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Deducing Albert Pujols’ mystery team

Dec 8, 2011, 3:28 AM EDT

Albert Pujols Getty Images

ESPN’s Jayson Stark surmises that the mystery team chasing Albert Pujols is a club with an established first baseman that it would need to trade in order to make room for a shiny new three-time MVP. So, let’s run through the league to see who might qualify. I’ll exclude the Cardinals and Angels — the known suitors for Pujols — as well as the Marlins, who have already moved on.

National League
Arizona – Trying to re-sign Lyle Overbay doesn’t seem like a smokescreen.
Atlanta – Not while Liberty Media watches the purse strings. Freddie Freeman.
Chicago – Thought to be the third suitor initially, the Cubs don’t fit this description.
Cincinnati – It’d make more sense to give Joey Votto Pujols-type money than to actually sign Pujols.
Colorado – No money.
Houston – Trying to trade Carlos Lee, but committed to rebuilding.
Los Angeles – James Loney sort of qualifies, but the Dodgers have likely already used most of their payroll flexibility. Also, Loney can just be non-tendered.
Milwaukee – Would rather re-sign Prince Fielder.
New York – No money.
Philadelphia – Ryan Howard is impossible to trade with blown out Achilles’ and $125 million contract.
Pittsburgh – No established first baseman. Hard to see Pujols wanting to play here.
San Diego – No money, no first baseman to trade.
San Francisco – Trading Aubrey Huff to make room for Pujols would fit into Stark’s scenario, but the Giants don’t appear to have the money to get involved.
Washington – Everything has pointed to the Nats staying out of the mix. Still, can’t be completely ruled out.

American League
Baltimore – The Orioles would need to trade Mark Reynolds ahead of a Pujols signing. However, most everything suggests they’re sitting this one out.
Boston – Adrian Gonzalez, obviously. Hmmm.
Chicago – Paul Konerko is one of the White Sox’s few keepers as the rebuilding effort begins.
Cleveland – No money, no first baseman.
Detroit – The Tigers will go forward with Miguel Cabrera.
Kansas City – Content with Eric Hosmer.
Minnesota – No money and Justin Morneau is untradeable.
New York – Mark Teixeira has a full no-trade clause and no desire to leave New York. It’s hard to imagine him going anywhere.
Oakland – No first baseman worth worrying about and not enough money.
Seattle – The Mariners could put Justin Smoak up for bids in the event of a Pujols/Fielder signing, but it’s hardly a prerequisite. It appears that they prefer Fielder anyway.
Tampa Bay – No money, no first baseman.
Texas – Mitch Moreland isn’t an obstacle. The Rangers can still be tossed around as a possible mystery team, but they don’t make sense under Stark’s scenario.
Toronto – The Jays would want to trade Adam Lind in the event of a Pujols signing. But, again, it’s not a prerequisite. Also, they appear more interested in Fielder.

If Stark’s hunch is right — that this mystery team can only sign Pujols with a deal in place to move its first baseman — then Boston seems like the obvious choice. What if Gonzalez has decided Boston isn’t all it’s cracked up to be? There was some issue in the newspapers about his lack of leadership during the team’s September collapse, and perhaps he’s not enamored with the choice of Bobby Valentine to manage. Also, he probably wasn’t pleased that the Red Sox came up short on Heath Bell after he apparently interceded on his former teammate’s behalf. Maybe?

I’m not really buying it. I think the Red Sox would rather have Gonzalez at $154 million for the next seven years — his age 30-36 seasons — than Pujols at $220 million for 10 years — his age 32-41 seasons. But the idea of trading Gonzalez, who has only partial no-trade protection, and signing Pujols isn’t all that far-fetched. The salaries would be essentially the same, and if the Red Sox could get legitimate talent back (how crazy would a Gonzalez-for-Hanley Ramirez deal be?) then maybe it’d be worth it.

I don’t think it’s Boston, though. Stark’s theory passes the smell test, but the Cubs and Rangers still make more sense as the mystery team, if there truly is one.

  1. Marc - Dec 8, 2011 at 3:41 AM

    You’re up past your bedtime sir. As for the mystery team, don’t count the Nationals out. They’re crazy (see Werth, Jason).

    They do have a “first baseman” in LaRoche, and could probably muster the cash (judging by the Werth deal and being suspected of courting other free agents like CJ Wilson). Zimmerman could protect him, and batting Werth in front of Pujols would give him a healthy enough dose of fastballs that he might earn most of that contract.

