Is Toronto a Viable Option for Albert Pujols?

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As I hear about how the talks are souring between the St-Louis Cardinals and Albert Pujols, I sit here, I wonder, I dream. There’s arguably a 0.05% chance that Albert Pujols will not be a Cardinal in 2011 or 2012, and probably a lesser chance that he would become a Blue Jay if he were available. However, let’s imagine for one second that talks did get so bad that St-Louis executives realized that they had little choice but to move him for as big a package as they could find. Let’s also imagine that Alex Anthopoulos would be in the front row of the pack chasing him, as he has been for the majority of available players, making inquiries, offering an attractive package that includes pieces from the team with the 4th best minors system in the majors.

Before I get into the Pujols market, however, I wanted to add that I’m not the only one looking into the possibility of Pujols becoming a Toronto target. Alex Anthopoulos wants to target the very best at each position, and we all know Albert is the best 1B OR DH. The last part is particularly important, because it tells us that Pujols may want to bring his craft to the American League for his next contract in order to prolong his career. If he signs a 10-year contract in St-Louis, what are the chances he’ll be an effective 1B at the end of it? It’s also important because it means that even if the Jays want to add Pujols AND keep Adam Lind, they can do so. If they do have to deal Lind to get Pujols, it’s really no big deal because Lind can’t hit LHP.

Jays coverage MLB.com writer Gregor Chisolm touched on this is his latest article, but he seems to side with Lind getting a shot to prove himself, making it unlikely that the Jays chase Pujols during the next off season if he does becomes a free agent. I couldn’t disagree with him more. A future hall of fame player, someone who would bring the fans to the ball park en mass, and someone who could lead the Jays to a new level, Pujols is exactly what the club needs if they want to win a championship in 2012 and beyond. Whether it’s Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols, I entirely expect the Jays to make a huge push for one or the other, my bet is on the other – if he’s available at all, that is. Anthopoulos isn’t going to be satisfied with a platoon at 1B forever, and that’s what Adam Lind will bring to the position due to his ineffectiveness against LHP. His career line of .217/.264/.344 against southpaws tells us all we need to know about his chances of being a full-time 1B.

Moving on to the Albert Pujols coverage. I’ll include his stats, before we get under way, just set a tone for what the team that lands him would be getting for all of their hard -earned money:

Yr age G AB H 2B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
01 21 161 590 194 47 37 130 1 3 69 93 0.329 0.403 0.61 1.013
02 22 157 590 185 40 34 127 2 4 72 69 0.314 0.394 0.561 0.955
03 23 157 591 212 51 43 124 5 1 79 65 0.359 0.439 0.667 1.106
04 24 154 592 196 51 46 123 5 5 84 52 0.331 0.415 0.657 1.072
05 25 161 591 195 38 41 117 16 2 97 65 0.33 0.430 0.609 1.039
06 26 143 535 177 33 49 137 7 2 92 50 0.331 0.431 0.671 1.102
07 27 158 565 185 38 32 103 2 6 99 58 0.327 0.429 0.568 0.997
08 28 148 524 187 44 37 116 7 3 104 54 0.357 0.462 0.653 1.114
09 29 160 568 186 45 47 135 16 4 115 64 0.327 0.443 0.658 1.101
10 30 159 587 183 39 42 118 14 4 103 76 0.312 0.414 0.596 1.011

(all stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference)

In a word: Ridiculous.

The Albert Pujols Market

I’ll touch on the teams that most believe could, and would, open their wallets if they could to land Albert Pujols.

First and foremost, the Yankees and Red Sox don’t have the package required to land Albert Pujols unless they unload the majority of their already thin prospects. They each have top-notch 1B in Mark Teixeira and Adrian Gonzalez. It’s still possible that the Yankees or Red Sox could literally empty whatever they have left in the minors plus a few major league players for Pujols in order to use him as a DH, but it seems unlikely and a little far-fetched at this point. Possible, but far-fetched.

The Angels, another big spending team, have Kendry Morales at 1B, but they likely could become a team that gets involved if they so chose to do so. The Vernon Wells acquisition showed that they’re not afraid to add salary, and they do have some pieces – such as Mike Trout – that could prove to be very attractive to the Cardinals. The only issue they’d have with such a move, aside from the massive contract Pujols will demand, is that it makes them that much older than they already are. Still, I make them out to be the biggest competitor for his services if he does hit the market.

