Saturday, February 19, 2011

Michael Wilbon Is So Adamant The Cubs Should Sign Albert Pujols, He Wrote An Article That Could Argue For The Dodgers Just As Well

Michael Wilbon has a man-crush on Albert Pujols. Who doesn't, I suppose; he's arguably the best player in the game, and the failure of the Cardinals to come to terms with Pujols before his self-imposed deadline means he'll most likely play the rest of the season without further negotiations, and then test the waters of free agency. And this has a lot of other teams salivating like The Big Bad Wolf looking at Little Red Riding Hood.

Wilbon is indeed one of those salivators. And he thinks the Cubs need to do this Pujols signing, writing a long piece for ESPN making the argument that the Cubs are the only match for Prince Albert.

Except for the fact that one can replace "Cubs" with "Dodgers", make a couple of other edits on the margin, and still have an equally compelling argument and readable article. And if it can work for the Dodgers, how many other teams could really be "the perfect spot"?. Work with me here:

It's not often that the refrain "Wait 'til next year" actually means something of consequence for the [Los Angeles Dodgers], but it does now. Of course the [Dodgers] should move heaven and earth to sign Albert Pujols, precisely because this could be their best chance to transform not only the team, but the brand. Please don't bother me with what might happen when Pujols reaches 40 or 41 years of age and whether he'll be overpaid by then. Don't bother me with predictions of gloom and doom when the alternative is stealing away your hated rival's best-ever player and putting him into your lineup in the prime of his life.

The St. Louis Cardinals won championships before Pujols showed up in St. Louis, and as great as he is -- he is described as "iconic," and the adjective is completely appropriate -- they are going to win after he's gone, too, whether it's sooner or later. St. Louis is playing contract hardball with him and asking him to settle for being the fourth-highest-paid player at his position, even though he's the best every-day player in the game today. That ought to be just the break the [Dodgers] have been seeking [for over two decades, and certainly in the McCourt ownership era].

[Dodger Stadium] has been home to All-Stars and Hall of Famers [and Rookies of the Year], but never to the single best every-day player of his generation. You don't waste time staring at the price tag if that player is within your grasp.

Of course, the [Dodgers] should make a real play for Pujols, and there's no law that says you have to have him under contract at 41 or 42 if you pay him enough over the next seven or eight seasons -- say, $35 million a year on average. It couldn't set up any better for Pujols leaving St. Louis for [Los Angeles], starting with the fact that so many other wealthy would-be suitors already have somebody to whom they're paying tons of money to play first base. The Yankees have Mark Teixeira, the Red Sox have Adrian Gonzalez, the White Sox have Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn, the Mets still have to recover from Bernie Madoff.

And the [Dodgers], not coincidentally, are poised to get out from under contractual obligations to [Manny Ramirez, Juan Pierre, Andruw Jones, and Jason Schmidt, which amounts to almost $45M (the Cubs have $45M tied up in obligations to Kosuke Fukudome, Carlos Silva, Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Pena, but unlike the Dodgers' players, most of those guys still are with the team and have some shot at providing value to the team paying their salary obligations)].

Dare I say it? It all seems to be lining up for the [Dodgers] … if they want to make the commitment.

Asking whether the [Dodgers] really should go after Pujols is like asking whether a team should have taken Lou Gehrig at a similar stage of his career. The notion that Pujols would be overpaid in the final two or three years of a 10-year-contract ignores the fact that he's been underpaid -- not just the first few years, but over his entire career so far, even this coming season at $16 million. Every single at-bat of Pujols' career suggests he has four to five Hall of Fame seasons left, by which time the [Dodgers] could have won, at long last, a World Series.

Mostly, the [Dodgers] have a need, competitively and even financially. Their attendance has dropped from [...] last year, which is an area Pujols would impact immediately, one where the increased revenue would be simple to quantify. If [Frank McCourt] wants to make big changes to [Dodger Stadium], he needs a signature signing. And [Ned Colletti's] aggressiveness would seem to be just the approach.

The issue that remains is why Pujols would leave St. Louis to go anywhere, [Los Angeles] included. The easy answer is that salary is the ultimate way to keep score, and if the Cardinals insist on offering something closer to $21 million a year than $30 million, chances are they've got no realistic shot at keeping Pujols, who isn't about to take less money than fellow first basemen Teixeira, Ryan Howard and Miguel Cabrera. If that continues to be the Cardinals' negotiating tack, they might as well wave goodbye even before the five-day exclusive negotiating period starts this fall.

But ultimately, appealing to Pujols' ego could be the most important pitch. Increasingly in recent years, we've heard Pujols say he wants to retire as one of the greatest players ever. He can do better than that. He has played in [Los Angeles] enough to know of the club's [recent shortfalls], and he surely has some sense of how big a hero he would be in [Los Angeles] if he ever leads the [Dodgers] to a World Series. It would dwarf the popularity he has in St. Louis.

I will pull out of my Mad Libs substitution maneuver to run Wilbon's next paragraph verbatim:

The Angels and the Dodgers, if they decide to spend money again, will be looking at Pujols as longingly as the Cubs will. The Yankees, no doubt, will say "no way" they have any interest in Pujols and, more importantly, they have no place to put him. But if the Steinbrenners and Brian Cashman can find room for both Jeter and A-Rod, they could certainly do the same for Pujols and Teixeira.

And now back to the last paragraph for more Dodgers-for-Cubs find-and-replace moves:

[...](W)hat Pujols could do, almost certainly would do in [Los Angeles], is lend a credibility and perhaps even a validity to a franchise that in more than 100 years has had Hall of Famers and scores of great players, but nobody as great at Pujols. And nobody more likely to put an end to the despair.

Albert Pujols on first base. It could happen--and not just in Chicago.


Unknown said...

It's funny you couldn't bring yourself to replace their GM's name with Ned...

"If [Frank McCourt] wants to make big changes to [Dodger Stadium], he needs a signature signing. And Jim Hendry's aggressiveness would seem to be just the approach."

Steve Sax said...

Yeah, for some reason I blame Frank more than Ned here. I don't know if that's rational, but it's how I felt as of last night...

Eric Karros said...

Wilbon makes a pretty good argument, except one part was totally nonsensical to me:

"The notion that Pujols would be overpaid in the final two or three years of a 10-year-contract ignores the fact that he's been underpaid -- not just the first few years, but over his entire career so far..."

Now don't get me wrong - I totally agree that: 1) Pujols has been greatly underpaid his whole career, and 2) a player of his caliber has the leverage to demand a contract that might overpay him in the out years.

And from Pujols' point of view, 1) helps justify 2). But Wilbon is making an argument from the Cubs' pov. So he's justifying the Cubs' overpaying him for a few years because their hated archrivals managed to underpay him in the past?


Microsoft exec: "I propose we buy [non-appreciating asset X] for $100m. I know it's only worth $50m. But it's ok to pay $100m because Apple had bought it for only $1m!"

Totally makes sense. Someone please explain.

Fernie V said...

Makes no sense to me.

Steve Sax said...

Okay, I've slept on it and will change Ned.