    • dan1111 - Dec 8, 2011 at 9:23 AM

      I agree. The Nats seem more plausible than the Sox. They have an established, but not very good, 1B. They have proven that they are willing to overpay, as you point out. They should have great pitching for years to come, but they lack offense. I think this trade would make them serious contenders immediately. They would also benefit from the drawing power of a big star. Actually, I think this would be a brilliant move for Washington. They may have to overpay from a performance perspective, but it would probably bring huge benefits to the franchise overall.

      It would be a work of genius if Boston could sign him and then traded Gonzalez for some top pitching talent. However: why would some other team give up talent for the privilege of paying Adrian a lot of money, rather than just signing Pujols or Fielder themselves?

  2. ukcardsfan - Dec 8, 2011 at 4:36 AM

    How frustrating, I went to sleep quietly confident that when I woke up, this might have been done… I think that might have been a little nieve in thinking that… I can’t see any team other than the Angels who would still be pushing for this other than the Cubs/Rangers.

  3. uyf1950 - Dec 8, 2011 at 5:09 AM

    About the mystery team. I think it’s more likely the Cubs than the Rangers. Especially if the Cubs can unload some of the “other” contract players (Soriano, etc…). But the Red Sox scenario does present an interesting concept.

    As for Texas they could be an outside possibility but two things to consider. Apparently they are talking to the Cubs about Garza. If they trade for him, Garza probably will make $8 or 9MM in arbitration. If they were to pursue Pujols to the point he were to sign with them that would bring their 2012 payroll obligations up to about $145 to $150MM. About a $40MM plus increase over this past year. That amount includes rough estimates to fill out the remaining roster spots and pre-arb and arbitration awards for their current cases. That’s a pretty hefty increase in 1 year. Just a thought.

    • drmonkeyarmy - Dec 8, 2011 at 8:23 AM

      Why would the Cubs be the mystery team? They don’t have an established 1B that would need to be moved.

      • uyf1950 - Dec 8, 2011 at 8:31 AM

        Just my theory. I realized it doesn’t go with the theme of Jason Stark and a team that must move an “established” 1st baseman. I just get that feeling. If the Cubs can move some “dead weight” from their current batch of players it might make sense. Plus I think and it’s just my opinion Theo/Hoyer need to or may want to make a splash by signing 1 big name before the season.

      • paperlions - Dec 8, 2011 at 8:43 AM

        Plus, the Cubs are in no position to compete during the next few years…why spent over $200M on a guy when you are going to throw away his best remaining years.

        FWIW, the only way the Cubs move that dead weight is by eating about 75% of the money and getting nothing in return…that doesn’t change the fact that signing a high dollar FA right now would be dumb for that organization.

      • uyf1950 - Dec 8, 2011 at 8:50 AM

        paperlions, the way I see it if there was logic to who the “mystery” team was they probably wouldn’t be a mystery.

      • paperlions - Dec 8, 2011 at 9:02 AM

        Some mystery teams would make more sense than others…the Phillies, makes zero sense.

      • paperlions - Dec 8, 2011 at 9:08 AM

        …and neither do the Cubs.

      • uyf1950 - Dec 8, 2011 at 10:00 AM

        paperlions, you’re entitled to your opinion. BTW, let me know when you were offered and accepted the GM position for a MLB Team. Then I’ll place a little more credence in your opinion. Until then, well I’ll leave it at that…

  4. thehypercritic - Dec 8, 2011 at 5:33 AM

    The Gonzalez scenario would make the most sense if the Red Sox true motivation was a player not on the free agent market (like an elite starting pitcher).

    For example, moving Gonzalez to Seattle in a package for Felix Hernandez would make the Pujols signing to replace Gozalez a move to secure an ace.

  5. purnellmeagrejr - Dec 8, 2011 at 6:06 AM

    The only way the Red SOx do it is if they think in order to compete with the Yankees they have to have an even worse contract than AROD’s on the books.

    • Ari Collins - Dec 8, 2011 at 9:04 AM

      Funny. But. I think it’s pretty unlikely the Pujols deal looks worse than A-Rod’s. A-Rod’s on a severe decline at age 36, with six years still left on the deal at a higher annual salary than Pujols is rumored to be getting (plus likely at least two of $6MM bonuses for reaching homers, and more possible), AND A-Rod’s deal is frontloaded, meaning it actually costs more in real dollars. Pujols’ deal is likely to be backloaded, meaning it’ll cost his team less than $200MM in real terms.

