Yesterday someone was asking me about trading Ryan Howard. Who could possibly take him? Well, maybe the Angels, I said. If he came back and played decent, the Angels are about the only place you can dump a contract like that. The “LA” Angels haven’t had much success of late in the free-agent market, so they’ve got plenty to spend and they finally found their man. Albert Pujols. Ten Years, 250 Million. It’s a landscape changer. No doubt.
My immediate reaction is some mixture of displeasure with Pujols and eye-rolling at the Angels. Was 30 million over 10 years really worth changing your entire legacy? Assuming the Cards did offer 220 million, 3 extra million a year–when you’re making over 20 wouldn’t have been enough for me to leave St. Louis. You can argue that the Angels might be in a better position to win long-term (with their deep pockets), but that’s about the only positive I see. Now, I imagine the friendly denizens of Missouri will forgive Albert for this one, but maybe cancel the statue plans?
And, Pujols will take a ton of pressure onto his lap now with this deal. The rose-colored glow of a World Series and coming back to St. Louis would have carried him through any number of struggles, but by changing teams he better not hit .250 in April. That’s all I’m saying. And, if he runs out of gas 5, 6 years from now and is just a 25 million dollar black hole? Well, there won’t be much sympathy in Anaheim, especially if he doesn’t deliver a ring.
Maybe Albert wanted a new challenge. Although, it’s tough to argue that when you go to the highest bidder. Miami would have been a huge challenge. Or, Chicago? This is jumping to another big-market team and following the dollars. I understand that Pujols was technically underpaid for the last decade, but he still made over 100 million dollars. He wasn’t a RB drafted in the 4th round who was now making good on 425,000 a year.
What are the implications of this move around baseball? Well, Pujols leaves the NL, which is great for Phillies fans and even better for anyone who roots for a team in the NL central. At least, for now, the Cardinals obviously have a huge chunk of money available. They could make a run at Fielder and replace Pujols like that. They could take a last-minute run at J-Roll. They could wait for next year’s crop and use their World Series credit. But, they’ll be players again. Pujols leaving, though, is the best player in the game headed to the opposite league. It makes a difference.
His landing with the Angels is a big shakeup, but not as big as if he’d gone to Miami. The AL West is governed by the Rangers right now, and the Angels wrapped up last season 10 games back in the standings. They scored almost 200 fewer runs–which is almost impossible to comprehend. Pujols addresses their biggest need, which was any offensive fire power at all, but it’s a big gap they have to make up. And, the whole AL is loaded with powerful lineups. The significance of one bat is lessened a bit. The Angels success may actually be more tied to the development of their OF prospects (Bourjos and Trout) than Pujols. And, they’ll still have to pitch.
I do want to say, this is maybe the nice thing about being a not-quite big market team like St. Louis? They can draw a line, and say we can’t do that. They avoid paying a 40-year old Pujols 25 million and have a reasonable excuse. If they were Philly, or New York, they’d be expected to match the offer regardless and worry about 2020 when it got here.
Does the Pujols signing take the Angels out of the Ryan Madson mix? The Madson saga is turning into one of the bigger black eyes of Scott Boras’s career. Jayson Stark could hardly contain his glee yesterday as he described the market for Madson drying up. Madson seriously considered taking arbitration from the Phillies, coming back as a set-up man, because his possible landing spots where he could score a big multi-year deal seem to be evaporating. He’s likely not going to get anything near 4/44, unless Boras has photos or someone or pulls off a miracle. At this point, he might sign something like 1/10, just as a rent-a-closer (trade deadline piece) and hit the market again next year when there will be much less competition.
Jimmy Rollins is allegedly close to coming back to Philly. Whether this Pujols deal speeds up that process, or slows it down, I’m not sure. Overpaying Rollins doesn’t seem like a St. Louis type move, and it’s not like Rollins can really replace much of what Pujols brought, so I think the Phillies remain the destination for J-Roll. He’s another guy without a market. It sounds like no team would even consider offering Rollins 5-years. The question seems to be, do the Phillies throw him a bone, and go 3/42, or do they turn the screws and humble him with a much cheaper deal? The dollars for Rollins don’t seem to be out there.
If Rollins comes back, the Phillies have essentially gone status-quo for 2012, and you could argue that the 2011 team was better on paper. Add a year to everyone. Subtract Oswalt (even with his lack of effectiveness), add a year of familiarity to Vance Worley–where has this team gotten better? You’re relying on a full year of Utley and Pence to help. You’re relying on a better year out of Polanco, and the development of Mayberry, but not much has changed from the team that people got very uncomfortable with last October.
It was interesting for me to hear Ruben back off his statements from after the NLDS. Maybe the offense was OK. Maybe this whole ‘change of approach’ thing wasn’t really a possibility. Whether he believes that, or whether he realized he couldn’t make the moves to force that change–I’m not sure. The point is, it’s not going to change. The Phillies pitch. That’s what they do. The offense was perfectly adequate, if not damn good after July 1st last year. Do they have holes that get exposed facing good post-season pitching? Yes, but that’s their flaw. We’ve got to live with it. The bottom line is, the way this team is built, they’ve got to hold that lead in Game 2. Everything else is moot.
There’s been a lot of speculation flying around about Cole Hamels. The Phils are apparently fishing for Gio Gonzalez, and some take that as an indication that 2012 could be Cole’s last year in Philly. Re-signing Hamels has been an assumed given for most fans, but I suppose you do have to consider the possibility they will not be able to pay him. First, because if Hamels has another top-5 Cy Young type year (or better), his price will be very prohibitive. Second, are the Phillies prepared to pay 100 million dollars to 4 players (Hamels, Halladay, Lee, Howard) moving forward? They could do this. Victorino would be gone. The bullpen would be young and cheap (aside from Papelbon), they’d have to go younger and cheaper in CF and 3B, and be very careful with Chase Utley, but it’s not impossible.
That said, if Hamels did go, it would really open them up to finally shift the team in a different direction. Without Hamels, Victorino and Polanco on the payroll, the Phillies could go after some serious position player help to compliment a rotation with Halladay and Lee at the top. Then, when Doc’s contract ends they are free to either resign him or make an aggressive move at another ace. They could also bite the bullet for one year, try to piece some things together at 3B and in the OF, sign Hamels long-term and let Doc go after his contract runs out.
It’ll be interesting to see what happens. If the Phillies stick with their pitching at all costs mentality or shift to a team with a more traditional 1/2 top-line starters make-up. Which would you prefer?