Mystery Team Enters Pujols Derby

Posted by Michael Baumann, Thu, December 08, 2011 04:52 AM | Comments: 50
Analysis, Opinion, Posts

On Wednesday night, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reported that the Marlins, as expected, had withdrawn from the running to sign Albert Pujols, the best baseball player of the past decade and the man who will, if he continues on a normal career path, will retire as the greatest right-handed hitter of all time. The interesting thing about all this is that he also reported that two new teams–along with St. Louis–had entered the running to sign Pujols: the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, whom ESPN’s Jayson Stark later said had offered the top first baseman on the market a deal worth somewhere north of $210 million over 10 years, and an unidentified third team.

Whatever. That’s interesting, but not really worth sharing with you guys on a Phillies blog. But then I noticed, at a quarter to three in the morning, right before I was going to go to bed, that Stark tweeted this:

And now I can’t sleep.

A couple of qualifications before we go any further:

1) There might not even be an unidentified third team, and if there is, it may not have a first baseman it needs to move. This is not to say that Nightengale and Stark, two reporters I’ve enjoyed reading since I was a child, have fabricated this rumor, but who knows what their sources are, and if they’re telling the truth or even part of the truth. The point is, this could all be complete bullshit, and I acknowledge that possibility.

2) Even if there is an unidentified third team, I still think Pujols is going back to St. Louis. I base this on no special inside information that isn’t readily accessible to you, just a gut feeling.

3) I want to apologize in advance for the effects of this post, if any, whatever they may be.

But just for fun, and because something I realized during this thought experiment jolted me completely back awake, I want to take you through a little deductive reasoning exercise to find teams that 1) have the kind of money to sign a player to a $22-25 million per year contract for 10 years and 2) have a first baseman that you’d have to worry about moving.

First, let’s eliminate the teams we already know who are or were in for Pujols: St. Louis, Los Angeles of Anaheim, and Miami (though the Marlins have money and multiple good first basemen already and there’s certainly nothing preventing them from getting back in on Pujols).

Next, eliminate the 16 teams that would be priced out of Pujols: the Mets, Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, San Diego, Oakland, Tampa, Minnesota, Arizona, Colorado, Cleveland, Kansas City, San Francisco, Houston, the White Sox, and the L.A. Dodgers.

Then, out with the five teams that might have the money to sign Pujols but don’t have an established first baseman worth making an effort to get rid of: Baltimore, Toronto, Milwaukee, the Cubs, and Texas Rangers.

That leaves six teams that fit Stark’s description: the Red Sox, the Yankees, the Tigers, the Mariners, the Nationals, and, yes, the Phillies. You can see why this would keep me awake.

Let’s go through each one of the candidates one by one.


Yeah, Pujols at, let’s say, 10 years and $230 million is probably a better deal than Adrian Gonzalez at the 6 years and $133 million he has left, but I’m not positive, because Gonzalez is two years younger than Pujols and is himself coming off a nearly-7-win season. I’m actually not sure I wouldn’t rather have Gonzalez and his deal, and even if I preferred Pujols, it’d be a huge stink to trade Gonzalez in a hurry, likely for less than he’s worth, to commit longer to a slightly better player who is two years older.

Detroit Tigers

Cabrera is even younger than Gonzalez and, with four years and $86 million left on his deal, is better value. Despite his issues with off-the-field discipline, I’d be shocked if Detroit would move Cabrera for anyone, even Pujols. Of course, with Cabrera’s terrible defense, he’d make a decent DH, but if they kept him, the Tigers wouldn’t be able to afford Pujols.

New York Yankees

Mark Teixeira has 5 years and $112.5 million left on his deal and has many of the same concerns as Cabrera and Gonzalez, but, entering his age 32 season, he’s not as good as either of those two, coming off arguably the worst season of his career and averaging 4 wins over the past three seasons compared to nearly 7 WAR for Cabrera and Gonzalez and a smidge more for Pujols. Given the Yankees’ pathological attachment to having the most and best toys, the Yankees can’t be dismissed out of hand.

Seattle Mariners

Seattle’s got some money, but not tons. However, they’ve been quiet but hardly secretive about their desire to sign Prince Fielder, and given that, why not fork over a little extra for Pujols. However, they do have an established first baseman in Justin Smoak, whom you know as the centerpiece of the other Cliff Lee trade, the one that sent Lee to Texas, if you know him at all. I’ve always been a fan of Smoak’s, mostly because he and I were the same year at South Carolina. (I was actually in a bar once as a senior and watched Smoak, Duce Staley, and the late Kenny McKinley all show up independently of each other. It was weird, but that’s neither here nor there.) Still, Smoak was drafted 11th overall by Texas because who doesn’t want a switch-hitting first baseman who plays good defense, hits for a high average and above-average power, and has great plate discipline.