    • bozosforall - Dec 8, 2011 at 10:47 AM

      People like you think that the Yankees even care what anyone thinks about their contracts. Therein lies the difference between a secure organization (Yankees) and an insecure one (Red Sox). NY will always rule Boston.

  6. blueintown - Dec 8, 2011 at 6:46 AM

    Inexplicably, this mystery team just upped their offer to $250 mil. Your move, Cardinals. Then another “mystery” team can come along and up the offer to…. #justcallhisbluffalready

  7. Chris Fiorentino - Dec 8, 2011 at 8:01 AM

    I think(hope) the mystery team is the Phillies. The way they get around the large payroll issue is that they pay Albert $18 million a year the first 5 years, then $27 million a year for the second 5 years…that’s 10 years and $225, which blows out of the water any other deals Albert has received. This way, when Howard’s contract is up, they will then get the big years on Albert’s contract on the books. By this time, they won’t have Doc and Lee’s big contracts either. The only question is whether Pujols will want to play third for the next 5 years…OK, that’s not really the ONLY question, but a boy can dream, can’t he?

    • Chris Fiorentino - Dec 8, 2011 at 8:06 AM

      And one other thing to keep in mind is that if they do this, they won’t have to sign Rollins. Forget him…plug in Galvin at Short if you have Albert playing third. Trade Polanco or keep him this year as a super sub for Utley and to play third the first month while the big man is rehabbing. Why pay Rollins 12-13 million for the next 3 years when you can pay Albert only a few million more?

      The question is…would you rather have Pujols/Galvin or Rollins/Polanco on the left side of your infield the next 3 years?

      p.s. Yeah, I know paying Pujols roughly $135 million for his 36-41 years sounds nuts…so what? If they can win a World Series or two the next five, it won’t matter what happens after 5 years. Problem is, with the way this team seems to lay down their bats at very important times in October, they need the big bat now.

      p.p.s. I’m still dreaming, so please don’t wake me up yet with logic…thanks :D

      • Jonny 5 - Dec 8, 2011 at 8:19 AM

        That’s just crazy talk. I love crazy talk….

      • drmonkeyarmy - Dec 8, 2011 at 8:22 AM

        I’m with you Chris. Pipe dream for sure but whatever. Nobody thought the “mystery team” last year was the Phillies either.

      • Chris Fiorentino - Dec 8, 2011 at 8:25 AM

        J5…I know, it is insane. Then I think about it some more and I think…is it so nuts? I mean…this is a team who is giving Ryan Howard $25 million a year for the next 5 years…or are they? No, they are paying him $20, 20, 25, 25, 25 and a $10 million buyout. What’s to stop them from structuring something to a similar tune with Albert?

        This is a team with balls…their payroll for 2017 at this point is $0. You know that has to be burning a hole in NinJr’s pocket, right?

        The biggest obstacle to this is Pujols wanting to play third for the next 5 years. That, and the fact that he probably(ok, 99% likely) wants to be a Cardinal.

      • paperlions - Dec 8, 2011 at 8:52 AM

        There is also the fact that a $225M does not blow a $220M offer out of the water, factor in cost of living, tax, and additional travel expenses, and Pujols would make less money with that deal. A $5M difference on a 1 yr deal is a lot; a $5M difference on a $20-30M deal is a lot; a $5M difference on a 10year $200M+ deal is barely anything.

        Plus, it isn’t a question of Pujols wanting to play 3B for 5 years, but of him being able to do so…do you want to watch a 36 yr old AP lumbering around 3B?

        …and if the Phillies did this, they would be losing Hamels after next year. Making old expensive teams older and more expensive is bad.

      • Jonny 5 - Dec 8, 2011 at 8:56 AM

        I think playing third may be too much for the man myself. I guess if they don’t mind closing in on the payrolls of the Yankees and BoSox, they’d have a better team than both more than likely. For a little bit less money too.

      • Chris Fiorentino - Dec 8, 2011 at 8:57 AM

        Why would they lose Hamels? They have some money coming off the books after this year…Blanton, Polanco, Victorino. They could fit Hamels in, the way they have been doing for years now…back-ending the bigger money.

        And if $5 million wasn’t such a big deal, then why hasn’t Albert signed with the Cardinals yet? Do you think he is that pissed off at them? Seems to me he would consider a penny over the Cardinals final offer something that blows the Cardinals out of the water.

      • Chris Fiorentino - Dec 8, 2011 at 8:59 AM

        I agree J5…he probably doesn’t want to play 3rd so it is all moot anyway.