The Mets and Dodgers could have been players in the Pujols chase if they didn’t have incredibly difficult financial positions. The Phillies are also stretched thin in terms of budgeting and have Ryan Howard on board, so they’re out as well. And, as I say at the beginning of this post, Pujols may want to target an American League team so that DH becomes an option available to him down the road.

One team that could become major players in the Pujols market are the Texas Rangers. Prospects such as Martin Perez and others would certainly interest the Cardinals, and the Rangers do have enough depth at the major league level to deal some MLB pieces as well. From Ian Kinsler to Nelson Cruz, a pretty interesting package could be created in Texas. If they were willing to give Cliff Lee as much money as they were this off season, reportedly over $150,000,000, it’s likely that they at least consider giving Pujols what he’s looking for. They have the money, want to shake things up in Texas, and would definitely be involved if he hits the market.

The Tigers have Miguel Cabrera on board and a fairly shallow minors system, so I doubt they’d make a move for Pujols, although a Cabrera and Pujols combination in the lineup would be terrifying to opposing pitchers. They could open up the wallets in Detroit to make it happen, but I somehow doubt they’d be very involved.

Everyone in the NL Central can be taken out of contention since the Cardinals would definitely oppose dealing him to a division rival.

In the AL Central, the White Sox and Twins could make a move for Pujols if they chose to. But, with Adam Dunn in Chicago and Justin Morneau in Minnesota, as well as already tight budgets, they could be on the sidelines. I never count Mr. Williams out since he loves to wheel and deal. Adam Dunn could feasibly be included in a deal, as well as a ton of other pieces, but they’d be taking on quite a bit of contract over the level they normally operate at. If Morneau proves unhealthy this spring, the Twins could be interested, but they’ve already added a ton of salary over the last year, so it seems like a stretch at this point. With either Chicago or Minnesota, it would be a very complicated deal to say the least.

That leaves the Washington Nationals and the Baltimore Orioles, who have both been looking to make major splashes in recent years. Each of these teams has extremely wealthy owners, but both also have questionable depth in the minors. Unless they’d be willing to unload a ton of MLB talent, they couldn’t make a decent package (based on what I see in their systems). So, based on solely that fact and the fact that each would have a very hard time convincing Pujols to sign an extension, I count them out.

The Blue Jays

Let’s assume that the Cardinals get to that point of no return, stare themselves in the mirror, and say that dealing Pujols is the best thing for their franchise. It’s been reported that he’s looking for a contract that pays him $30 million a year. After saving all of the money owed to Vernon Wells by dealing him to the Angels, the Jays not only have the room to afford the Pujols contract, but they may also have made it harder for the Angels to afford him. If the Jays want to afford Pujols, they can easily manage it.

Albert Pujols hears and see what is going on in Toronto. I have no idea how he’d feel about playing North of the border, but surely he’s heard the accolades being thrown towards Alex Anthopoulos who is really shaking things up and building a winning team. He knows that both the Yankees and the Red Sox have issues that prevent him from joining them, and that the Jays may offer the best chance for him to play in the best and most competitive division in baseball. That may be his best chance to build onto his legacy and almost guaranteed hall of fame career. If he can bring another World Series championship or two to the Toronto Blue Jays, while playing against the mighty Red Sox and Yankees, it would solidify him as the best player of many generations. After all, if he does the same in the AL West or the AL Central, does it seem as big an accomplishment? I don’t think so.

So, the Blue Jays provide him with one of the best young teams to play for, one of the best systems in the majors, the room to afford his lofty salary expectations, and a man with a plan leading the charge in Alex Anthopoulos. What else could he ask for, aside from warmer weather? In my humblest of opinions, the Jays have the best scenario in place for Pujols to walk into, have the budget room to do so, and can offer him a very good decade of baseball in Toronto with all of their great prospects coming up the line.

Let’s assume for 1 second that Albert Pujols agrees to go to Toronto and signs an extension with the Jays, something in the 9-year $30 million average salary range. What would the Jays have to trade to St-Louis for them to allow the Jays to gain Pujols and beat other teams to the punch?

