest free agency decision that the Cardinals have had to make in my lifetime.
Whatever happens, given the right move this season to shore up the team for the playoffs… in Mo we trust.
Over the next month and a half, the members of the United Cardinal Bloggers are doing the UCB Round Table where one member a day poses a question to the rest of us and then it gets posted on the person’s blog. If you are interested in checking it out, you can find the schedule and links to the blogs located on the UCB’s website at unitedcardinalbloggers.com.