It’s not often that the best player in baseball gets to explore free agency in the prime of his career, but when the St. Louis Cardinals failed to come to terms on a contract extension with Albert Pujols by the slugger’s 11 a.m. CDT deadline on Wednesday, it became a very real possibility. Perhaps reality.
As it continues to unfold, reports are indicating that the length of contract was not the biggest roadblock. Instead, all signs are pinning the inability to reach agreement on a difference of opinion over the annual salary figure. SI’s Jon Heyman tweeted that the Cardinals offered a 9-yr deal for more than $200 million, but exact details have been hard to come by thus far.
This entire process brings up a rather interesting question: When you are negotiating with perhaps the best player of a generation, how do you set the market value?
Pujols has done nothing but hit at the highest level in the game since bursting on the scene in 2001. He played left field and third base before settling in at first base, where he has captured three MVP awards and finished second on three other occasions.
Pujols has also won five Silver Sluggers and added a pair of Gold Glove Awards to his ever-expanding trophy case.
While the Cardinals will have an exclusive window to negotiate with Pujols following the season, it remains unclear just how much work is needed to bridge the gap between the two parties. One thing appears to be set in stone, Pujols is not interested in rekindling contract talks at any point between now and the end of the World Series.
The only player to reach free agency possessing a skill set remotely close to Pujols is New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez. He was able to turn that trip through the employment line into the richest contract in all of baseball. Not once, but twice.
When the Yankees inked the then-31-year-old Rodriguez to his current 10-year $275 million contract in December of 2007, many industry experts cited the obvious effect that it would have when it came time for Pujols to negotiate his next deal. Throughout this process, the A-Rod contract has been the rumored jumping off point for a deal between the Cardinals and Pujols.
I would go into a long and exhaustive study of the numbers between the two, breaking down years of dominance and overall projections of greatness, but I think we can all surmise that both men are supremely talented generational talents. By the time they’ve played their last game, both Pujols and Rodriguez may very well be sitting in the Number 1 and Number 2 spots atop baseball’s all time home run list. The order may be the only question.
Pujols has won three MVP awards in the National League, Rodriguez in the American League. Nine All-Star seasons for Pujols, 13 for Rodriguez. Silver Sluggers? Six for Pujols and 10 for Rodriguez. And, of course, two Gold Gloves for each man.
Those are the kinds of résumés that some players can only dream of, and owners and general managers salivate over adding to their roster. There is absolutely no denying that Pujols’ trip to free agency may end up being the most notable and fascinating such case in baseball history.
Stacking Pujols and Rodriguez side-by-side may be the only peer-to-peer comparison that is available in today’s game. However, the things that Pujols has accomplished in his first 10 seasons in the majors put him in a class all his own. The fact that he will be hitting free agency at roughly the same age as Rodriguez when he cashed in a 10-year deal to stay in the Bronx may suggest that the paths of these two sluggers will remain somewhat similar in yet another aspect.
Pujols has been a stoic figure in Cardinals history despite having some rather large shoes to fill not long after breaking in. Following the retirement of St. Louis legend Ozzie Smith in 1996, Mark McGwire was the face of the franchise in the late 90s. All Big Mac did was break the single season home run record. Pujols was selected NL Rookie of the Year while playing with McGwire in 2001, a season which proved to be McGwire’s final curtain.
For some franchises, the loss of such a prodigious power threat and box office attraction would be a crippling blow. Instead, Pujols stepped in seamlessly and has anchored the heart of the St. Louis order. In 2006, the Pujols-led Cardinals had just enough to capture the NL Central crown and went on to win the World Series. By that time, Pujols was already being anointed as the premier hitter in the game.
St. Louis faces a public relations nightmare should Pujols depart. There is no heir to the throne this time around. When McGwire departed, there was no shortage of sidebar topics that could distract from the luster of his once iconic status in the city. His rapid decline due to knee injury left him just a shell of his former self. Allegations of performance enhancing drug use have all but quieted the mention of the man who inspired the nation to believe in baseball again, perhaps saving the game in the magical “Summer of ’98.”
True, some club could come along and offer Pujols a mountain of money to leave the only city he has called home. I would guess no less than half a dozen clubs would be willing to put big money offers out there in hopes of wooing him away from St. Louis.
For some reason, I can’t help but feel the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, spurned numerous times by 2010 free agents, would be licking their proverbial chops to have a chance to offer Pujols a high-dollar long term deal to head West. Owner Arte Moreno has to be lying in wait, hoping he gets the chance to at least pull out the check book and make an offer.
