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 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:

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

  • allstev

    Albert already stated he would invoke his no trade to any trade this year, he has full 5 and 10 status so if he says he’s not moving he’s not.

  • Mat Germain

    From what I’ve read, he stated that for any deal made during the season, not before the season. I could be wrong, but that’s the information I have.

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  • monkeyman

    THANK YOU! Someone had to address this issue, which after dumping Wells’ I believe is more than a miniscule possibility. I don’t see Pujols being traded but I can see a 20% chance or more of St. Louis not signing him having already committed a ton of dough to Holliday and the need to reup a bunch of starters in the next 2 years. Dewitt has stated that he can see a scenario of Pujols signing after the season. That is clearly a sign of weakness and would be AA’s chance to convince the King that he would love playing and chasing championships in T.O. for the next decade.

    The key question in my mind is whether AA takes the career risk of accelerating “THE PLAN” by committing upwards of $300mm of Rogers’ money to one player and believing that revenues would increase enough to match this spending by contending in the expanded playoff format. I believe the answer is that he should make the pitch to the King as well as sign Bautista long term because it would immediately make us contenders and make the Blue Jays a favorite destination amongst Latin American players for a generation. Beeston has said that when the Jays do go after free agents it will be for Superstars that make a real difference like the Sabathia signing by the Yankees. WE WANT THE KING IN TORONTO!

  • lolwut

    Pujols said he will veto any trade and if by a small chance he does hit the market, I can’t help but think pretty much every team would be on him even if it’s 30 million per year. This is the best player in the game and one of the best players to ever play the game and he hasn’t shown anything for us to think he is slowing down.

    10/300 would be tons of money to invest and for a long time but that is one player you have to do that for. I can’t help but think if Pujols did hit the market, AA would be all over it. Getting Pujols would make us near contenders and instantly, fans will start coming. Jays would have the payroll to accommodate him, especially if they start to push near 120-150.

    I’d think Yankees and Red Sox would be in on Pujols even with their current 1st baseman.

  • heffenator

    Toronto is not going to make a play for feilder or Pujols end of story!

  • George

    Pujols is 31. His UZR has been dropping for the past couple of years. He actually scored a -dWAR last year. The Jays are not going to contend until 2014-15. Albert will be 35. Do we need to pay $14 million/yer for a DH? If they waqnt to go after anybody this year, they should talk to the Mets about 23 year old Ike Davis, who should have taken home the NL Gold Glove last year, not Pujols. He hits righties for power and lefties for average. He’s controllable for 6 years. Do we need another Vernon Wells?

    • Gribble

      To be somewhat fair, Vernon Wells has not AVERAGED over 1.000 ops for his career like Pujols has…of course whether he can do it for another 8 to 10 years is a question mark.

      But that is quite a bit to pay for a potential DH, even a 1.000 ops one. If it really costs a major roster player like Lind or Hill or a pitcher plus valuable prospects to land only one guaranteed year of Pujols (and an extremely large contract if you do sign him), I would say that cost is too high.

      I think it makes far more sense to make a big pitch for David Wright (eventhough he’s not going anywhere) because it addresses an immediate need, it’s a much cheaper and shorter term contract, he’ll be in his prime years throughout the contract, and makes the outfield offence look much better with Bautista in right and Rivera as a LF/RF/1B/DH rover.

      If the Jays were the Yankees and I knew they didn’t mind rocking a payroll of $150M+, then sure, go for it with Pujols. $30M for one elite talent still leaves a lot left to build around him with. But from the sounds of it, that’s not going to happen soon…according to Beeston they will raise payroll as revenues go up and that’s not going to happen until the Jays are already a fair bit better than they are currently. I don’t see them doing an about face and dropping $270M or so on a single player with only one full season under AA’s rebuild.

      • George

        Yeah, I think the key here is timetable. If you look at Matt & Jared’s top 50 prospects, I do not believe one so far is above AA ball, at least #s 16 through 50. In other words, the bottom layers are loaded, with not much showing at the top yet. Once these players start to make their impact at the big league level, along with the probability that AA7 will continue stuffing the bottom layers with high ceiling prospects, only then will it be safe to say that the farm system is able to support the big league club by graduating 1-3 impact players to The Jays each year. Once this level of sustainability has been reached, then they can fill in the holes with a Carter/Alomar trade, or contract a hired gun like David Cone for a short time to get them over the top. I certainly don’t think they should clean out the piggy bank to engage an aging super star in a long term deal.

    • Mat Germain

      Thanks for the comments as always George, and I think many people make valid points about reasons to not go after Albert. But, I’d like to point out a few things about your comments.

      First, Albert is not Vernon. He’s Vernon X 10. He can carry an entire lineup and make team entire team better just by scribbling his name in it. In the AL, he would drive in over 150 RBI each season, in Toronto he would be a lock for 40+ HRs, and his AVG/OBP/OPS will continue to be off-the-charts through at least 36 years old.

      Let me put it to you this way: rewind to before the Jays dealt Vernon, would you trade him to St-Louis for Albert and pay an extra $9 million in 2011, and $7 million in 2012, 2013, 2014? Because that’s essentially what it would cost the Jays in terms of differences in salary. Now, if they got him in trade, he may also cost a few players, but for someone of his caliber, it’s well worth it.

