Pujols, the free agent

As David Gassko noted earlier this week, it’s looking more and more likely that Albert Pujols wants more money than the Cardinals want to pay him, and so he could become a free agent after the coming season. Recent reports also indicate that “there is ‘virtually no chance’ the Cardinals reach a deal with Albert Pujols before the slugger’s spring deadline.” Given Pujols’ claim that he will test the market if not extended before spring training, where might Pujols go if given the chance? What are his best fits?

American League

  • Yankees. Because they are the biggest market in baseball, you can never count the Yankees out. However, with the presence of Mark Teixeira for five more seasons past 2011 and the declining range of and extended commitment to aging players like Jorge Posada, Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter, the Yankees seemingly have their first base/DH slot locked up for the near and extended future. That’s not even to mention the possible need of the DH spot for the defensively inept, but potent bat of Jesus Montero (assuming he is not traded for a quality pitcher before the end of the season).
  • Red Sox. While the Red Sox have seemingly set their eyes on extending newly acquired first baseman Adrian Gonzalez long term, David Ortiz‘s contract expires after 2011. While Big Papi has sold his share of jerseys and seats since coming to the Red Sox, helping lead them to two World Series titles, the aging slugger has shown signs of wear and decreasing bat speed. While you obviously would love to trot a guy like Albert Pujols out on the field given his average/above average defensive value, his elbow has been a concern in recent seasons. A move to DH to preserve the super-slugger’s health would not be crazy. Unlike Jermaine Dye, Pujols probably would make the move away from playing defense if he is going to get paid the biggest bucks. The Red Sox do have a lot of long term money tied up already, however…
  • Blue Jays. If the cost-controlled Adam Lind experiment fails, the Blue Jays might be in the market for a big slugging first basemen next season. The question is whether the Toronto market, not known for ticket sales of late, could afford the contract Pujols is looking for. With both Alex Rios and Vernon Wells gone, it’s a distinct possibility.
  • Orioles. Derrek Lee is around for only one more year, but Baltimore, like Toronto, is probably too small a market to realistically make a run at Pujols. The Orioles could barely afford to make an offer to Teixeira a few years back and their youngsters have not produced at a high enough clip to warrant taking on the long-term cost risk Pujols would bring.
  • Rays. The Rays could barely afford Manny Ramirez at $2 million for 2012. Expect Andrew Friedman to continue to exploit the inefficiencies of the free agency market, rather than tie his entire team’s payroll up upon one player.
  • White Sox. Kenny Williams loves to mingle in the free agency market, but with three DHs on the team&mdaash;Carlos Quentin, Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko—the White Sox’s ability to add Pujols is very slim. Of course, never count out Williams making some radical move like selling Carlos Quentin and sliding Adam Dunn back to right field. Usually, you’d say “wow, that’s not good for your team’s defense,” but Quentin is Brad Hawpe-bad in the outfield…
  • Twins. If they can barely afford Jim Thome, they can’t afford Albert Pujols. Especially not with Justin Morneau lingering.
  • Royals. The Royals probably have the biggest glut at first base/DH, including their stacked minor league hitters. Heck, Mike Moustakas might stick at third base simply because the Royals have nowhere else to put him!
  • Tigers. Miguel Cabrera+Victor Martinez+payroll already well above $100 million = incredibly unlikely.
  • Indians. Are the Indians even trying to trout out a major-league quality baseball team anymore? Travis Hafner still lingers at DH and while the team has a potential opening at first base, assuming Matt LaPorta can play left field, I doubt Mark Shapiro has the financial resources to make a run at Pujols.
  • Athletics. This is Billy Beane we’re talking about here. Even without the presence of Daric Barton and/Chris Carter, we’d probably see Beane sign Russell Branyan (and probably even Barry Bonds) before making a legitimate run at Pujols.
  • Angels. If it wasn’t for the “we are desperate, so we traded for Vernon Wells” bit that went down this offseason, the Angels might have been a legitimate suitor for Pujols.
  • Rangers. As the Rangers missed out on Cliff Lee, they might have the cash lying around (though most of it was likely spent on Adrian Beltre). If the Chris Davis/Mitch Moreland experiment continues to fail, they might be in the running, assuming they move Michael Young, for an elite first basemen. I would guess the Rangers would target Prince Fielder first, however…
  • Mariners. Pujols’ defense is not good enough for Jack Zduriencik. In all seriousness, though, the team is going to give a long look at Justin Smoak and the DH market is always over-saturated with bargain buys.