The Offer

Any offer I post here will be scrutinized and beat down by many, so I’ll throw out a group of 10 names, and prospects, that would definitely interest the Cardinals and that could help get a deal done is some way:

  • Adam Lind – The Jays proved that he could play some 1B and he would step right into the Cardinals lineup. He may need to be platooned against lefties, but he’d be a very nice – and affordable – first piece to the deal.
  • Aaron Hill – Providing the Cardinals with some pop at 2B or 3B would go a long way to helping them resolve the power missing if Pujols were dealt.
  • Travis Snider – I still believe the Jays want to keep him long term, so I’ll add him here, but with less probability of being dealt.
  • Jason Frasor, Jon Rauch, or Casey Janssen – Any of these relievers would help the Cardinals fill what is getting to be a lacking pen.
  • Marc Rzepczynski – The LHP would be a very nice fit in St-Louis and could help the Cards live through the probable decline, or free agent leaving of Chris Carpenter.
  • Brett Cecil or Brandon Morrow – I’m not sure if the Jays would want to deal either, but they may have to in order to land Pujols.
  • Jesse Litsch – Same as Rzepczynski, but from the right side, which may not be as attractive to the Cardinals and he comes with some question marks after he struggled in 2010 and has had injuries.
  • Anyone from Baseball America’s Top 10 Jays Prospect List: Some have to be kept for a certain period of time after being drafted, but they simply become players to be named later. From Kyle Drabek all of the way to Jacob Marisnick, any of them could be Cards targets.
  • Other Prospects not on the top 10. These would likely be required in order to add depth to the deal.

Take a package of 5-7 players from the list above, and you have the likely cost of acquiring Pujols from the Cardinals. Fewer players if some are MLB players like Lind, and more if they decide to go the prospect route. My best guess would be that they would target Lind and one pitcher, and supplement the rest with prospects in order to appease the fans in St-Louis that they can still win in 2011 and beyond.

Final Take

The St-Louis Cardinals cannot afford to let Albert Pujols hit the free agent market. If he does, he’s as good as gone and they’d have nothing to show for it except a few draft picks. He could very well “pull a Cliff Lee” at that time and re-sign with the Cards, but can they afford to play all of 2011 with that question mark over their heads? I don’t think so. So, if no agreement is reached within the time remaining before spring training, and Pujols’s statement that he would veto any deal made during the season, I expect that the Cards would be forced to trade him for the best available package.

I seriously doubt that anyone can know what it would take to land Pujols if a terrified Cardinals team was forced to deal him. The fallout would be of the nuclear variety, and it would be one of the most talked about trades of all time. However, in the same way as Seattle was forced to let Alex Rodriguez go, the Cards may have to let Albert Pujols go. It seems unlikely that they’d be able to afford to have a 39 year old 1B costing them $30 million per season. The Jays, however, have the room to add that salary without encumbering on their operations.

As talks of bringing Michael Young to Toronto begin to heat up and will undoubtedly continue to get louder until he is dealt from Texas, I still sit here, wonder, and dream. The thoughts of Albert Pujols in a Toronto Blue Jays uniform are so intoxicating that this post may be incoherent. But, I do believe that I have made a valid point that Toronto may not only be the one of the very few likely destinations available to Pujols if he is forced to leave St-Louis, it may be the very best for him.

Like I said at the beginning of this post, I still entirely believe the Cardinals must sign him. He’s a part of their identity and the best player they’ve had since Stan Musial. But, economic issues always come to the table in modern times, and they may force St-Louis to do the unthinkable, deal Albert Pujols.

If they do trade Albert Pujols, there is no doubt in my mind that Alex Anthopoulos will make his inquiries, and that the Jays could very well make one of the biggest trades in their history – or sign him as a free agent. I know that Alex Anthopoulos has said he doesn’t want to take any shortcuts, but this is one shortcut to winning that’s worth placing bets on.

I definitely sympathize with Cardinals fans, as I felt the very same way about the Jays having to deal Roy Halladay. Hopefully for them, their GM will look after them in the same way as Alex Anthopoulos looked after the Jays and will get them the best deal available instead of letting him simply walk away. In my books, I still make the chances of the Jays landing Pujols lower than 1%, but they’re much higher than any team aside from the Angels and Rangers, and that’s something worth dreaming about.

Unless he doesn’t want to come to Canada or play indoors, Albert Pujols is a viable option for Toronto. The question now becomes, will he even be available within the next year?

– MG

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Tags: Adam Dunn Adrian Gonzalez Albert Pujols Alex Rodriguez Brett Cecil Cliff Lee Ian Kinsler Jesse Litsch Justin Morneau Marc Rzepczynski Martin Perez Michael Young Miguel Cabrera Mike Trout Nelson Cruz Ryan Howard Travis Snider

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