Of course, Smoak’s 2011 was mostly a writeoff because of injuries (to both thumbs and his face) and the unexpected death of his father, so if the Mariners don’t think he can bounce back, why not sign Pujols? Here’s the thing, though: the Mariners are desperate for good hitters–they gave Chone Figgins and his .484 OPS 313 plate appearances last year, after all–so why not keep Smoak, who’s 25 and years away from free agency, and play him at DH? Or play him at first and DH the older Pujols? Either way, Pujols’ arrival would not necessitate Smoak’s departure from Seattle. For that reason, I don’t buy Seattle being the mystery team.

Washington Nationals

Washington’s first baseman is nominally Adam LaRoche, who really isn’t worth worrying about as a player to block Pujols, and probably won’t be healthy enough to play much this season, and even if he were, is a free agent after the season. In his absence, Mike Morse, whose breakout 31-homer season allowed Nats fans to worry less about Jayson Werth‘s unimpressive introduction to our nation’s capital, will get the lion’s share of the playing time at first. If I were Nationals GM Mike Rizzo, who has both the war chest and the balls to pull off a Pujols deal, I’d move Morse to make room for Pujols….if Morse couldn’t play left field. Just like Smoak and Seattle, there’s no need to trade one of your best, cost-controlled hitters if he can move elsewhere to make way for Pujols.

Philadelphia Phillies

Yeah, we know after the Cliff Lee Incident of 2011 that “Mystery Team” means “Philadelphia Phillies,” but all optimism and homerism aside, this is the team that actually makes the most sense to be Stark’s third bidder. Ryan Howard is an established first baseman and, unlike Smoak or Morse, can’t be moved to another position, and, unlike Teixeira, Gonzalez, or Cabrera, represents a markedly inferior player to Pujols. After only one season of more than 3 rWAR or better since his MVP year in 2006 and two embarrassing final at-bats to playoff runs, the sheen is starting wear off of Howard in the eyes of Phillies fans both analytically inclined and otherwise.

That and I’m thoroughly convinced that Ruben Amaro is an genuine maniac whose smugness and myopia are surpassed only by his ambition. A deal like this would represent a colossal upgrade at first base for the Phillies and represent not only one of the great wheeler-dealer moments of recent sports history but a headline-maker to end all headline makers. Flipping Howard and signing Pujols out of nowhere is precisely the kind of move Ruben Amaro would make.

The problem is Howard’s contract, which I had managed not to mention until now, but in order to nab Pujols and still have enough money left over to, say, re-sign Jimmy Rollins or extend Cole Hamels, the recipient would have to eat most or all of Howard’s $25 million-a-year contract over the next five years, which would require not only for the Phillies to receive relatively little in return for their cleanup hitter, but for the Phillies to either eat a large portion of that contract or send another relatively large piece along with Howard. A piece like Vance Worley, Sebastian Valle, or Domonic Brown. Or Cole Hamels.

Look, it’s late and I’ve probably overthought what will turn out to be absolutely nothing, but let’s assume Stark’s source was telling the truth and that there’s a serious bidder for Pujols that’s trying to move its established first baseman to make room–I honestly can’t think of a more likely candidate than the Phillies.

Avatar of Michael Baumann

About Michael Baumann

Michael Baumann has written 229 articles on Phillies Nation.

Michael is a graduate student at Temple University who lost his childlike innocence when, at the age of 6, his dad let him stay up for the end of Game 6 of the 1993 World Series. Unsettled by the Phillies' recent success, he has threatened over the years to leave the team he loves if they don't start losing again, but has so far been unable to follow through. Michael spent 4 years as an undercover agent in Braves territory at the University of South Carolina, where he covered football and soccer for The Daily Gamecock before moving back up north. He began writing for The Phrontiersman in June 2009 before moving to Phillies Nation in January 2010.

  • Posts: 0 Mazinman

    Man this season is a lot more fun with Ruben at the helm. I was joking around about this today saying “Didn’t Ruben seem a little too aware about how busy Jimmy’s agent is with Pujols?” I really would doubt we are that team but it’s still fun to speculate.

  • Posts: 0 F_I_J

    okay, we’re teh team, who do you move Howard to? WHo wants to pay $25 million for Howard, when they can get Puhols for between $20-$23 a year (10 yrs at $200-$230 million)? Wade no longer works for Huston remember?

