Wednesday, November 30, 2011

To Pujols or Not to Pujols: That is the Question.

There are a few names casual Blue Jays fans are clamoring over right now, hoping that their team will be the team to make the big splash and land a whale on the free agent market. Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, CJ Wilson, hell some of them are even clamoring for the Blue Jays to sign David Ortiz. Most of these fans have never heard of Yu Darvish, don’t have a clue what WAR is, and most likely aren’t going to read this article. However, if you are reading this article, you likely know that Yu Darvish is a Japanese phenom, WAR is a fantastic advanced statistic, and the Blue Jays are on the rise.

I’m not Alex Anthopoulos, and we all know I’m not about to sit here and predict his next move, but let’s look at the one move we all know he’s evaluated, and reevaluated, and is probably as I write this article, really thinking it through.

Albert Pujols was the NL Rookie of the Year in 2001 and has since gone on to have one of the most prolific baseball careers ever, and is widely considered the best all-around player of this generation, but he’s never really made the money, he’s probably deserved as he’s never reached free agency. Now, ten years later, he wants his big pay day and free agency is here. Early last season, the rumor was that he wanted to hit a contract worth $300 million, and the Cardinals wanted a discount, and offered something in the $195-$210 million range. At first glance, it looks like the market would explode when Pujols became available. Teams would be jumping in left and right to catch the big fish and put him on display. The Miami Marlins have already tried putting him on display without getting him, and that’s helped elevate them a little bit, but who is really willing to step out and give Pujols the money he’s after. Some say the Blue Jays are a perfect fit for Pujols, but is he? I personally, am 50/50 on the topic. I like Adam Lind, and I think there is room on the Jays for both of them, but up until Monday, when I heard that Pujols’ agent was coming to town, I was good with the Jays not pursuing him, but that is starting to shift. So, I’ll explain my 50/50 stance.

At first, I was okay with Jays staying away from Pujols, and I was even against them going after him at all. I love everything that Alex Anthopoulos has done so far, and his strategy has been great. The team has a very capable first basemen, and talent in the minors behind him (David Cooper, Mike McDade) that would say we have little need to splurge on a 1B, when we have more pressing needs, especially at second, now that Kelly Johnson is a hot commodity, not such an easy fill. AA’s strategy to build the team from the draft and international free agents, and use the free agent market to fill gaps when the team is close to contending has worked well so far, and after last season I figured we were on pace to compete in 2013 or 2014, so it didn’t make sense to me, to take on what might become the biggest contract in baseball history, when you are still 3 years away, as it could really impede your moves, and we all know AA likes to move. After a thrilling end to the 2011 season, I wanted AA to secure a second basement (I am still okay with Johnson over a full season, to really check him out, but 2 picks are good too), I wanted Farrell to create some stability in the pen, and AA to work his usual magic. In my mind, throwing money at Pujols or any big agent (Fielder, Reyes, etc) would be a foolish decision. But then the new CBA was announced.

Gone are the days when AA could use Rogers’ money to manipulate the system, and grow the minor league system into a wellspring of future all-stars, and welcome another wild card team to the postseason, and all of a sudden, maybe the Jays are competing in 2012. Maybe the CBA really has sped up AA’s schedule, and as a result, Dan Lozano is coming to Toronto a week later. Now this is all just a rumour for the time being, but does Toronto have a real interest in Pujols now? Well, there has been a lot of talk over the past year about the Blue Jays not operating under a specific budget, and they have the money to make any moves they wish, not to mention the shedding of a few “bad” contracts, and the Jays would appear to have the ability to sign him, but did the CBA really change AA’s strategy? At face value, I’m going to say it has. The ability to draft top talent has toughened, the rewards of having a top scouting team scouring the globe have shrunk, and it’s not often that a player like Pujols come along. So maybe AA alters the strategy to fit Pujols in. Even if what Paul Beeston has said this year about avoiding 7 or 8 year deals for players is true, there are ways around that, or maybe Pujols is the exception, or maybe that was all a smokescreen and this has been the plan since Vernon Wells become an Angel. So there are two ways the Jays could land Pujols.

Option 1: What Beeston has said it true, and they won’t go about say 5 years. Before the Jays have said they would rather overpay on a short-term contract, than go with the 7,8,9, even 10 year contract. This works out well, because maybe Pujols would settle with being the highest paid player in baseball for the next five years, even if he doesn’t break the record for biggest contract ever. I think it would be tough to turn down an offer from the Jays of $28-$30 million a year for 5 years, which gives him that recognition he is after, the big pay day, and allows the Jays to effectively limit some of the risk of him being an aging player, plus they can spell him from 1B with the DH. Not to mention it does give Pujols some freedom with the end stage of his career, if he would like to stay in Toronto, go back to St. Louis, or explore another avenue. For Toronto the five year option has benefits as well, it limits the Jays risk, carries them through to the next CBA, when who knows what will change, and brings in a star player, and elevates the team. This is my favorite option, and if I’m believing Paul Beeston, I think this is the most viable option for the Jays.

Option 2: If what Paul Beeston said doesn’t apply to Pujols, or that was a smokescreen, then the Jays do offer the long-term contract, starting in the $215-$225 million range, but maybe ending up in the $240-$250 range. It’s a lot of money, but if all the talk about Rogers have no budget, and practically unlimited resources holds any value, this is the guy to use them on. The benefits to have Pujols as a Blue Jay don’t end on the field with his performance. He is a clubhouse leader, he is a lightning rod for fan support and adoration, ticket sales would explode, and merchandise would fly off the shelves, and Toronto would become a destination for players. Again, in this situation he would play first base, and spend some time at DH, and perhaps the only casualty would be Edwin Encarncion, as he would become a bench player, or trade bait.

Of course, this is all just speculation and it’s entirely likely that AA is really just doing his due diligence, and there are far more layers to this than I’ve examined, least of all is AA surrendering one of his (more valuable than ever) draft picks, and the impact on the long term plans, and the strange desire to have Bautista as the highest paid player (more on that later). The fact of the matter is, in the eyes of the casual fan, which is the vast majority of the Toronto Blue Jays support, this works, and they want it. For other fans, they see it as the risky move it is, and are understandable apprehensive. Whatever happens, I know that Alex Anthopoulos has examined it from every possible angle, and I believe that whatever direction he chooses to go, is the best direction for the team.

You can follow Brandon on Twitter - @Bam_86

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