Posted on November 2, 2011 at 7:22 PM
Filed Under: St. Louis Cardinals
We heard it a lot. At the end of September and during every playoff series, we heard "this could be the last time Albert Pujols
has an at-bat in a Cardinal uniform," sometimes tweaked with the last home appearance. So much so that someone made a chart out of how he did in those situations
. (Spoiler, not all that well.)
So I'm here to lay out the reasons why all of that was moot. I'm staking my (not so) considerable reputation as a blogger that Albert will be back in St. Louis for 2012 and for many years to come.
I admit, I come at this from a St. Louis bias. That's pretty much to be expected when you read a Cardinal blog, don't you think? However, I'll lay out my numerous reasons and you can decide if it is sufficient for you to believe as well. I'm sure there will be numerous objections to some of my reasons (that's what the comments are for). Even if you disagree with one or two, though, hopefully the others will make you think.
The first and biggest reason is that the market for Pujols is not as strong as you'd expect for a legend heading into free agency.
Let's look at the teams in MLB:
Chicago White Sox
Los Angeles Angels
Los Angeles Dodgers
New York Mets
New York Yankees
Right off the bat, we can eliminate roughly a third of the league, the teams that just don't have the financial resources to make a splash like this. I'm counting the Dodgers and the Mets, who would normally be in the mix on this, but have ownership situations that create uncertainty and the inability to really make this kind of commitment. Atlanta and Arizona also don't strike me as the types that would be willing to spend this kind of money, but I'd be willing to hear other sides of that argument. So what does that leave us with?
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Chicago White Sox
Los Angeles Angels
New York Yankees
Los Angeles Angels
Still a good number of teams, but I think we can narrow it down some more. If Milwaukee had the wherewithal to sign a big name first baseman, they'd resign Prince Fielder
. I exchanged some emails with bloggers today and got the sense that while Miami is going to raise payroll, Pujols would eat up that whole raise and they are not likely to do that. The San Francisco bloggers tell me that the team is still focusing on pitching (which is really surprising, given their obvious issues on offense last year) and they are limiting their payroll to around $120 million, which doesn't leave them room for AP. Seattle is looking at about $95 million already in payroll and I can't see them going much higher than that. Let's remove those.
Los Angeles Angels
The nightmare scenario is, of course, that Pujols goes to the Cubs. Some even got more worried when Theo Epstein signed with the Chicago team. However, my opinion is that Epstein is smart enough to know that the Cubs are more than one player away from being a contender, and by time he's able to strengthen the farm enough so that he has players to surround Pujols with, AP will be on the downside of his career. I think Epstein is smart enough not to go big with Albert, knowing that he doesn't have to make a splash in his first offseason.
Baltimore has tried for the big names before, pursuing Teixeira before he signed with the Yankees. However, they weren't able to get him and one of the drawing cards was supposed to be that he was a Baltimore native. I don't think they go high enough to get Albert and, even if they did try to spend the money, I think Pujols's competitive nature wouldn't want to be sitting on a fourth place team on a regular basis.
I don't think Toronto is going to be in play, partly because of the AL East scenario again (though I think Toronto is on the way up) but also because of the major upheaval it would be to go to a different country to play half your games. Also, I'm not sure exactly what AP's relationship to Colby Rasmus
was, but I'm thinking there's a good chance they aren't dying to play together.
So what's left?
Los Angeles Angels
Four teams, and I think Washington is only on the fringes. They obviously don't mind spending money, as we saw with the Jayson Werth
contract, and they have a lot of good talent such as Jordan Zimmermann
, Stephen Strasburg
and Bryce Harper
on the way. Washington is in a position where the addition of Albert could make them favorites (or close to it) in the NL East, especially with Ryan Howard
being out in Philadelphia most of the 2012 season.
Los Angeles has been rumored to be interested in Pujols for quite some time. They are supposed to get Kendry Morales back, but he's proven that you can't plan on his health. However, they have some serious payroll commitments and I'm not sure Arte Moreno is going to want to extend the payroll that far into the stratosphere, as a Pujols contract would likely have them into the luxury tax range if they made no other moves.
That brings us to Texas. Texas could use a first baseman, that's true. They have no problem spending money, another plus. They are obviously a winning organization, having gone to back-to-back World Series. All the pieces are in play for them to try for a little revenge and steal away Pujols.
However, according to reports Texas is going to go the pitching route in the offseason
, and you can't really blame them. They'll either have to spend big or they'll lose C.J. Wilson
, so either option requires them outlaying a lot of their capital for the guys on the mound. Plus, in that ballpark, either Mitch Moreland
develops or they can go out and find a first baseman that normally hits 15-20 and get him up to 25-30 without too much trouble, just from playing in that hitter's park. There's no reason to shell out big bucks to get Pujols, who won't be that much of a step up for a team that already has plenty of big bats.
Process of elimination has very few competitors for St. Louis. However, there are other reasons.
The second reason (and one that I think is huge) is the fact that the Pujols Family Foundation is based in St. Louis and Pujols has said it will stay here.
All we know about Pujols is his public persona, right? From everything that we read, that we see, that we hear from others, his faith is a huge part of his life and the Foundation is the best way he can put that faith into action. The Foundation does outstanding work both locally in the St. Louis area and in the Dominican Republic.
All of these works, though, take money. There's no doubt that Albert will be able to fund PFF with his next contract, but he can't do it all. If he leaves St. Louis, you have to figure that donations drop significantly. (If he signs with Chicago, they drop by over half, I'd think, maybe more.) That's got to weigh into his calculations. Sure, his new city might step up and shower the Foundation with donations, but how long would that take?
