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If Albert Pujols Isn't a Cardinal
Nate Springfield | Monday February 7th, 2011
Albert's smile will only get bigger if he gets his asking price. (AP)
Albert's smile will only get bigger if he gets his asking price. (AP)
As the start of spring training draws closer, the window for the St. Louis Cardinals to sign their MVP first baseman Albert Pujols to an extension gets smaller.  Albert is still under contract with the red birds through the end of 2011, so everyone knows he will be manning first base in Busch Stadium this year.  However, his current contract (signed in 2004, buying out his arbitration years) will expire at the end of the season.  The entire contract was worth $111 million, and this season he will make $16 million.

The Dominican Republic native, who went to high school in Independence, Missouri, is looking for a contract that is not only going to pay him a lot of money per season, but also guarantee it for a considerable length of time.  Though it cannot be confirmed, his rumored asking price right now is $300 million over ten years.  The highest current major league contract belongs to Alex Rodriguez, who inked a ten-year, $275 million contract in 2008.

Most team officials from other clubs believe that Albert will be a Cardinal in 2012 and beyond, but there is a growing crowd who believe he will end up somewhere else.  Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports recently cited the Chicago Cubs, Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Angels, New York Mets, Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees, and Boston Red Sox as possible employers of Albert.  An examination of the financial states and upcoming positional needs of these teams can help determine if Pujols would be a good fit.

Chicago Cubs
Pujols landing on the north side of Chicago would sting the worst for Cardinal fans.  The outrage they showed in 2008 when Jim Edmonds signed with the Cubs would not hold a candle to Albert landing in Wrigley.  In addition, Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry has been known to hand out large contracts to aging stars (see Alfonso Soriano and his eight-year, $136 million contract in 2007).  The team has a little over $42 million coming off the books in 2012 via the expiring contracts of Aramis Ramirez, Kosuke Fukudome, Carlos Pena, and John Grabow, among others.  In 2013, another $23.6 million will be freed up with the expiring contracts of Ryan Dempster, Marlon Byrd, and Sean Marshall.  Another possible $19 million may go away as well, depending what the team does with Carlos Zambrano's contract option.
 
If the team wants to wrap it up into one player, the money will essentially be available.  There will be a need for a first baseman too, with no highly-graded prospect in the system and 2011 Cubs first baseman Carlos Pena no longer under contract.  The team has the need and seems to have the means to make a deal happen, and even though Albert is no fan of Wrigley Field, he may like the idea of heading to the Cardinals' NL Central rival to exact revenge on them for the next decade.

Texas Rangers
It seems like an American League team could justify a ten-year contract to Albert more than a National League team, simply because the slugger could become a designated hitter late in his career.  Under new ownership, the Texas Rangers have sent a message that they plan on contending for the AL West and American League Championship titles for years to come.  Financially, the team would have to get creative or just spend more money to land Pujols.  They will only be relieved of a little over $10 million dollars of salary in 2012 with the expiring contracts of C.J. Wilson, Brandon Webb, and Matt Treanor, and Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, Elvis Andrus, and Mike Napoli should all be in line for arbitration raises next season.  Quite a bit of money could come off the books in 2013, depending on what those arbitration salaries end up at, but it is too difficult to accurately speculate.

The Rangers don't have a superstar at first base, but Mitch Moreland showed promise in his 2010 rookie season and the team appears to have faith in him after trading away their first base prospect Justin Smoak to acquire Cliff Lee for half of a season last year.  It shouldn't be a problem finding a spot for Albert if he comes to Texas, but there isn't necessarily a hole for him to fill.

Los Angeles Angels
After the Angels struck out on the free agent market this off-season, it was thought that they were setting themselves up nicely to sign Albert Pujols for the 2012 season.  However, that was put to rest when they acquired Vernon Wells and his very large contract from the Toronto Blue Jays.  The team will shed close to $30 million in salary from the 2011 season to the 2012 one, but if they had not added Wells that number would be closer to $45 million.  Of course, they will have quite a few holes to fill because the money leaving means the departures of Bobby Abreu, Scott Kazmir, Joel Pineiro, and Fernando Rodney .  The team will also have to worry about a few salaries increasing, thanks to arbitration-eligible players like Kendry Morales, Howie Kendrick, and Jered Weaver .  They will get a little more salary relief in 2013 with the expiring contracts of Torii Hunter, Dan Haren, Ervin Santana and the potentially expiring contracts of the aforementioned 2012 arbitration-eligible players.

The Angels have a young first baseman with offensive prowess in Kendry Morales, but if they signed Pujols, there is always the possibility that they could trade Morales away as a rental player or slide him into the designated hitter role.  At the same time, a batting order with a three-four punch of Albert and a healthy Morales would be scary to any opposing pitcher. 

New York Mets and Los Angeles Dodgers
The biggest hurdle these two teams face in signing Pujols is ownership problems.  The Mets' ownership is facing financial issues due to their involvement in the Bernie Madoff's financial scheme, and they are currently exploring the option of selling a minority share of the team to help resolve them.  The Los Angeles Dodgers' owners, Frank and Jamie McCourt, are going through an ugly divorce and the future ownership and financial state of the team is unknown at this time, and probably won't be cleared up soon.

Of the two, Pujols would be a better fit with the Dodgers.  Current Dodgers first basemen James Loney has been in offensive decline for the past two seasons and 2012 will be his final year of arbitration.  Conversely, the Mets have Ike Davis at first base.  A rookie in 2010, Davis will enter this season at age 24 and has a lot of promise as an offensive force.  The Mets would have to trade or move one of their most recent top prospects out of his natural position to make room for Pujols.

New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox
You can never count out these two anytime there is a big free agent available, and Pujols would easily be the biggest free agent out there.  The problem with these teams landing Albert is that they both already have superstar first basemen on their rosters.  The Yankees signed Mark Teixeira to an eight-year $180 million in 2009, and, this off-season, the Red Sox traded for Adrian Gonzalez and seem to have every intention of signing him to a long-term deal before the season starts.  It would be interesting to see if the Red Sox balk at an extension for Gonzalez, should St. Louis fail to extend Pujols, but there is slim chance of that.  Money is not necessarily the issue for these teams; the issue is paying Albert's asking price for a player who will DH at least half of the time he is in the lineup.

Of the teams that Rosenthal lists, the Cubs and Angels seem to make the most sense, with the Cubs as the best fit as far as positional need and money available.  The Rangers could make a run but, with some of their younger players approaching big paydays, it seems unlikely unless they considerably increase their payroll.  If the Dodgers' ownership mess can be resolved by season's end, then expect them to be major players.  However, that seems unlikely.

A dark horse team that Rosenthal doesn't mention, but makes sense, is the San Francisco Giants.  The first year of a $300 million Pujols' contract would be tight for the Giants, but after 2012 Aaron Rowand's $13.6 million will be freed up, and Barry Zito will only be awarded a $7 million buyout instead of the $20 million salary he is slated to make in 2013.  With those developments, the Giants could possibly make a play for Pujols.

Of course, all of these possible scenarios are pipe dreams unless the Cardinals and Pujols don't come together on a deal.  Furthermore, the tentative "before spring training" deadline was not set in stone and, if the two sides are fairly close to getting something done before the team heads to Florida, one would expect that deadline to be extended.
Nate SpringfieldNate Springfield joined the Baseball Press crew for the 2010 season and hosts the site's podcast. His love for the game has grown thanks to fantasy baseball, with a specialty in NL-only auction leagues. You can contact him at nate@baseballpress.com or follow him on Twitter @NateSpringfield.