I can’t speak for Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa, who said the MLB Players Union may have been applying some pressure for Pujols to maximize his value and thereby gumming up the works as it were. That may be true. I somehow doubt that the union is needed to remind Pujols of exactly how valuable he is, and exactly how much money there is to be made in his next contract.
That is exactly the kind of question that Pujols has vowed to avoid throughout Spring Training and all through the 2011 season. He was quite direct when addressing the media around midday in Jupiter, Florida, shortly after reporting to Cardinals camp on Wednesday.
See for yourself (Please excuse any and all video advertisements – a necessary evil to bring you the man himself):
Whatever the reason, maintaining a level of respect for the organization, limiting distractions for himself and/or his team, avoiding a media “zoo,” or simply letting nature run its course, Pujols has made up his mind. The negotiations are on a nine-month hiatus.
Till next time,
The Philadelphia Phillies pounded their way to an 8-6 victory in Game 5, pushing the World Series back to New York and postponing any celebration plans the New York Yankees may have had on Monday.
Slugging second baseman Chase Utley slugged his way into the record books with his second multi-home run game of the World Series, belting two homers and driving in four runs.
Utley’s big night gave him a share of two postseason records. His five homers in this series ties Reggie Jackson for the most in a single World Series, while Utley’s seven career Fall Classic home runs are the most by any second baseman in baseball history.
Outside of Utley, the Phillies had Cliff Lee working on the hill as they stared elimination in the face and live to fight another day. Lee was not as sharp as his Game 1 masterpiece, but with eight runs of support he didn’t have to be.
The lefty was pitching well into the eighth inning before a Yankee rally forced his exit. His final line was five earned runs on seven hits and three walks with three strikeouts over seven innings. Three of the runs scored in that eighth frame when the first three batters reached against Lee.
Raul Ibanez enjoyed a 2-for-4 night with a homer and two RBI’s in the winning effort. While much of the attention had been on Ryan Howard‘s struggles, Ibanez had struck out seven times in his prior 12 at-bats, so a good night for the left fielder was a welcome sign for the Philadelphia offense.
Speaking of Howard, Game 5 was yet another tough night in this series for the Phillies clean-up hitter. His futility at the plate reached record proportions when he was punched out twice on Monday to tie a World Series record with 12 strikeouts thus far in the series.
The bad news for Howard, if you want to call it that, is that he will set a record with his next strikeout, but the Yankees should be aware there is a flip side to that coin. It only takes one swing of the bat with a couple men on base for Howard to change the game. Look for the Yankees to continue feeding Howard the steady diet of breaking pitches he has seen throughout this World Series.
Howard has some elite company though, as both first basemen have struggled. Mark Teixeira is just 2-for-19, but has scored four runs, homered and knocked in two others while striking out seven times. Those are hardly big time numbers, but when compared to Howard’s 3-for-19 with two runs scored, one RBI and 12 punch-outs… well, you get the picture. It’s safe to say that each team would love to see their first baseman break out in a big way in Game 6.
Looking Ahead to Game 6:
The series shifts back to New York and a match-up of veteran hurlers will be on tap in the Bronx. All-time postseason wins leader Andy Pettitte will get the ball on three days rest against Pedro Martinez of the Phillies. It is truly a fascinating duel in the making. While Pettitte needs no postseason introduction, Pedro is still searching for a big game start that could help define his legacy in the playoffs.
As of now, most people remember October 16, 2003. Of course, that is the well documented and ill-fated night on which Boston manager Grady Little left Martinez in with a 5-3 lead with the Red Sox just five outs away from the World Series. The Yankees had other ideas.
This is a different Pedro Martinez. His high-90s fastball has long since vanished. This is a Pedro who relies on his wits, guile and a slew of off-speed pitches to get the job done. This is a Pedro who has to outthink hitters rather than blowing them away. He departed his first series start with a grin on his face, but Game 6 has much more on the line. I’d count on seeing a focused Pedro.
Looking at each hurler’s initial start in this series, Pedro had the better of the two, but it was Pettitte who put one in the win column. Martinez went six innings and allowed three runs on six hits while walking two and striking out eight in his Game 2 starting assignment. Pettitte spotted the Phillies three early runs in Game 3, but settled down to go six innings and allow four total runs on five hits and three walks to go along with seven strikeouts.