National League*
*with no DH spot in the NL, Pujols’ potential landing spots will be substantially more limited than in the AL

  • Nationals. Not that the Nationals have been good at attracting marquis free market talent as of late (Jayson Werth excepted), but Adam LaRoche‘s multi-year contract will probably keep the Nationals out of the bidding. Even if the Nationals were to cut LaRoche to make room, I doubt they could sustain the payroll required to bring Pujols aboard.
  • Mets. The Mets still have some big contracts handcuffing their financial flexibility. And with more pressing team needs (pitching) and the presence of young first baseman Ike Davis, Sandy Alderson almost certainly will sit on his hands when it comes to Pujols.
  • Marlins. You’re talking about the team that was too cheap to keep Dan Uggla and an owner recently accused of embezzling money. A team whose entire payroll just a few seasons ago was less than half the amount of money that Pujols is asking for annually. Count Jeff Loria and the Marlins out, if for no other reason than prospect Logan Morrison.
  • Phillies. The Phillies were all too eager to overpay aging slugger Ryan Howard last season and with what it’s paying Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay, and Roy Oswalt (to some extent), among others, the team can afford few of its residual needs, let alone luxuries, at this point.
  • Braves. Two words: Freddie Freeman. The Braves are one of those rare teams that does not need the free agency market (or that Pujols guy).
  • Cubs. Beyond just being a Cubs fan, I think that Albert Pujols would make a great fit for the Cubs for three reasons. First, payroll coming off the books: 2011 will be Kosuke Fukudome‘s last season in Cubbie Blue, while Carlos Pena‘s $10 million salary will most likely be gone as well. Carlos Zambrano will only have one season left with the Cubs (who are almost guaranteed to turn down his option), and Aramis Ramirez will likely also be a free agent after 2011. If the Cubs want, given only the lingering presence and lesson of Alfonso Soriano, they can probably afford Pujols. Second, the Cubs have long wanted to rekindle the elite power vacuum they’ve had since Sammy Sosa left long ago. The Cubs would likely prefer the power to come from a lefty, which is why they signed Pena this offseason and also why Prince Fielder makes a lot of sense for the Cubs. Still, Pujols is baseball’s best hitter, who plays a position that will be open next season.

    This brings us to the third reason the Cubs might sign Pujols: Doing so means he is not a Cardinal. With Ryan Theriot now “on the right side of the rivalry,” nothing would give Cubs fans more pleasure than to steal the Cardinals slugger. It would hardly make up for the scores of Cubs players who went to the Cardinals to experience prosperous careers or win a World Series ring (from Lou Brock to Bruce Sutter and everyone in between), but it would be a great start.

  • Cardinals They currently “own” the rights to the super slugger and he’s their player to lose. There’s a million reasons why and how (and also why not) the team can and should (and should not) extend Pujols; those have been written ad nauseum elsewhere.
  • Pirates. While signing Pujols would go a long way toward bringing respectability to a team that has been sub-.500 since Barry Bonds walked almost two decades ago, Neil Huntington’s claim of the team’s financial position probably means they cannot afford Pujols. The New York Times would probably disagree, however. Pujols would be a slight upgrade over Lyle Overbay.
  • Reds. The Reds are currently within their “competing” window and have a good young core, but with the presence of their own elite first baseman, Joey Votto, for at least two seasons after 2011 at “below-market” prices (though $17 million for 2013 is definitely not “cheap”), the Reds are better suited to spend “Pujols money” elsewhere and on other needs. Especially if you believe in that Yonder Alonso fella.
  • Astros. After years of unwise free agency moves that have deteriorated their minor league system, the Astros have finally committed themselves to rebuilding. Pujols would shatter those plans and could possibly ruin the franchise,. Do not count Ed Wade in here, at least not with cheap first baseman Brett Wallace around.
  • Brewers. If the Brew Crew fails to retain Fielder, it is conceivable, given their somewhat comparable salary demands, that the Brewers might make a run at Pujols. The question will be whether the Brewers have the necessary cash. If they do, you’d imagine they’d just keep Fielder, a market-favorite, right?
  • Giants. If the Giants truly want to retain Tim Lincecum long term, they are probably going to have to forgo Pujols. Besides, they are enamored with Aubrey Huff for the time being.
  • Padres. The Padres recently shipped away their franchise slugger (Adrian Gonzalez) and are in rebuilding mode, hoping recently signed Brad Hawpe, and perhaps a healthy Kyle Blanks, might fill the hold that A-Gon left. I doubt that that Jed Hoyer has the financial flexibility to bring Pujols aboard, but given that PetCo park is substantially more home run-friendly to right-handed hitters than Busch Stadium and comparable in runs suppression for right-handed hitters overall, the Padres would take some solace in not having to worry about the Brian Giles effect settling in.
  • Diamondbacks. Kevin Towers has always been a pitching-first GM, but in managing a team in hitter-friend Chase Field, perhaps he’ll change his tune. While Busch Stadium has a home run park factor index of 77 for right-handed hitters (the worst in the NL and fourth worst in baseball), Chase Field has a home run park factor index of 121 for right-handed batters (tied for fifth-highest in baseball). That could add as many as 10 home runs to Pujols’ season total and Towers has been on the lookout for some low-strikeout, high power output since taking over as the Diamondbacks’ general manager.
  • Rockies. With Carlos Gonzalez, and Troy Tulowitzki and Jorge de la Rosa, among others, around for the long-term, the Rockies probably can’t afford to kill their residual payroll “flexibility” with Pujols. Plus, has Todd Helton‘s contract even expired yet?
  • Dodgers. Divorce can really handcuff your finances. Frank McCourt will not control sole ownership rights to the team anymore and I doubt he is going to let ex-wife Jaime take half of Pujols along with half his money. In all seriousness, the Dodgers can’t afford Pujols and have James Loney lingering anyway.

