Posted: Thursday December 8, 2011 1:16PM ; Updated: Thursday December 8, 2011 2:37PM
Tom Verducci
Tom Verducci>FIVE CUTS

Angels owner's about-face leads to stunning Albert Pujols signing

Story Highlights

Arte Moreno had decried the expensive top free-agent contracts in recent years

The rise of the Rangers and a new TV deal helped convince Moreno to spend big

Francisco Rodriguez is a loser in the game of musical chairs among closers

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Albert Pujols
Albert Pujols is only the second man to sign a contract worth more than $200 million.
AP

DALLAS -- Just 12 months ago, Angels owner Arte Moreno, having whiffed on Carl Crawford the same way he whiffed on Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia and Paul Konerko, decried the illogic of high-stakes free agency for a team already carrying a $121 million payroll then.

"You commit $20 million-plus for seven years to one player, you get to a place where, automatically, you're going to take the payroll to $150 million," Moreno said then, "and it just doesn't give you a lot of room. We knew if we add $20 million, it was going to be red ink."

And then this from him on Crawford money: "There were rumors out there, but we never made an official offer, and no parameters were discussed. It's crazy. I paid [$183 million] for the team [in 2003] and now we're talking $142 million for one player? Seven years on a player is a huge risk financially."

Twelve months later -- his payroll swollen to $141 million -- Moreno went all in at the biggest baccarat table in free agency: the Albert Pujols table. Moreno shocked baseball by jumping in late and large to sign Pujols to a 10-year contract worth about $250 million, a development first reported by Yahoo! Sports. Moreno sweetened the deal with a full no-trade clause.

Forget the Crawford money he couldn't stomach last year. This is way bigger. Even while trying to sign pitcher C.J. Wilson -- which he later did, to a reported five-year, $77 million deal -- Moreno suddenly found the stomach to go 10 years, not seven.

What happened?

• The Rangers, their AL West rival, have become an elite team that is not going away -- they are the Yankees to their Red Sox.

• The Dodgers, who under Frank McCourt essentially forfeited ground in Moreno's quest to make Los Angeles his own, are now an awakening giant. Somebody with money -- lots of it, considering a sale price that might exceed $1 billion -- is going to buy the team. That kind of well-funded shark is not going to forfeit any more ground. The Dodgers quickly will become a threat.

• The Angels are entering the sixth year of a 10-year local TV deal that pays them $50 million a year; they can begin to position themselves for more. (Strangely, the Dodgers and Angels have the worst local TV ratings in baseball.)

• The Angels have $27.5 million coming available after next season with the expiration of the contracts of Torii Hunter and Bobby Abreu.

• The Angels missed the postseason for a second straight year for the first time since Moreno bought the team in 2003. The Angels have won one playoff series in the past six years. Moreno does not like to lose.

Times and circumstances change. Moreno saw a chance to get an iconic player who, because of his age and body type, makes far more sense for an AL team than an NL team over the next 10 years. Even before he becomes a full-time DH, Pujols can extend his prime by occasionally taking "half days off" as a DH -- keeping his bat in the lineup and his assault on career baseball records intact. What seemed foolish 12 months ago now is a whole new world for Moreno and the Angels.

CORCORAN: How much impact will Wilson, Pujols have on AL West?

2. K-Rod strikes out

On July 13, Francisco Rodriguez gave up the chance to vest a $17.5 million option for the 2012 season. As a condition of his trade from the Mets to the Brewers, he converted that vesting option into a mutual option, one Milwaukee was not going to pick up. The idea was that he could pitch in a pennant race and that multi-year riches awaited him on the free agent market after a fine season.

The Brewers decided to offer him arbitration so they could reap draft picks. Surely his agent, Scott Boras, could leverage a 2.64 ERA at age 29 over 71 2/3 relief innings into a jackpot, right?

It didn't happen. Wednesday night it became apparent that Rodriguez was going to have to slink back to Milwaukee and take arbitration, a loser in the closers' game of musical chairs. When a little more than an hour before the arbitration deadline I asked Boras among a pack of reporters about reports that Rodriguez was accepting arbitration, the agent snapped back simply, "That's not accurate."

Oh, okay. Guess who accepted arbitration less than 90 minutes later?

Now the Brewers face the reality of paying a setup man about $13 million or more. They could eat some of the money and trade him. They could think about cutting him in spring training with just 30 days pay of his arbitration award (money that is not fully guaranteed), but they can only pull off such a drastic maneuver based on performance; there is little chance it would survive a grievance short of Rodriguez falling on his face.

(The Padres famously cut Todd Walker this way in 2007 spring training, when he hit .225. The termination was upheld at grievance.)

So Rodriguez is left to pitch for another contract again. And at the end of next season he surely can get those multi-year riches. Right?

3. Double-dip for Prince?

Another Boras client, Prince Fielder, figures to do very well on the free agent market, especially because he is only 27 years old. Fielder is young enough, in fact, that he could sign a shorter-term deal with a massive annual average value and then take a second bite of the free agent apple in his prime.

In 1992, for instance, Greg Maddux, another Boras client, hit free agency at 26. He signed a five-year deal with the Braves for $28 million. In 1997, eligible for free agency again at age 31, Maddux signed a five-year extension with the Braves for $57.5 million, making him the highest-paid player in baseball.

Could Fielder sign a short-term deal and hit free agency again in his prime? Said Boras, "No team that has approached us has even suggested that's a possibility."

Of course, one smart option is to ask for an opt-out clause -- that way Fielder can get the security of the long-term deal with the flexibility of cashing in a few years into the deal. Ask CC Sabathia about getting that nice benefit.

4. The real key for the Marlins

The Miami Marlins have made themselves interesting, but without Pujols, are they the kind of perennial contender to turn Miami into a baseball town? Probably not yet. With Reyes and his backloaded contract (he gets $22 million a year when he's 32, 33 and 34; ouch), they have added a 33-year-old starter, Mark Buehrle, and a 34-year-old closer, Heath Bell, both with concerning strikeout rate patterns, to a 90-loss team. Their hopes hinge more on pitcher Josh Johnson than Reyes. If Johnson's shoulder problems are chronic, the new vibe and new uniforms will fade fast. But if Johnson returns to Cy Young candidate form, Miami becomes very interesting.

5. No shot on North Side

No, the Cubs have not been a player for Pujols. It didn't hurt the process to let the misinformation persist, but the fit never was right on either side.

 
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