St Louis Cardinals v Pittsburgh Pirates

The Cardinals are probably going to sign Albert Pujols, but it won’t be easy and it won’t all be positive…

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As the resident Cardinals supporter on this here blog, I feel it is my responsibility to riff a little on the Albert Pujols extension stuff.

It was reported Saturday that Pujols and his agent want talks to cease once spring training begins and Albert confirmed that deadline while speaking with the media Sunday in what MLB.com’s Matthew Leach called an “occasionally testy” press conference at the Cardinals’ Winter Warmup.

Assuming that Pujols and his representatives stick to that plan — and there’s no reason to think they won’t — the St. Louis front office has about a month to get a contract worked out.  Otherwise, the greatest hitter in the game today will hit free agency next winter at the age of 31.

If I’m Pujols’ agent, I’m asking for a nine-year deal worth $270 million.  I’m not expecting to sign at that number, but it’s where I would start.

No hitter in baseball history has been so consistently prolific to start a career and Pujols is no slouch on defense either.  He’s squeaky clean, a family man and infinitely marketable.

Pujols is without a doubt the best player in the sport and it is his agent’s job to ensure that he is paid as such.  Whether the historically excellent rate of production continues into the next decade is unknown and maybe even unlikely, but the Cardinals must pay for what he has already accomplished and what he might accomplish in the future.  Because if they don’t, someone else will.

You’ve probably heard the idea that the Yankees and Red Sox won’t try to a lure in a free agent Pujols because they are both already locked into multi-year contracts at first base.  I don’t believe it, not for a second.  The Yankees are committing DH duties in 2011 to Jorge Posada, a 39-year-old with bad knees.  The Red Sox will go with David Ortiz, who is 35 and playing in a body that isn’t aging well.  Why has it been determined that baseball’s top big money clubs won’t have openings?

The Yankees will try to get Pujols if he becomes a free agent.  The Red Sox will, too.  Mark it in ink.

Now, that doesn’t mean that Pujols is definitely going to leave St. Louis if a pact isn’t agreed upon before the opening of spring camp. If the Cardinals don’t like the slugger’s asking price this winter and decide to let him dip a toe in the free agent waters, they will still be a legitimate suitor on the other end.  Majority owner Bill DeWitt Jr. is a billionaire and has already made a killing off his $150 million purchase of the club in 1995.  He runs the team like a business — with the intention of making a profit — but he is also a legitimate fan.

The money is there to battle the big boys.  You’ll hear the Cardinals referred to as a mid-market team from time to time, but it’s completely false.  St. Louis is not a big town, but the fan base extends to all bordering states and beyond because of the strong radio signals that KMOX emitted when televisions weren’t in every home. You can find big pockets of folks wearing the “birds on the bat” in Arkansas, Tennessee, southern Illinois, Indiana, Oklahoma, Mississippi and Iowa.

The Cardinals are in the Top 5 of league-wide merchandise sales nearly every season and they pack three million fans into the new and somewhat publicly funded Busch Stadium on a yearly basis.

The money is flowing.

But it’s DeWitt’s team.  If he decides that it is bad business to outbid offers from the Yankees and Red Sox, or even the Giants, then it simply won’t happen.  And that rightly has Cardinals fans nervous.

I don’t have sources and I don’t know any of the involved negotiators personally, but I think the deal gets done just before spring training.  I think it will be an awful contract, maybe in the eight-year, $225 million range, and I think it’s going to hamstring the Cardinals for almost its entire duration.

When the Cards need to lock up Adam Wainwright after 2013, they won’t be able to.  When Colby Rasmus hits free agency, he won’t be brought back either.  DeWitt isn’t going to operate yearly with a $150 million payroll.  He is interested in making money, and that’s fine.

But I have a feeling — wise or not — that he is going to open the purse strings for Pujols before the Cardinals head down to Jupiter, Florida in late February because DeWitt knows what it will mean for public relations if El Hombre departs and because, well, there have been no discussions about a possible Plan B.

The Cards are going all in.

Padres claim Paul Clemens off waivers from the Marlins

MIAMI, FL - JUNE 20: Paul Clemens #50 of the Miami Marlins examines his hand after pitching during the first inning of the game against the Colorado Rockies at Marlins Park on June 20, 2016 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
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The Padres have claimed pitcher Paul Clemens off waivers from the Marlins, Jon Heyman of Today’s Knuckleball reports.

Clemens, 28, made a pair of starts for the Marlins last week, but the results weren’t good. He yielded seven runs on 11 hits and eight walks with six strikeouts in 10 innings. Five of those 11 hits were home runs. Clemens has spent most of the season with Triple-A New Orleans, where he posted a 4.30 ERA with a 66/25 K/BB ratio in 75 1/3 innings.