In light of the above, I would expect the most likely “Pujols the free agent” suitors to be (in order): the Cardinals, Cubs, Diamondbacks, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Pirates, and Rangers. Of course, given that this is Albert Pujols we are talking about, many more teams might also get creative to make a run at baseball’s best baseball player. You can read more of my thoughts on the subject here.

As always, leave the love/hate in the comments.

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Comments

  1. Jeffrey Gross said...

    I reference that in my full analysis, but Pujols was moved off the position bc of elbow problems, which have never subsided. You dont want to risk pujols health by having him tossing across the diamond

  2. Brad Johnson said...

    Jeff,

    I’m only halfway through, but you should take another look at the Blue Jays expenses and their potential for growth. There is reason to believe the market would support a $140-150 million roster and with so little money committed to the future, Pujols probably is an affordable option. Further, adding Pujols is exactly the kind of impetus required to unlock that future payroll growth.

  3. Kevin A said...

    Pujols graduated HS is Suburban KC, lives here in the offseason, and the Royals have very little $ committed pas this season.  Other than what they will be paying Butler and Soria, no one else has a multi-year deal. 

    The Royals have set themselves up to make a run at Pujols.  The sell job is fairly easy.  Even if Kila does well this season at 1B, you still make a run.  Signing Pujols would force you to move Eric Hosmer to a corner OF spot and presumably trade Kila.  Butler isn’t going anywhere with the new contract. Pujols would be half your payroll, but it isn’t like they are going to have many other high-priced players, as all of the stud prospects will be under team-control for a long while.

    As far as AL teams go, the only better fit I see is LA or maybe BAL.

  4. Brad Johnson said...

    I imagine KC would still have a very tough sell to make even if they decide to commit half their payroll to one player. And from what I’ve read, Hosmer in the OF wouldn’t look pretty.

    Then again, this is a franchise who chose to employ Yuniesky Betancourt so we can’t rule out a move just because it would be visually appalling.

  5. Brad Johnson said...

    In the realm of longshots, the Phillies could conceivably flip Howard to St. Louis in a sign a trade scenario. Howard’s 5/125 probably doesn’t look too terrible in light of Pujols’ demands, he’s a St. Louis native, and bringing in a new big bopper would help placate the fans. On the Phillies end, they’ve already kind of created a roster mess four years down the line so adding Pujols at $5 mil more per season than Howard isn’t going to change much.

    One thing RAJ has taught me is to expect unusual things to happen.

  6. Jacob Rothberg said...

    The Toronto Market can’t afford Pujols? You mean the 5th largest metro area in MLB or the wealthiest ownership in the sport? Canada is not Kazakhstan bro.

  7. Jeffrey Gross said...

    While I agree Toronto makes sense, I do not feel they have the finances. Toronto’s ticket sales have been pretty poor for a while now. Sure, the lack Vernon Wells does a LOT for payroll, but I heard ownership wanted to keep under $85 million. Pujols would push them past $100, easy. Can Toronto support a $115 million payroll? Not until they are more competitive, in my view.

    But I do agree Toronto is a possible fit. Perhaps I should rephrase my assessment. It is quite nebulous.

  8. Jeffrey Gross said...

    Brad, I do not think the Phillies sign and trade is a shot in hell. The Phillies way overpaid for Howard and I think the Cards would much rather overpay for Pujols at $30/5-6+ WAR a season than Howard for $25/<4 WAR/season (this includes depreciation expectations in the average)

  9. Brad Johnson said...

    Pipedreams of course. But let’s not forget total expense too, $125 vs something pretty close to $300. If the Cards come to terms with losing Pujols, Howard’s not the worst plan B. He’s probably a better bet to hold up over 5 years than Fielder is over 6 or 7 too.

    In this unlikely scenario, I imagine the Phillies wouldn’t ask for much besides the payroll relief. As you point out, the Cubs are an early front runner to compete for his services, so the Cards will be happy to do what they can to stymie them as well.

    Honestly, I’m still more than half expecting the Cards to get this done in the next few days. Won’t be the first seemingly stalled talks suddenly progressed rapidly.

  10. Michael said...

    Giants, Nats, Mets, and Royals to me make the most sense, financially and need-wise. The Mets are the favorite to me, and could easily move Davis to LF or ideally in a trade for pitching, plus they have $55 million or so coming off the books after this year. I would love the Royals to bite the bullet and do it, but doubt it will happen.

  11. Jeffrey Gross said...

    1) I updated the Toronto analysis to reflect my better intended argument. Quite a possible landing point.

    2) Don’t think the Cards need payroll relief. No true behemouths there (even Hollidays contract is ‘fair value’ in my mind).

    3) Giants won’t get him because they have Huff and want to spend that money on locking up Lincecum and the like. Nats have more LaRoche than they bargained for and Pujols will look for a better positioned contender IMHO. Mets have Jason Bay/Ike Davis and probably learned their lesson about $140 MM+ payrolls for the immediate future and will likely focus on rebuilding. Royals have Kila/Hosmer/Moustakas/Gordon/Butler to say the least vying for DH/LF/3B/1B, and none of them are really 3B/LF type (but I guess Gordon can hack there).

  12. Michael Caragliano said...

    Pujols came up as a third baseman (at least, he could play some third), so if the Yankees did make a legitimate push for Pujols, would they do so asking him to play third? It wouldn’t be the first time they grabbed the arguably best player in the game and played him out of position. They did it with A-Rod, and by 2012, Posada might be out of the mix completely, which would allow the Yanks to make Rodriguez a full-time DH and put a younger player still in his prime for a couple more years at third everyday.

    There probably are several other teams, for that matter, that could dangle the third base option as part of a move; I just threw the Yankees out there because they’re baseball’s 800 pound gorilla in free agent dealings. The real question is would Pujols go for it? Plus, I haven’t seen a breakdown of his defensive numbers, but it is an option.

  13. Vin said...

    I think you are seriously underestimating the chances of the Mets and the Rockies. The Mets ownership situation is a mess right now, but they’ve got a lot of bad contracts coming off the books this season. And Davis’ upside is basically Adam LaRoche with better plate discipline – a nice player, sure, but if you’ve got a realistic chance at signing Albert Pujols, you move him to LF or trade him. Nobody is going to pass on Albert Pujols because of Ike Davis.

    Actually, you could say something similar about the Dodgers, with the ownership situation and with Loney. I like Davis more than Loney, and the Dodgers don’t have as much coming off the books this year as the Mets (I think), but you do dismiss them a bit too easily.

    I’d also view the Rockies as serious contenders – the Helton contract ends soon (this year or next) and they’ll have a hole. Having a core of Tulo, CarGo and Pujols is just too good an opportunity to at least not think about it.

    While the Cubs are also strong suitors in terms of money and need, I can’t help but wonder if Pujols would want to go to them – are they going to be serious contenders again anytime soon? You could ask the same question of the Mets and Dodgers, but they both are closer than the Cubs. Don’t get me wrong, they’d be in the thick of it, but the shape of the team is something to consider.

  14. Jeffrey Gross said...

    Oh my god! you are right. The stuff I wrote about the Reds is missing!!!! One sec, will fix.

    SORRY rmr, now I see what you meant

  15. Phil said...

    Michael, regarding moving Pujols across the diamond, it’s absolutely not an option. Pujols has a torn elbow ligament that would require Tommy John surgery in a pitcher. The reason he’s not getting the surgery, is he doesn’t need the ligament as much for hitting or playing first base. But ask him to throw balls across the diamond on a regular basis, and his elbow will explode. The best bet to keep him healthy for the length of his next contract is playing him at 1B or DH (which I’d imagine he’d refuse, since he’s still quite capable of gold-glove caliber defense at first).