  • Posts: 3 friend

    Avatar of

    We can’t afford Poo Holes

  • Posts: 5449 Lefty

    Avatar of Lefty

    Go back to sleep Michael. The overpaid immovable object with declining skills is going nowhere, we’re hopelessly stuck with him.

    And having the last five years of a ten year contract with Pujols would likely be just as bad.

  • Posts: 0 Jeff Dowder

    The Howard contract will haunt this team for the next five years, and that will be magnified every time a big name free agent hits the open market. To add insult to injury, even the $10 million buyout in 2017 will hurt the team in some capacity. I’ll never understand why RAJ felt compelled to offer that deal.

    The saddest thing is that this is not even hindsight – most of us knew it the moment the deal was announced.

  • Posts: 0 Ray

    Thanks, thanks a lot… Every time I convince myself I can relax, because it just won’t happen, something tweaks me into drooling. Like anyone who plays powerball and spends hours involuntarily day dreaming of the moment when they finally win…

  • Posts: 0 Fred

    I have been thinking about this for a while now. The mystery 3rd team, needing to move a first baseman, multiple meetings with Rollins agent, who conveniently happens to be Pujols agent, no contract for Rollins yet, talk of getting that other lefty, it just has a scent of Amaro at work behind the scenes. Pujols would be a serious upgrade to Howard in a lineup that needs more consistent hitting. Amaro is a guy who thinks big and is not afraid to think outside the box. I think Pujols would love to hit in our park as well. Personally, I would love to see it happen. Not sure of all of the moves that would have to take place but………it has been the one thing that has been keeping me checking the blogs regularly. Who knows. Fun to speculate though.

  • Posts: 2897 Chuck A.

    Avatar of Chuck A.

    I’d rather have Howard’s bad contract for the next five years as opposed to 10 years committed to Pujols. Cause Pujols in years 6-10 or 7-10 of that deal will be a WORSE financial burden.


    • Posts: 5449 Lefty

      Avatar of Lefty

      That would be like having a parking ticket that you can’t/don’t want to pay so you put it off, then it doubles, and doubles again, and again. Just take the next five years, pay Howard off, and be done with it. in the mean time, hope and pray for as much production as you can get from the big man.

      For the record, today I beat you! Great minds think alike, what can I say.

      • Posts: 2897 Chuck A.

        Avatar of Chuck A.

        Wow! I have a great mind??!! Can I give you the phone number of the lady of the house so you can tell her that??

      • Posts: 5449 Lefty

        Avatar of Lefty

        Haha! So we both have that problem too huh?

    • Posts: 1048 EricL

      Avatar of EricL

      No, the financial burden would be better.

      You see, Howard is going to be making $25m in 2014, 2015 and 2016, his 34-36 seasons, and potentially $23 million in his age 37 season. At that time the Phillies will be lucky if he’s a 2.0 WAR player.

      If Pujols gets something like 220/10 you’ll be paying him $22mm in those years, and beyond. The cost, however, is less, because unless we have the 2nd great depression and undergo a long period of deflation, $22 million in 2018-2021 dollars will be significantly less than $25 million in 2014 dollars. I mean, it’s already 10% less per year just at face value, but it becomes even less burdensome when you consider the salary inflation in the MLB.

      But more importantly, Pujols is very likely to be much better than Howard is right now in most of those seasons. Sure, it’s possible the 39-41 seasons are likely going to be a bit of an overpay, but I don’t think it would be nearly the overpay that Howard’s contract currently is. Through their first eleven years Albert Pujols beats Barry Bonds in just about every statistical category. BA/OBP/SLG/HR/ etc. Through their age 21-31 seasons Pujols leads Bonds 88.7 to 85.3 in bWAR. This is a skillset which will age very well (although he probably won’t have the power-surge his late 30s as Bonds did, he’s still likely to put up very solid offensive numbers through the majority of that contract.) Pujols is likely, as Baumann mentioned, the best right handed hitter in the history of the game. Howard’s contract is orders of magnitude worse than this hypothetical Pujols deal. Ryan Howard had one season in which he was worth more than 5.4 WAR. Albert Pujols, in his entire career, has never been worth less than 5.4 WAR. Over his 11 years in the league he’s been a 5 WAR player twice, a 6WAR player once (6.9 bWAR), a 7 WAR player once and the remaining 7 years have all been worth 8, 9 or 10 WAR. That’s just an amazing level of production.

      Basically, what I’m saying is that Howard’s deal, while shorter, would still be MUCH worse than a potential Pujuols deal in the neighborhood of $220/10.