Coming into a new place, you don't automatically have the rapport and connections that you do in your old place. I mean, the fans may love him, but would they love him any differently than any other free agent signing? To some degree, until you've been in a place for a while, you are a mercenary, a hired gun. People don't often donate to hired guns.
(On the flip side, imagine what levels contributions might soar to if he stays in St. Louis!)
Third, I think that the Cardinals will make a competitive offer, one that will not be that far off of what he is looking for.
Let's take a look back at the beginning of spring training. Albertgeddon was huge and there was a press conference on the first day that both John Mozeliak and Pujols spoke at. You can read some of the comments on this old post
, but the sense I got from listening to both Mozeliak and Pujols was that the two sides weren't miles apart. Both of them seemed to indicate that the media didn't have the full story, which was completely believable.
Just look at how well the front office kept the secret that Tony La Russa was looking to retire at the end of the season. That's huge news, but because only a couple of people, people that had integrity and character, knew about it, the news stayed secret and was a big shock when it was finally announced on Monday. I don't think there's any doubt that the two sides could have been extremely close and neither side leaked it. For all we know, there were some informal negotiations during the season that we weren't privy to. I just don't think it's a huge gap that these two sides have to bridge, which makes me optimistic that it can get done.
Fourth, Pujols knows and respects Stan Musial, hopefully to the point that he realizes just what he could be to this town if he stays
Pujols has always shown deep respect for The Man, going so far as to dissuade people from calling him El Hombre. He knows what the love for St. Louis is for Musial and he has to recognize that, if he stays his whole career under the Arch, he's going to have that same sort of goodwill and adoration when he's 90 as well. It wouldn't be a stretch to see people pushing for him to get the Presidential Medal of Honor, due to his on and off the field work.
This happens no where else. He can't go to Texas, put up 10 great years, and be that beloved. First off, putting up 10 great years is a stretch at his age, we all recognize that. But again, it's the hired gun mentality. It's tough to fully embrace a guy that comes to you in the middle of his career.
Don't get me wrong, if Pujols went to Texas or Washington or wherever, I know the fan base would go nuts for him, buy the Pujols jerseys, and honor him at the end of his career as one of their own. But it'll always have a different tinge, a different feeling to it.
For instance, Cardinal fans love Lance Berkman
, even though he's been here only a year. I was excited when he signed his contract extension and I'm glad he'll be around in 2012.
That said, do we as Cardinal fans think we even approach what Astros fans felt about Berkman throughout his career? Watching him develop at the big league level and then leading them to their first World Series? If he'd been able to stay in Houston, he'd have probably moved right into some sort of role with the club and been their icon for years to come.
It just seems different to me when you go through the trials and tribulations with a player versus when they come to you already developed, already having lots of success somewhere else. It may be only in degree and it may not be much, but I think there's a difference.
If Pujols leaves for somewhere else, yes, his number will likely be retired by the club. But he'll never be held in the regard of Bob Gibson
, Lou Brock
or Ozzie Smith
, much less the great Musial because he didn't end here, he chose to leave. If he stays, he's the only person that might someday bump Musial out of the top spot as greatest ever.
Fifth, I think this playoff run reinforced what playing in St. Louis was all about.
If this team had limped to the finish line, winding up 8 or so games back, maybe it'd be easier for Albert to think that the best days of Cardinal baseball were behind them and that it'd be a while before this team really contended again. He might have been more likely to mentally start disconnecting from the organization while playing his final games. It might have made it more likely to leave.
Instead, this team put on a run for the ages. Packed houses every night, full of fans going wild. Not only getting to the playoffs but succeeding in them, bring home another trophy and reminding Pujols just what it's like to win in Baseball Heaven. There's no way that didn't affect him somewhat, giving him even more of a connection to the city and the fan base.
Along with that run, he can look and see that the window for this team isn't closing anytime soon, that it will still be very competitive. You get Adam Wainwright
back next year. Berkman is back. Matt Holliday
, Chris Carpenter
, Jaime Garcia
are all here. Shelby Miller
will be coming soon. There's a lot to like about this team. It's not one that looks to collapse any time soon.
Plus, it generated some unexpected money for the organization, money they could use to help shorten that gap between the two sides. That's what we call a "win-win".
There are other reasons as well. I think the fact that he has some great friends here, people like Yadier Molina
who he is so close to, has to weigh into his decision. There's also the specter of setting some team records, which has to mean a lot when you think about the history of the Cardinals. He's already been passing some big names, but he could own the whole record book by time he is done.
Finally, though, today may have been the clincher on the whole argument. Today, a statue of Pujols was unveiled
in front of his restaurant in Westport Plaza. Now, really, if you thought you were going to leave a fandom as passionate as St. Louis's, do you really think you'd put up a statue? Apparently the funds were provided two years ago
by an anonymous donor. Even granting the time it took to make the statue and all of that, would you really want to dedicate that just weeks before you left town?
If you were going to leave, wouldn't you perhaps just quietly put the statue out if you had to do something with it? Not have the big ceremony and hoopla? Because you know that if you walk out of St. Louis, that statue is not going to look very nice unless you put 24-hour guards on it. Would the restaurant even stay in business if he went somewhere like Los Angeles? You'd think the dropoff in business would be pretty significant.
All in all, putting up a statue like this seems to scream that, if at all possible, Pujols wants to stay in St. Louis. I think the organization is going to make that possible. It might take some creativity, it might take some bending by both sides, but I think it's going to get done and we're all going to feel much better.
Put all of that together and I don't see how he can walk away from St. Louis. That doesn't mean it won't happen, but I think the odds are very low. Of course, until the contract is signed, you just never know!