It’s unclear exactly how the Padres plan to use Clemens, but he will at the very least provide starting rotation depth.

Nationals release Taylor Jordan to make roster space for Lucas Giolito

MILWAUKEE, WI - AUGUST 4:  Starter Taylor Jordan #38 of the Washington Nationals pitches against the Milwaukee Brewers during their game at Miller Park on August 4, 2013 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Mark Hirsch/Getty Images)
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The Nationals cleared space on the 40-man roster for top prospect Lucas Giolito by releasing Taylor Jordan, MASN’s Dan Kolko reports. The club also optioned reliever Rafael Martin to Triple-A Syracuse.

Jordan, 27, underwent Tommy John surgery for the second time last month. In parts of three seasons in the majors with the Nationals, Jordan compiled a 4.48 ERA with a 57/25 K/BB ratio in 94 1/3 innings. While Jordan’s mediocre control and inability to frequently miss bats will limit his potential, he can still be plenty valuable at the back of another team’s starting rotation once he’s healthy.

Giolito, 21, is making his major league debut on Tuesday night against the Mets. He has, to this point, spent the season with Double-A Harrisburg.

Phillies prospect Nick Williams benched again for lack of hustle

CLEARWATER, FL - FEBRUARY 26:  Nick Williams #79 of the Philadelphia Phillies poses for a portrait on February 26, 2016 at Bright House Field in Clearwater, Florida.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Earlier this month, Phillies outfield prospect Nick Williams was benched by Triple-A Lehigh Valley manager Dave Brundage because he didn’t run out a fly ball that was eventually dropped. It happened again.

On Monday night, Williams grounded out in the bottom of the eighth inning, making him 0-for-4 on the night. As Greg Joyce of LehighValleyLive.com recounts, Williams was slow to run out of the batter’s box and slow to return to the dugout, so Brundage pulled Williams in favor of Carlos Alonso.

Williams was “extremely” surprised that he was benched, and said that he wasn’t given an explanation by Brundage. “I didn’t say anything, I just took my seat. I don’t know. I have no explanation,” the outfielder said.

Williams, considered the Phillies’ third-best prospect, is hitting a productive .285/.329/.460 with seven home runs and 36 RBI in 287 plate appearances with Lehigh Valley. He is expected to make his major league debut at some point in the second half, though if he is perceived as failing to hustle, that could potentially delay his major league debut. Williams was part of the six-player return the Phillies received last year from the Rangers in the Cole Hamels trade.

For what it’s worth, Williams’ offense seems rather minor here. He was a few seconds late to the dugout compared to the average player. It was 75 degrees and the IronPigs haven’t had a day off since June 13. That includes a double-header on the 18th. They won’t get a day off until July 11. Williams was probably dragging a bit from a rough night, the humid weather, and the grind of the regular season schedule. Williams also tossed his helmet down the tunnel after returning to the dugout, likely frustrated from an 0-for-4 night when he felt like he was putting good swings on the ball.

Baseball traditionalists have for years jumped on stats people for not considering players as human beings, but rather as data points. Here, the traditionalists — who tend to be overwhelmingly in favor of teaching young players these kinds of lessons — never consider factors like players being worn down by the weather or the schedule. They expect them to be at 100 percent functionality day in, day out like robots. Players are allowed to be tired. They’re allowed to be frustrated.

If I’m Phillies GM Matt Klentak, I’m sending a message to Brundage that the life lessons he’s trying to teach Williams aren’t worth souring the kid’s motivation or his attitude, nor is it worth cutting into his playing time when he’s on the cusp of being a major leaguer.

Video: Adam Wainwright nearly hits a bird with a pitch

CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 21: Adam Wainwright #50 of the St. Louis Cardinals pitches against the Chicago Cubs during the first inning on June 21, 2016 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
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During spring training in 2001, Hall of Famer Randy Johnson — then with the Diamondbacks — was pitching against the Giants. He threw a fastball to Calvin Murray, but the ball never reached home plate because it hit a bird. All you saw was a flash of feathers. The umpire ruled “no pitch” on the incident.

That almost happened in the second inning on Monday night, more than 15 years later. Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright had a full count on Royals second baseman Cheslor Cuthbert in a 2-2 game with a runner on first base. He threw a fastball and Cuthbert fouled it straight back, which is impressive because a bird flew right out in front of him as the pitch was coming in.

Johnson joked about the incident with the bird last year: