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Which free agent holds the most value?

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Tracy Ringolsby

Tracy Ringolsby is a Hall of Fame baseball writer. He is in his 37th year covering Major League Baseball, is a co-founder of Baseball America, and is in his fourth year as pregame and postgame analyst for Colorado Rockies games on Root Sports.

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Agent Scott Boras could become the biggest challenge the St. Louis Cardinals face in re-signing Albert Pujols.

No, Boras does not represent Pujols. Dan Lozano is Pujols’ representative.

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Boras does, however, represent Prince Fielder, and it’s the two first basemen, Fielder and Pujols, who will be the marquee names in this offseason’s free agent class.

And here is the rub. A year ago, Pujols was considered the elite player. He turned down a 10-year, $200 million overture from the Cardinals.

So what happened? Pujols struggled at the start of the season, and while he is finishing strong, his numbers are a step below his previous seasons.

He’s 31, and the whispers among scouts is that Pujols has struggled with the inside fastball. Is it true? Doesn’t have to be. Perception does become reality and it will be a factor general managers and owners have to weigh in deciding how far to go in an offer for Pujols.

Fielder, meanwhile, has enjoyed a banner season in Milwaukee, and is four years younger than Pujols, although given his size and defensive shortcomings, Fielder would seem better fit with an AL team that could use him as a DH.

The challenge this winter will be finding teams with big budgets that are in the market for a first baseman and can help bid the price up for Fielder and Pujols.

There would seem to be only two big spenders that have first-base voids: the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim — where manager Mike Scioscia has more power than most managers and likes veteran bats — and the Chicago Cubs, in a state of flux while a general manager is sought.

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Pujols has shown signs of having a preference to stay in St. Louis, but agents also have a tendency to get hung up with the Boras factor, where money becomes the ultimate negotiating goal, not the best fit for a client, who will either be really rich or extremely rich once he signs a contract.

And Boras is successful at playing the waiting game, knowing that if he can get a team to panic (like Washington shelling out $126 million over seven years for Jayson Werth, who has never even had a 100-RBI season) it is to his client’s financial benefit.

The challenge in the Pujols negotiations will be whether his representatives focus on doing what is best for Pujols or get caught up with trying to keep up with Boras.

 

EMPTY FEELING

Arizona is one of baseball's feel-good stories, except in Arizona. On Monday night, with Ian Kennedy bidding to become the NL's first 20-game winner, with the Diamondbacks opening a nine-game homestand in a bid to win the NL West, the paid attendance was less than 25,000. But then that shouldn't be a surprise. The team's average attendance is less than 25,000.

And remember, in 2007, when Arizona and Colorado met in the NLCS the Diamondbacks wouldn't have sold out if Alice Cooper hadn't bought the remaining seats — around 5,000 a game — and donated them to charity.

 

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Houston is scheduled to play a full National League schedule. As flexible as baseball may be, redoing a schedule in the offseason is virtually impossible because of how it would impact marketing and sales plans.

That means there won't be an additional wild-card team, at least in 2012. The Major League Baseball Players Association has made it clear that to approve an expansion of the wild-card, the players want balance in the leagues in terms of the number of teams and the schedule so that there is a level playing field for teams in the wild-card races.

 

 

CUBBY TOWN

Cubs ownership says it wants a strong, proven man as the new general manager. The Cubs, however, have a strange way of wooing the likes of Brian Cashman from the Yankees, Theo Epstein from the Red Sox or Andrew Friedman from the Rays.

Top department heads in the Cubs organization are being given contract extensions. Most established GMs like to bring their own people. The question being asked around baseball is: If Jim Hendry's top assistants are considered that vital, why on earth did Hendry get fired?

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Arizona officials have their fingers crossed that the Cubs will hire former Diamondbacks general manager Josh Byrnes, who has been working behind the scenes for the Chicago job since last offseason.

Arizona fired Byrnes a year ago, even though he had a contract through 2015, so if he gets a new GM job the Diamondbacks could save as much as $4 million in the next four years because the salary they owe him would be offset by what he would make for taking a similar job with the Cubs.

The fact they fired Byrnes with 5 1/2 years remaining on that contract is statement enough that Arizona officials aren’t concerned about the Cubs becoming an NL force if they do make the hire.

 

OVERHEARD

• While the status of St. Louis manager Tony La Russa has become a routine offseason debate, there is a strong feeling that Chris Carpenter’s two-year extension with the Cardinals is an indication that La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan will be back.

• Jim Fleming was pushed upstairs in Florida, and Marty Scott has been hired as the Marlins farm director. Scott has spent the last 17 years working with independent league teams, but he was the farm director in Texas when Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria owned Triple-A Oklahoma City, which at the time was an affiliate of the Rangers. Loria developed a strong relationship with Scott and ever since Loria initially bought the Montreal Expos he has made overtures to Scott.

• Pittsburgh appears to be shaving the budget of general manager Neal Honeycutt’s advisers. Longtime Pirates special assistant Pete Vuckovich beat the posse out of town, accepting a similar role in Seattle, where he is reunited with general manager Jack Zduriencik  and Ted Simmons, also a special assistant in Seattle. Zduriencik is a former scouting director in Pittsburgh and Simmons is a former Vuckovich teammate in the big leagues. Pirates also have informed Keith Champion and Larry Corrigan — both given four-year contracts and among Huntington’s initial hires — that their deals won’t be renewed.

 

POSITIVE SIGN

San Diego bullpen coach Darrell Akerfelds is making progress in his battle with pancreatic cancer. He even has signs of growth of a slight beard and hair on his head.

092011 MLB SD Cooach Darrel Akerfelds IA


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Akerfelds is scheduled for an Oct. 7 surgery at which time doctors will determine whether they can remove the cancerous tumor or if he will need to undergo radiation. The challenge is that the tumor is resting on a major artery, and doctors want to see if the tumor has shrunk enough be free of the artery.

The doctors have, however, determined that the cancer remains localized.

Akerfelds, in his 10th year as the Padres bullpen coach, was diagnosed last December, and has been undergoing a serious of high-powered chemotherapy treatments, designed to shrink the tumor. The last session was three weeks ago.

Akerfelds has missed only a handful of games despite his treatment, and each game he missed was solely for purpose of a treatment. Manager Buddy Black has limited Akerfelds as far as warming up pitchers but otherwise Akerfelds has handled his full duties.

Tagged: Brewers, Cubs, Cardinals, Diamondbacks, Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder

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