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Pujols in pinstripes? It makes sense

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  February 21, 2011 12:38 PM

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Albert Pujols, 1B-DH, Boston Red Sox?

Well, sure, count me in -- belatedly as usual -- for that fun bit of whimsy/conjecture/fantasy. You know I'm always down for a baseball daydream that is just so improbable on the surface that it might just come true.

(In a related note, those of you who told -- and scolded -- me to give it up because the Red Sox would never get Adrian Gonzalez have been awfully silent lately. Too busy waiting on hold to tell Mikey the Sox are going to win 110 games, I imagine?)

I know that reads like I'm being snarky; I'm not. (Well, no more than the usual dose.) As appealing as the thought of Pujols taking aim at the Monster might be, even a daydream believer like me can't believe there's much of a chance that the Sox would seriously pursue him next season should the Cardinals superstar hit free agency.

Even with all of the cash coming off the books -- $56 million, according to my brother-in-podcast Peter Abraham -- I just can't see Theo Epstein spending, what, $400 million in payroll solely for a pair of slugging first basemen, both of whom are also outstanding fielders and who probably have little interest in DHing at this point in their baseball lives. This is Gonzalez's turf, and soon enough, he'll have the contract to prove it.

Of course, the thought of a 1-through-6 of Ellsbury/LaserShow/Crawford/Pujols/Gonzo/Youk would be enough to prevent the likes of me from every again pointing out the Yankees' still-considerable financial advantage. Look at it again: Ellsbury/LaserShow/Crawford/Pujols/Gonzo/Youk. That lineup would make the mashing 961-run 2003 Red Sox look like a lineup of Enzo Hernandezes.

I hate to snap you out of it, but the other side of this bit whimsy/conjecture/fantasy must be considered too. Let's call it justifiable paranoia, which happens to suggest a possibility far more likely than that of Pujols ever playing a home game at Fenway Park:

Albert Pujols, 1B, New York Yankees.

Bleah. Now that's an ugly sequence of words. Yet it makes complete and total sense for the Yankees to pursue Pujols should he do the wrong thing and ditch St. Louis to enhance his personal fortune while appeasing the players' union's Every Last Dollar philosophy.

At least to me it does. There is this bizarre sort of conventional wisdom out there among many baseball writers and analysts that the top suitors for Pujols would be the Cubs (there's no way he's that much of a traitor) or the Angels (at least until they brag about having him signed and some other enterprising GM swoops in to steal him away). The Yankees are practically mentioned as an afterthought, which makes me wonder if there's some sort of collective Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind thing going on here.

I think I've made it fawningly clear throughout the years that I have a tremendous amount of respect for Joe Posnanski as a writer, baseball analyst, and the genuinely thoughtful person he seems to be. But I was surprised that he wrote the following in a blog post about Pujols's situation the other day:

The craziest contracts in baseball history have almost NEVER been given out by the New York Yankees.

I mean . . . OK, I guess so, depending on whether you think the 10-year, $275 million extension A-Rod signed is a) really just a tweaked version of the stacks and stacks of cash Texas gave him or b) is not completely insane, but just mildly demented. Me, I count that one as the Yankees' doing -- he did opt out, after all. And even excluding that one -- or the A.J. Burnett deal, which looks pretty brutal even if it's for only $82.5 million -- let's just say their relative minimum of crazy deals hasn't been from a lack of trying.

No, there are no Mike Hampton or Denny Neagle deals on the Bombers' books. But what would they have paid Lee, 32 years old, owner of 102 wins and a 3.85 ERA, and plagued by a sore back last year, had they been given any indication that he'd come there? I think a safe answer is many, many more millions than anyone else. What would they have given Joe Mauer had he not been loyal to Minnesota?

They've never seen a superstar they couldn't covet, and with their core aging and Randy Levine and the Boys of George dropping signs that they are intent on paying homage to the greediest free-agent-coveting days of the Steinbrenner legacy at Brian Cashman's expense, it makes absolute sense that they'd court Pujols with their riches. Heck, he might even be worth the 10 years and $300 million he purportedly desires.

Pujols is not just arguably the best player in baseball; he one of the best players of all-time, and there is not a hint of hyperbole in that statement. He is the only player in major league history to hit 30 or more home runs each of his first 10 seasons. He's won three MVP awards and finished in the top four six other times. In his worst season, he had an OPS of .955. He's had the highest WAR in the NL (baseball-reference version) the past six years and in seven of the last eight. He's the active leader in average (.331), on-base percentage (.426), and slugging (.624, fourth all-time). His 1.050 OPS is fourth all-time and, yes, first among active players. If any ballplayer is worth a monster deal into his mid and late 30s, isn't it Pujols? When he begins to regress, you know what means? He will merely be great, and not transcendent.

The one supposed obstacle to this -- the presence of Mark Teixeira, who signed an eight-year, $180 million deal before the 2009 season -- is really no obstacle at all. As productive as Teixeira has been in his career, he is junior varsity version of Pujols at best. And it cannot go unnoticed that he hit .256 last year, or that Tom Verducci recently wrote a column in which Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long was surprisingly critical of Teixeira's swing.

If Teixeira bats. 256 again in this, his age 31 season, and his power number slip at all, would anyone be surprised if the Yankees were paying him a healthy sum to get him to waive his no-trade clause and play first base for the Cubs or Angels or Cardinals in 2012? This isn't Derek Jeter; the Yankees have no more loyalty to Teixeira than he did to the Rangers, Braves, or Angels, and they could eat some salary and move on in the time it takes for the YES Network to air a few commercials during another "Yankeeography." When they're mentioning you in headlines in the same breath as Jason Giambi, well, we're pretty sure that you haven't reached True Yankee status quite yet, Tex.

Ideally, of course, Pujols returns to St. Louis where he belongs, and the Yankees are never in play as a possibility. But until he's on that podium at Busch Stadium, pen in hand and a smile on his face, the pinstripe paranoia is going to linger around here. I was right that the Yankees would swoop in and sign Johnny Damon in 2006. I was right again when they swept in and signed Teixeira after the 2008 season.

I must admit, gladly, that my recent track record when it comes to fretting about the Yankees is spotty. I thought Lee would end up there, just like every other baseball fan in America except for Mr. and Mrs. Lee. I thought for sure Matt Holliday would end up in New York, too.

You'll recall that Holliday instead re-signed with the Cardinals, inking a seven-year, $120-million deal in January 2009 after it was apparent that the Yankees -- the patient and reasonable Cashman, most likely -- would pass on the slugger.

Now Holliday is reportedly offering to defer some of his St. Louis loot to keep Pujols in town. It's a nice gesture, but it also emphasizes the dichotomy here:

None of the ultra-rich Yankees would be obligated to make such an offer. Instead, they'd do with Pujols what they often do with the latest, greatest free agents.

Welcome him to their club.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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