  16. Paul said...

    Jeff, the analysis as always is great and indepth, but isn’t this just really an excuse for a why Pujols makes sense for the Cubs story! smile

    could very well cut out 75% of the above, because while every team has a ‘need’ for the best mlb hitter, not many have the capacity for the contract required to land him, and even some who do do not want to tie up the 250mil+ it will take.

    RMR’s point about the Reds was that they weren’t mentioned at all – if you are going to include all them teams, well then include all the teams – it was the ignoration of the Reds that lead to the comment smile

    I hope he makes a deal with the cards, it makes too much sense for a midwest boy and I like the idea of him being a 1 club man, he just needs to forgo a bit of ego and take a sub-Arod contract (even if he deserves to be the best paid guy around)

    If he does go to free agency, then I think the Nats are much more in the mix than you say, and also NYN, LAD, and SFG (LaRoche signed for 2012 with a buyout for 2013 is not going to stop anyone from going after Pujols in the same way that already having Ike and Loney and Huff won’t)

  17. RMR said...

    As a Reds fan, while I realize they are not in the Pujols market due to both an absence of need and money, it’s a bit disheartening to see an analysis Pujols’ fit with every single team except the Reds.  Seriously, 29 of 30.  What gives?

  18. Jeffrey Gross said...

    Vin, I think you underestimate how ownership situations affect spending. The Cubs purchase of Soriano was an exception of desperation. The Dodgers and Mets will not spend big without clear control in place.

    An opening or potential opening at 1B does not mean affordability. The Rockies will also want to be able to afford guys like Ubaldo, Chacin, Fowler, etc in the long term. You can’t just throw $30+ million at a player and not balance the residual financial impact on the rest of the team.

    The Cubs, by the way, have a good competing core. Between Dempster, Fukudome, Pena and Ramirez, the cubs have almost $60 million coming off the books. They also have a promise superstar-potential CF, a strong SS, a strong C, and an underrated core of starting pitchers that lacks an ace, but also has good depth. Especially with Z’s 18-20 million coming off the books soon and Soriano as well, the cubs, with a strong core of players at the “difficult to fill” positions, could put themselves in a really good position with a few strong FA moves. The trade for Garza put a dent in the Cubs rebuilding process, but the core is still there to build around. Nationals have a similiar situation, I suppose, but they have a smaller market and payroll to surround the core. Werth/LaRoche (combined 30-35 million/season) will eat up a lot of payroll too. Strasburg/Harper/Zimmerman (both of them)/Norris are clearly strong guys to have, but the team and its farm are otherwise barren of impact talent. I suppose you can put hopes for Espinosa in there, but Desmond is sub-par by non-fantasy standards, and the National’s other two outfield spots are less than secure. I think the Nationals are setting themselves up well to compete, but I doubt they can afford a pujols-sized contract AND fill out the rest of the team

  19. Jeffrey Gross said...

    @RMR,

    I never said Pujols was a fit for the other 29 teams. The Reds are in a strong position with Votto making MUCH less in the near future than with paying pujols, especially if they want to sustain success.

    Perhaps you skipped over the final paragraph of this post:

    In light of the above, I would expect the most likely “Pujols the free agent” suitors to be (in order): the Cardinals, Cubs, Diamondbacks, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Pirates, and Rangers.

    That’s 7 teams by my count, 22 less than 29.

  20. Todd said...

    “Unlike Jermaine Dye, Pujols probably would make the move away from playing defense if he is going to get paid the biggest bucks.”

    With his pride? No way. Pujols wouldn’t sign to play DH. He’s as dedicated to his defense as anything else. And he wouldn’t be as valuable as a DH, so he might not get as much money in that situation anyway.

  21. Paul E said...

    The Pirates?? You are kidding, right? Oh, no, I get it:

    Waner   CF
    Kendall   C
    Pujols   1b
    Stargell LF
    Clemente RF
    Wagner   SS
    Traynor 3B
    Mazeroski2B

    I get it….it’s a fantasy

  22. Grandpa Boog said...

    1. Pujols pretty much was a butcher at 3B.
    2. He was only so-so as a corner OF’er.
    3. These two ratings were with a good arm/elbow.
    4. His arm/elbow would not stand a long-throwing position.
    5. The time is ripe for StL to trade Pujols instead of signing him and breaking the $$ bank for years into the future.
    6. I’ve been a Cardinal fan for decades. The first that I can remember is the 1935 season, when I was just 10. Therefore, I do not speak lightly about trading Pujols, but one player does not make a team.

    —Stay tuned.

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