      Last, I don’t care if he catches or is a DH, Albert in the lineup brings the Jays to the level of – or even above – the level of the Yankees and Red Sox lineup within 2 years. With Travis Snider hitting his stride, Brett Lawrie, Aaron Hill, Jose Bautista and Albert on board through 2014, the Jays would have a spectacular lineup. Add in youngsters like Anthony Gose and J.P. Arencibia, and Albert becomes the anchor to the best lineup in MLB.

      Can you say the same without him on board? No. And that’s my argument in a nutshell.

      • Gribble

        There is no doubt that dropping Pujols into the Jays lineup would have a huge impact, even well into his 30′s. His ability to get on base alone in front of Bautista would be large.

        The question is…the only question is…how much is Rogers prepared to spend right now to build the team around Albert as quickly as possible? I don’t think they are interested in paying him $60-$90M if it’s going to take another two to three years to build up the team to be good enough.

        It’s also a question of diminishing returns. As good as Albert is…does it make more sense to wait for a better fit contract wise? I mean can you get the same or better impact from acquiring two $15M players who can defend/pitch and have shorter contract commitments? Albert’s star power is unquestionable but the St. Louis lineup and rotation wasn’t exactly chopped liver and they still only won one more game than the Jays in a much easier division.

        It’s fun to dream, but at this point and time it just seems impractical. If the Jays said Albert is more of a marketing move and we’re prepared to live with it if his contract doesn’t result in post-season for a two or three more years then great. We saw what the A-Rod contract did to the Rangers and he was much younger and playing the infield. The Yankees really ended up being the only team that could sustain him. The Jays right now seem much closer to the Rangers than the Yankees financially.

      • George

        I have a few words: Frank Thomas, AJ Burnett, BJ Ryan – all examples of what can happen when you sign free agents without a strong homegrown core to back them up. Albert’s numbers peaked in 2008, and there is no reason to think that they will not continue to move downward, as will his value, even if he doesn’t break a leg. The value of anybody we would trade for him (5-6 top level pieces) will continue to grow over the next few years. Doesn’t it make sense to wait until Hechevarria, Lawrie, Marisnick, etc. start to make an impact in the majors, then grab what you need with players that will be worth more in 2014 than they are now? IMHO, I would rather see AA7 spend the money signing well scouted, top quality draft picks at this point than spending it on major league salary that will not help them to win a World Series any sooner.

        • Mat Germain

          Entirely agree with you George, and that’s why we all love AA. He has brought in so many high caliber prospects within the last year that the loss of 2 or 3 won’t hinder the Jays chances of competing at the highest level.

          As much as I love all of our prospects, none could ever project to hit like Pujols. He’s a once in a generation kind of guy!

          • George

            If we could get Pujols for 2-3 prospects, I would say go for it, but as you said, Matt, he is a Once in a Generation player. Remember that in return for Doc, we got 3 of Phillies’ top 10 prospects. I’m pretty sure that The Cards would want a starting pitcher, plus someone like Lind or EE, plus a couple of top 10 prospects, and a couple of top 50 prospects.

          • earlweaverfan

            So, Mat, great speculation, and while there is real doubt that Pujols will not be re-signed, even more doubt that he would include Toronto in his list of desirable places to go, and even more doubt that AA would do this deal in 2011, it is very intriguing how you show that the Jays are one of the few teams for whom Pujols makes real sense. Even better, that they are part of an even smaller group that have the bucks to do it, if they want to.

            What I don’t get from your article is why Pujols would agree to be traded to any team on the Halliday terms, i.e., where that team would only strike the deal if he signed with them as a condition of his agreeing to go there.

            Without such a pre-signing, the Jays are not going to hand over several valuable players to the Cards on the hope that they could possibly re-sign AP past 2011.

            But why would Pujols agree to such an arrangement? If he just hangs on till the end of the year, he can put himself on the open market, make multiple teams bid against each other, and possibly even do better than $300 MM. If the market then proves weaker than he thinks now, he could still re-sign with St. Louis on the current terms.

            Halliday was different, as he was especially keen to go to Philly and so was Gonzalez to go to Boston. Both were willing to put location above income-maximization.

            Meanwhile, if, as I believe, Anthopoulos is unlikely to be fully convinced that he just has to have Pujols, whatever the cost, why doesn’t he just wait until the FA market next fall, and then only have to do business with Pujols? He would just have to send the Cards one measly draft pick. If he has to pony up $300MM, why would he then want to weaken the very system that Pujols could help push over the top?

            Only if AA thinks that Pujols will want to avoid testing the market next fall does AA have to worry that some other team could pre-empt his chance to bid. That is the least likely outcome, to me.

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  • Gribble

    It seems the Jays are unlikely to come to a deal with Bautista, I can’t imagine they would have an easy time coming to a deal with Pujols.

  • Rick V

    I would definetly make the move for Pujols!! Give up anything but our starting rotation and id be happy.
    It would suck to lose a few up and coming prospects but id have ZERO problems moving Hill, Lind, E5 and Rivera. ID hope wed keep atleast drabs from the pitching pool and as long as we held onto Morrow, Cecil and Romero I think the rest arent that great with all their injury problems.

    Id buy a Pujols jersey for sure!!!