There is only one month left in the baseball season. Is there also only one month left in Albert Pujols' Cardinals career?
I seriously doubt he'll end up with the 10-year, $300 million deal his agent supposedly wants. We already know he rejected an offer from St. Louis that was in the eight-year, $200 million neighborhood. (Nice neighborhood!) Pujols professes to love the Cardinals, the only team he has played for during his amazing 11-year career, but if the "hometown discount" he has in mind actually exceeds 25 mil a year, he just might have to find a new hometown.
The problem for Pujols -- if getting only $200 million can be called a problem -- is that his options are pretty limited. Not only are very few teams able to pay one player more than $25 million per year, but a younger (and less pricey) slugging first-base alternative, Prince Fielder, also will be on the open market.
So where might Pujols land? Let's look at some options.
Remember how everybody was trying to make a big deal of that hug Albert shared with Jim Hendry? Well, Hendry has been banished from Cubbieland, so Albert obviously wouldn't be going there to get more lovin' from Big Jim. Stuck with several big contracts already (or stuck eating those contracts), would team chairman Tom Ricketts consider making a $275 million commitment to one ballplayer? Doubtful.
YANKEES & RED SOX
Sure, each always seems to be in the market for the best ballplayer available -- especially if each team learns that the other team wants that best ballplayer. But both already have huge money tied up in star first basemen. Would Pujols switch positions? At 32 (his age when next season starts), and with a gimpy arm, would you really want him at 3B or in the outfield? And would he want to be a DH after all those years in the NL? So unless the Yankees are going to trade Mark Teixeira or the Sox are going to deal Adrian Gonzalez, neither team figures to be serious players in the Albert Sweepstakes.
DODGERS & METS
These would have been true alternatives before both suffered serious financial problems. The Mets, especially, would love to steal the Yankees' thunder. They simply don't have the wherewithal right now to take the Pujols Plunge.
This one is intriguing. Would this pitching-rich, offense-challenged team take a run at a once-in-a-generation ballplayer who, if he remains healthy, could help them contend for the rest of the decade? I'd do it, but hey ... I've always been good at spending somebody else's money.
They think they are on the cusp of greatness -- they do have lots of good, young players -- and they have been willing to spend money. They have some bad contracts, but Pujols certainly would help put fannies in the ballpark. The biggest question is: Would Albert want to start near the bottom after being with a team that contends most years? The Nats might have to blow away the competition, much as the Rangers did for A-Rod.
Peter Angelos used to throw money around like crazy but after getting burned a zillion times, he's been reluctant. The O's have some nice talent and Angeles could be talked into thinking Pujols is the guy who'd let them challenge the Yankees and Red Sox. Angelos has quite the ego and also might enter the equation if he thinks the Nationals, just down the street, are serious. Again, though, even if the O's want Pujols, will Pujols want them?
It's hard to believe I'm saying this about any team, but they really don't need Albert Pujols.
They desperately need a great hitter, but they are more likely to spend on medium-expensive ballplayers than on mega-contract guys.
Albert would love their ballpark, and he'd join a talented team that should contend for a decade. The owner who brought in a roided-up A-Rod is long gone, however, and new guy Nolan Ryan is going to have to pony up a lot of loot just to keep his team's core intact.
Could they wave bye-bye to over-the-hill Todd Helton and bring in somebody who probably would use Coors Field to set the all-time HR record? They already have committed quite a sum to Tulo and Cargo ... so it's hard to imagine they'd bring in Pujo, who would make more than those two combined (and then some).
One often overlooks Jerry Reinsdorf in these things, but he has been willing to sneak in there and throw gajillions at great players. Lately, egged on by Ken Williams, Reinsdorf has been throwing gajillions at the likes of Alex Rios and Adam Dunn, so would he really be willing to spend so much more on one ballplayer? No way.
A few teams - maybe the Cubs, Orioles, Yankees, Red Sox, a couple others -- will put their big toes in the water before they decide the temperature is too hot.
The Nationals will make a serious run. If the Giants can find a taker for at least part of Barry Zito's remaining contract, they could be a factor.
In the end, though, it's impossible to believe that any team will want and need Pujols more than the Cardinals. And Pujols will realize he can be a St. Louis folk hero by settling for a mere $26 million annually over a nine-year contract.
What a country.