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Many moves waiting on Pujols' decision
Albert Pujols hasn’t strolled about the Hilton Anatole lobby during this week’s winter meetings. At least, I haven’t seen him. In a week when so little seems certain, I can tell you that for sure.
And yet Pujols has inspired so many footsteps through the Anatole’s central corridor. That’s the measure of a true superstar: He’s dominating in absentia.
We’ve already seen Big News at the 2011 edition of baseball’s grand swap meet: Jose Reyes agreed to a six-year, $106 million contract with the Miami Marlins on Sunday, before some general managers unpacked their suitcases. Just as in the last baseball event hosted here — Game 5 of the World Series — there’s been no shortage of intrigue.
But there’s also a queue of signings, trades and possibilities that haven’t come to light, because Pujols has yet to decide among the Cardinals, Marlins and Angels. He’s the starting quarterback at Hot Stove U. The play won’t begin until he barks the signal.
That’s why, on two occasions Tuesday, I was among the dozen or so reporters who power-walked from lobby to lobby as top Marlins officials commuted to and from meetings with Pujols’ agent, Dan Lozano. We kept pace and asked questions. They said nothing of substance. Elevator doors closed. That was it.
The ambling/monosyllabic interview is standard practice for my colleagues in Washington, DC, useful in tracking down powerful folks who are under investigation by, say, the US Securities and Exchange Commission. But by the standards of baseball scribes, this was pretty exhilarating stuff. And the importance of Pujols — direct and indirect — was the reason we did it.
The Cardinals have reportedly made a new offer for Pujols. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the deal is believed to be close to $220 million for as long as 10 years.
If Pujols re-signs with the Cardinals, then the Angels and Marlins will have plenty of leftover cash to remain in play for free-agent left-hander C.J. Wilson.
If Pujols takes his talents to South Beach, then the Cardinals will rationalize the departure of a franchise player while seeking an outfield bat (Jason Kubel?) to accommodate Lance Berkman’s move to first base.
If Pujols surprises everyone and opts for the Angels — Mystery Team revealed! — then the Marlins can allocate their dollars to what they really need: a starting pitcher.
Name the free agent — Mark Buehrle, Aramis Ramirez, Edwin Jackson — and you can draw some link to Pujols’ future.
Prince Fielder, of course, is lurking backstage while Pujols, Lozano and the Marlins put on the biggest show since the Muppets’ comeback spectacular. And the revelation of the Angels’ interest in Pujols, reported by my colleague Ken Rosenthal, raises the following question: If the Angels like the 31-year-old Pujols, then why not pursue the 27-year-old Fielder, too?
No matter what happens between now and the final horn Thursday morning, this will be remembered as the winter meetings when the Marlins declared their relevancy to the baseball industry. A few years ago the headline “MARLINS OUTSPEND RED SOX AND YANKEES” would have been found only on The Onion’s sports page.
By the way, I don’t believe a 10-year contract for Pujols would be wise for the Marlins, the Cardinals or anyone else. The simple arithmetic of the concept is alarming: A 10-year contract for Pujols, in excess of $200 million, would last through age 41. That’s particularly risky for National League franchises that, at least under this collective bargaining agreement, lack the flexibility of a designated hitter.
How many excellent 37-year-old first basemen do you know, let alone 41 years old? Thanks to some thorough research by my friends at STATS LLC, I can tell you that since 1980 there have been 397 times when a position player appeared in the majors during a season in which he was 38 or older on April 1.
Of that group, only 28 made the All-Star team — a yield of 7.1 percent.
I realize those figures include scores of average and below-average players. But Pujols would have four such seasons in a 10-year contract. What are the odds that he will be playing at an All-Star level, while earning a salary in excess of $20 million, at that point in his career?
The Marlins don’t seem concerned about the answer to that question. That is their prerogative. In the near term, their interest in Pujols means that the regular business of baseball has been postponed a little longer. To one extent or another, we’re all waiting for the big guy to make up his mind.
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