      • Ari Collins - Dec 8, 2011 at 9:07 AM

        They already closed in on (and passed) the Red Sox last year.

      • paperlions - Dec 8, 2011 at 9:07 AM

        What makes anyone think Pujols is pissed off? The only people in a hurry for this to be over are the media and fans. Pujols has no incentive to be in a hurry and neither does his agent. The price won’t go down while they wait, it could only go up….so why not be patient and let the process play out?

      • Jonny 5 - Dec 8, 2011 at 9:10 AM

        PL, they already pay Hamels 14 m per, it’s only going to take another 6 per to land him, and Blanton is gone with his 10.5 m salary by then.

        Chris, one thing. WHY would Amaro lock up Howard early when he didn’t have to? Ask yourself that.

      • Chris Fiorentino - Dec 8, 2011 at 9:11 AM

        Well, the way he is treating them isn’t doing them much of a favor is it? Granted, he can take as long as he wants, but it isn’t like this is a 3 year $36 million dollar deal that he is working on. It is a franchise changer…and if he strings it too far along, they will miss out on either smaller pieces to fill in around him…or a bigger piece or two to take his place. Don’t you think?

      • Chris Fiorentino - Dec 8, 2011 at 9:16 AM

        J5…obviously, Amaro thought the market was going to increase for guys like Howard, Pujols, and Fielder and didn’t want to have to give him a 10 year deal. Also, he saved $10 million off the first two years of the extension…which is pretty big…and he may not have been able to do that if Howard was a free agent now. However, hindsight being 20/20 of course, waiting would have been more favorable. But if Ryan had continued his pace of 50/140 over the last two years, then he would probably be looked at as a bargain right now. Instead, he declined and, unfortunately, he tore his achilles on his last at bat of the NLDS, which was the last out. I will never kill Ruben for that contract. Ever. And I know I am in the very slim minority in that regard, but that’s fine with me…it’s a position I am used to being in :D

      • Francisco (FC) - Dec 8, 2011 at 9:17 AM

        I already mentioned it before (Ryan Howards extension). This winter would have been very entertaining without it.

      • Jonny 5 - Dec 8, 2011 at 9:19 AM

        ARI, Without making another move besides resigning Ortiz, the Sox have 170 million committed for 2012. They still don’t have a closer. They also want another starting pitcher. So no.

        http://www.weei.com/sports/boston/baseball/red-sox/alex-speier/2011/12/05/no-big-splash-big-d-why-red-sox-might-not-have

      • Jonny 5 - Dec 8, 2011 at 9:30 AM

        Or maybe it was just to have control of his contract Chris. To be able to trade him, if need be.

      • Jonny 5 - Dec 8, 2011 at 9:37 AM

        It’s funny Ari, you already commented there, I figured you’d have remembered it. ;)

  8. Matt - Dec 8, 2011 at 8:18 AM

    I don’t think it’s them…but the Tigers would fit if you consider VMart a 1B to be traded while Miggy slides over to his natural DH position.

  9. stex52 - Dec 8, 2011 at 9:03 AM

    The Cardinals need to avoid the trap that Scott Boras sucked the Astros into with Carlos Beltran. When you are negotiating with a franchise player, all other actions grind to a halt. Then, if they have been playing you for a sucker, you end up in January with no franchise player and the rest of your resource plans still on hold with all of the big names off the board. I am a fan of Pujols. But the Cards need to give him a hard deadline and move on.

  10. lpd1964 - Dec 8, 2011 at 9:08 AM

    here’s a juicy scenario-Walt Jocketty is the Reds GM, Reds were rumored to be shipping Votto to the Blue Jays for Bautista last year, Pujols is signed by the Reds. Pujols at 1st,Bautista in the outfield. Can you imagine how many homeruns Pujols could hit at GABP? If only the Reds had money!!

  11. unlost1 - Dec 8, 2011 at 9:36 AM

    ANY team that gets Pujols will only have him for 4 years before he turns into old Carlos Delgado

  12. mojosmagic - Dec 8, 2011 at 9:50 AM

    My bet is he ends up with Washington it Texas.

  13. bozosforall - Dec 8, 2011 at 10:43 AM

    The Boston theory was a JOKE. Though I wouldn’t put it past the Sox and Marlins to do some sort of under the table machinations.

  14. clydeserra - Dec 8, 2011 at 3:56 PM

    Looks like you forgot to analyse one team…

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