      • Avatar of The Original Chuck P

        Moot point… Pujols to the Angels- 10 years and $25 million per.

        Was just going to say that Pujols at $20 million would be a bargain… he’s worth closer to $30 per year. Check out my blog post below…


      • Posts: 0 George

        You’ve made some valid points here.

        However, a number of your points would be invalid if the contract were to be backloaded. I’m not sure, for example, that $30 million for a 39 year old would be an affordable investment.

        There is also a bigger injury risk with a ten year term than there is with a five year term.

  • Posts: 0 Phillies fan from Germany

    There is NO WAY this is gonna happen simply because nobody wants Howards contract…

  • Posts: 1157 betasigmadeltashag

    Avatar of betasigmadeltashag

    I guess this is fun to speculate, but there is no way, not even RAJ would give anyone a ten year deal, and unlike most of you I have faith that Ryan will come back from this inl jury a stronger player just because I like to think outside the box of hope. I also think ryan will hit 30-40 hr and 120-140 RBIs for four five more years even a next year when he will not be in the line up until the end of may.

  • Posts: 0 Chris

    Yep this won’t happen. I think it’s more likely to be the Yankees or the Nats. However, the Cards are going to be the ones that get him in the end I think anyway. He wants to go to the Cards plain and simple.

  • Posts: 0 TheDipsy

    I would pay half of Howards contract to any team that we would take him if Pujols would sign here.

    The Dipsy

    • Posts: 1048 EricL

      Avatar of EricL

      Wow, you must be rich.

      • Posts: 0 George

        He’s only going to be rich soon, after he refuses to give any money to Rollins.

  • Posts: 0 Ajay

    Interesting, interesting.

    On a related note: Is there any doubt that if Ruben had not signed Ryan Howard to this horrific contract that the Phillies would be fighting tooth and nail with the Cardinals for Pujols right now?

  • Posts: 0 Bob Myers

    Everything about Howard’s contract is puzzling, and I like Howard a lot. Not his fault he accepted a huge contract.

    But at the time there was no urgency to sign him. His numbers were declining every single year, so the length of contract was suspect. So I agree with the posts that mention this is a deal that is bad without hindsight. It was controversial in the national media when it was signed.

    At the same time, I hope Howard defies all odds and comes back strong. But learning how to hit breaking balls and sliders and Lefties in general doesn’t happen easily. I’m sure Howard has tried and gotten coaching and watched videos of his Ks.

    And again, I consider myself a big fan of Howard. I wear his Jersey all the time…..

    • Posts: 5449 Lefty

      Avatar of Lefty

      For the record, I put all the blame on that contract on Ruben Amaro Jr. I don’t hate any Phillies players. I wish some of them would do things a little differently, but I can’t hate this set of guys, not after 45 years of fan futility. (with a few good stretches mixed in)

      I hope all of them defy odds and come back strong and have career seasons.

    • Posts: 0 Dickie Thong

      I’m not a fan of the contract, but, he had pretty steady production through the 2009 season (after which the contract extension was singed), and actually improved from 2008 to 2009.

      2006 26 159 581 58 149 0.313 0.425 0.659 1.084 167
      2007 27 144 529 47 136 0.268 0.392 0.584 0.976 144
      2008 28 162 610 48 146 0.251 0.339 0.543 0.881 124
      2009 29 160 616 45 141 0.279 0.360 0.571 0.931 141

      Having said that, I think it was foolish to offer a guy with two years left on his current contract a 5 year extension for that much money. There was no urgency.

  • Posts: 1376 Pat Gallen

    Avatar of Pat Gallen

    I dont think it’s completely impossible. If you were an American League team would you pay $17 million per season for Howard? You might, if you had the coin.

    Well the Phillies could each $8 million per season of Howard’s deal, offer Pujols $22 million per season for 10 years and pay roughly $30 million overall for what they would owe to both Howard and Pujols.

    And look, the Phillies are about to strike it rich in the next few seasons with an enormous TV contract. It wont be Yankees or Red Sox like, but it’ll be gigantic. And theyre in a bigger market. They may not even care about the luxury tax soon enough. So get used to rumors like this.

    • Posts: 2897 Chuck A.

      Avatar of Chuck A.

      Yeah, but I don’t want them to pay anywhere over $20 M a season …..for 5 years nontheless….to a player over 37-38 years old. And we think Howard’s contract is an albatross?? I don’t care if it’s Albert Pujols or Teddy Ballgame. This would be just plain dumb.

    • Posts: 1048 EricL

      Avatar of EricL

      Wait, what?

