Chances of Pujols staying with Cardinals look to be increasing
Albert Pujols had one of the best games in baseball history in Game 3
One person who knows Pujols says he values his place in Cardinals history
The two sides have not spoken since February but are not on bad terms
ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Great Albert Pujols added to his incredible legacy with his five-hit, three-homer performance for the ages in Game 3. But is there any chance this is the final Cardinals chapter of the iconic star's amazing St. Louis story?
Of course, any number of unknown teams could try to make him an offer he can't refuse in what promises to be the most-watched free agency in years and maybe ever. But most baseball people suggest they believe the final landing spot for perhaps the greatest free agent ever isn't the mystery some first believed when Pujols cut off talks with the Cardinals back in February.
One person who knows Pujols well suggested he could not envision the superstar leaving St. Louis for even $20 million more in total dollars. Pujols, who attended high school and community college in the Kansas City area, has his home and his foundation in St. Louis and perhaps most important of all, he has his legacy wrapped up in being a Cardinal. (He also wants to win and couldn't reasonably make the case he's going somewhere else to win more, as the Cardinals have more postseason wins than any National League club since he arrived.)
"If he stays, he's Stan Musial, Bob Gibson, Lou Brock and Red Schoendienst all wrapped up in one,'' one National League executive said, naming four other Cardinals icons. The person who knows Pujols agreed, saying he's not giving that up for 10 or 15 percent more money, which could only amount to $1-to-2 million dollars more per year after taxes.
If Pujols leaves, he puts pressure on himself to repeat the heroics of his prime years into his mid- and late-30s, the NL exec pointed out. If he stays, he is forever enveloped in love and admiration as the hometown hero who stayed because he loved it, and possibly for less money.
While the sides have not spoken since February, Cardinals GM John Mozeliak confirmed, there is nothing to suggest they are on bad terms. The team offered him a bit more than $200 million over nine years, according to baseball sources, with him seeking to top Alex Rodriguez's record $275-million, 10-year Yankees deal. There are suggestions the Cardinals have told folks they don't expect to budge too much, and one Cardinals person suggested the World Series revenue boost is somewhat exaggerated in the whole picture. It can't hurt, though.
Neither can Pujols' monster performance when he tied the World Series record for hits, home runs and RBIs (six) in a game in one of the greatest single-game performances in baseball history. "My guess is, he'll be the highest paid player in the world,'' said former White Sox slugger Frank Thomas, who's here announcing for MLB.com. Reggie Jackson, who along with Pujols and Babe Ruth is the only man to hit three home runs in a World Series game,said by phone that Pujols' feat, "elevated what I did because he's a great player. I consider it an honor being in their company because I wasn't the player they are.'' But Jackson, who once shocked baseball by jumping to the Yankees for a then-record $3 million (about one percent of what Pujols seeks) over five years, wasn't so sure Pujols can match A-Rod's deal. "The contracts the Yankees have are different,'' Jackson, a former Yankees great and current Yankees consultant, noted.
Going into the Series, word was starting to get around that the Cardinals suggested to a few insiders that they aren't going to be able to move too much off their original offer. And maybe that remains the case. But there is a new glow about Pujols, who has played brilliantly throughout October and carried the team with that all-time performance in Game 3. Mozeliak, speaking generally about the potential effect of October performances, said, "I do think you can move the needle one way or the other. But for the most part, it's rarely a dramatic thing.'' Mozeliak wouldn't directly address whether Pujols has moved the needle. ''I have no idea,'' he said. "He's played very well, though.''
There is no doubt he has impressed a lot of folks by lifting the comeback Cardinals. Pujols' "off'' regular season, in which he failed to hit .300 or knock in 100 runs for the first time in his 11-year career (he hit .299 and had 99 RBIs) has been set aside by the superb October in which he has also played the field beautifully and run the bases brilliantly. Most execs seeing him beating Brewers counterpart Prince Fielder on the open market, with the negatives being that Pujols is 31 years old and the biggest-market Yankees and Red Sox aren't in the market for a first baseman. It's hard to guess what team might go crazy for Pujols.
Toronto is one team that has money and could be primed for a big play, but does anyone see him leaving the Cardinals for the Blue Jays? Or the Nationals, Orioles or maybe even the Marlins for the matter? The Rangers aren't acting like they'll make a play for one of the two biggest free agents (though they didn't play for Adrian Beltre until late before signing him last offseason and can always change their minds.) The Giants and bankrupt Dodgers would appear to be long shots, which could leave the Cubs as the team having the best hope to steal Pujols -- though incoming club president Theo Epstein has made a practice of targeting mostly 20-somethings for his big free-agent plays.
Whatever, people around the game are generally rooting for Pujols to remain in St. Louis. "As a baseball fan, I hope he stays with the Cardinals,'' Jackson said. "My hope is he and the Cardinals get together and both get what they want.''
The likelihood of that seems greater than ever today.
As great as the possibility for Pujols to return to his current team is, the odds that Rangers No. 1 pitcher C.J. Wilson comes back to Texas in 2012 seem fairly remote at present. One competing American League executive estimated Wilson would get $75 million for five years, a reasonable management estimate in a free-agent field almost devoid of other proven frontline starters, which Wilson is even though he has had an uneven postseason. But if so, the Rangers almost surely would be out, as there's little chance they get close to that number.
In terms of how this is playing out, this looks a little bit like the John Lackey free agency of a couple years ago where the Angels made an initial offer before his walk year that was eventually doubled as a free agent. (That is not to cast any aspersion on Wilson, as no one knew the Lackey deal would turn disastrous.) Word is, the Rangers' offer to Wilson was about $36 million for three years (though it may have also contained a fourth-year option), which doesn't seem on the surface like an offer designed to ensure the pitcher stays in Texas.
Wilson said he hears criticism that he's "cost himself money'' with his mostly negative October performance (he's 0-3 with a 7.17 ERA in the postseason), and one AL exec said he believes that is the case. But Wilson, who will make his final October start Monday in Game 5 and hopes that adjustments he's made will bring him back to his midseason form, said he doesn't at all feel that way because he knows what the Rangers offered before the season, and he also figures he'll do much better than that despite the October struggles. Some have suggested the $82.5 million contracts that Lackey and A.J. Burnett got is a potential comp for Wilson, but while that looks like the top end after his recent rough stretch, it'll be a lot closer to that number than the Rangers' winter offer. While the Rangers like him much better than both those pitchers, they see those two contracts as "terrible,'' in the words of one Rangers person.
Another Rangers person suggested Wilson hasn't actually named an exact asking price, that they are going under the assumption that without a stated target figure he may want as much as $100 million, which is a non-starter (no pun intended) for them. The Rangers succeeded two years ago moving Wilson from the bullpen to the rotation, they expect to put Alexi Ogando back in as a starter next year and closer Neftali Feliz is a strong candidate to switch, as well. So nobody is better at figuring it out than them. The Rangers also have a top prospect, Martin Perez, who could be ready sometime next year.
Meanwhile, the Rangers don't seem to think they will win a bidding war for Wilson, and there isn't even any certainty that they are going to try very hard to do it. No matter, supply and demand being what they are, it should still be a great time for Wilson, who is easily the best pitcher on the market who doesn't have to be posted (Yu Darvish) or opt out (CC Sabathia).
"I'm looking forward to it,'' Wilson said.