      This is the first I’m hearing of the television revenue thing, ala the Yankees and Red Sox.

      If true that’d be a really big deal.

  • Posts: 5449 Lefty

    Avatar of Lefty

    The Phillies don’t have to pay 8m per season, The Dipsy has gone on record that he will do it.

  • Posts: 0 George

    “Established 1st baseman” doesn’t have to mean “good 1st baseman,” and “move it’s first baseman” doesn’t have to mean “trade” (it could simply mean a position change). You may be reading too much into what is really only a rumor to begin with.

    Try to get some sleep.

  • Posts: 0 Psujoe

    As bad as we think Howard’s contract is I’ll take 5/125 over 8/176 or 10/220. An overpay, but only 5 years. These other contracts are getting ridiculous.

  • Posts: 0 BostonKate

    Last year it was rumored that we were the mystery team for Lee….it would be fantastic if it was the same again this year. We could use a slugger like Pujols in our lineup. If there is a baseball God…..pleaseeeeee!

    It may make me less mad with Ruben for signing Papelbon.

  • Posts: 0 Bob in Bucks

    Pujols would be great, even for 10 years. But you simply can’t move Howard’s contract. Spend more time sleeping. The Phils are set with little room to maneuver.

  • Posts: 0 jpmf

    It’s the Angels

    • Posts: 0 Chris

      The Angels aren’t a mystery team they are known team. It’s the Cards, Angels and someone else apparently.

      • Posts: 0 Geoff

        he means its the Angels who are signing him, as it is being reported now. 10 for between 250-260

      • Posts: 0 Chris

        Yeah I saw that now. I always thought he’d stay with the Cards because I was assuming all offers were basically equal. but since the Angels topped it by a good bit I’m not surprised he went there

  • Posts: 0 Geoff

    Well, acc to Yahoo sports its the Angels…

    NOW it gets interesting, without Pujols the Cardinals could go after Rollins hard and overpay a bit….and hey… St Louis needs a first baseman..and Ryan Howard is from St Louis..if Amaro can dump tjhat contract on someone that is a genius move in and of itself..he IS quite mad, you know.

    • Posts: 0 Chris

      I don’t think the Cards want Rollins. I thought they were said to have no interest in him with or without Pujols. Plus the Cards typically do not commit to guys longterm in FA.

      • Avatar of The Original Chuck P

        The only way you entertain trading Howard is if you’re going hard for Fielder…

  • Posts: 0 Chris

    But yes Angels are signing him and dang they went all out. They blew all offers out of the water.

  • Posts: 0 Mazinman

    10 years for 250-260 million!? That contract makes Ryan Howard’s look spectacular.

  • Posts: 0 Geoff

    AS far as Rollins goes, I hope someone else signs him. We could sign a cheap short term replacement to buy us a little time and allocate the money elsewhere. Punto, Hairston are utility guys who could play there…I’m looking more at Furcal and Alex Gonzalez.

  • Posts: 0 Geoff

    I’m smelling the Phillies take a reliever in the Rule 5 draft.

    • Posts: 0 Chris

      They Passed. Which makes sense to me because what spot do they have open on their roster. If they wanted to go with an unproven reliever they have tons at AAA and position player wise they don’t have spots.

  • Posts: 0 Geoff

    Yes, it does make sense..but they have taken someone for the past several years if I recall and it hasn’t turned out too poorly for them.

    • Posts: 0 Chris

      Michael martinez….

      • Posts: 0 Geoff

        eh..I’m not as low on him as others are..I mean, what did you expect in the first year of a Rule 5 pick. He can play almost every position, which makes him useful.

  • Posts: 2897 Chuck A.

    Avatar of Chuck A.

    10 yrs./ 260M…… So just how stupid is RUIN TOMORROW, JR. ??? That last 4-5 years of that Pujols deal will be the albatross of albatrosses.

  • Posts: 0 Andrew from Waldorf

    You would pay 99% of Howards contract to anyone that would take it to save the 1%.

    But thats impossible.

    Rollins Victorino Utley Pence Howard Polanco Ruiz

    In 1998

    The last 4 -5 years are after 2017
    You got the big albatross till then.

    The only way you entertain trading Howard is if you go hard for Fielder
    Donny and the moronsiples

    You move him for nothing. You throw in all the minor league system to make him not be on your roster.And you pay 99% of the contract.

    Too funny
    The Moronsiples still think he has value.

  • Posts: 0 Don M

    Im flattered that someone constantly has me on their mind … flattered, and a little weirded-out

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