The Yankees will get to insert a red-hot Hideki Matsui back into the line-up as the designated hitter is back in play. It would stand to reason that the Phillies will start the right hand hitting Ben Francisco instead of Matt Stairs against the lefty Pettitte. That would give the edge in the DH department, at least on paper, to the Yankees. Mutsui is 5-for-9 with two homers, while Francisco is hitless in four World Series at-bats.
Though there are quite a few stars lining up, World Series games have a way of finding unsung heroes, so there is no guarantee that the Yankees will be able to ice the Phillies in Game 6. If Philadelphia is able to push a Game 7, then all the momentum shifts back to the defending champions. At that point, the Phillies have nothing to lose, the Yankees will have squandered a 3-1 series lead and, more than ever, the pressure to win will be squarely on hte shoulders of Joe Girardi’s club. Gotta love the drama, but winning Game 6 is all either team is thinking about as of now.
If history repeats itself, then we are in for a close game as far as the starting pitchers are concerned. However, the bullpens have had a way of making things interesting for both sides. Again, a Phillies victory would take the wind out of the Yankees sails and even things up for an exciting seventh contest. That makes Game 6 must-see TV.
Prediction: Yankees win 5-3 to take their 27th World Series Championship
Till next time,
If the Phillies weren’t feeling the pressure before, then they most certainly are now. Johnny Damon‘s legs and Alex Rodriguez‘s bat helped the Yankees break a 4-4 tie with a three-run ninth inning rally that propelled New York to a 7-4 victory in Game 4 and a 3-1 lead in the World Series.
Baseball can show you something each night that you have never seen before, evidenced by Damon’s adventurous base running during that ninth inning.
Damon executed an unorthodox double-steal by anyone’s standards, taking advantage of a poor throw from catcher Carlos Ruiz and Philadelphia’s defensive over-shift to steal both second and third base on one play. The Phillies had moved three infielders to the right side during Mark Teixeira‘s at-bat, leaving usual third baseman Pedro Feliz to cover second base on the attempted steal.
The short-hop throw by Ruiz was not only late, but also pulled Feliz off the bag and allowed Damon pop out of his slide and head toward an unattended third base. Damon’s heads up base running started Phillies closer Brad Lidge down a familiar path of destruction, though for the first time this postseason.
Rodriguez, who was no doubt looking to make the Phillies pay for plunking him on three occasions over the past two nights, drilled a fastball into the left field corner to chase home Damon and put the Yankees ahead 5-4.
Jorge Posada drove home two more a two-out double to give New York a three-run lead. Prior to those three runs scoring, Lidge was just one pitch away from escaping the inning, but Damon’s at-bat proves how quickly the momentum can swing back in the other direction.
Just one inning after Feliz tied the game at 4-4 with his solo-blast off Joba Chamberlain, the stunned Philadelphia crowd could only watch in horror as the Yankees took the lead and then placed it in the more than capable hands of Mariano Rivera, who recorded his second save of the series.
Lidge had previously converted all 10 postseason save opportunities in his two-year Philadelphia career, but the blown save on Sunday has put the Phillies at a distinct disadvantage in the Fall Classic. There have been 33 teams that have fallen behind 3-1 in the World Series and only five have rallied to win it, the last being Kansas City in 1985.
As I said yesterday, if Alex Rodriguez wakes up at the plate then the Phillies are going to be in trouble. It was A-Rod who turned the tide in the ninth inning with his clutch two-out run-scoring double to put the Yankees back in the lead.
CC Sabathia was less than his best, but then again the lefty ace is better than most hurlers in baseball even in that scenario. Regardless, Sabathia kept his team in the game and departed with the lead in the seventh inning.
Looking ahead to Game 5:
Philadelphia has their work cut out for them as Cliff Lee takes the hill for the second time in this World Series. Some questioned Phillies manager Charlie Manuel for not having Lee going on short rest in Game 4, but Lee had never started on less than full rest in his career which underscores the fact that Philadelphia wasn’t quite ready to hit the panic button.
From here on out, it’s a different story.
Ryan Howard has been unable to make an impact during the series and Yankees left-handers have consistently kept the big slugger quiet. Without their clean-up hitter to pose a definite threat, Philadelphia’s line-up can be broken down and contained. A big night from Howard against righty A.J. Burnett would be just what the doctor ordered to keep the Phillies alive and well in this World Series.
Burnett will take the mound for the biggest start of his career, holding in his hands a chance to help the Yankees clinch their 27th World Championship. Burnett was filthy in his Game 2 start at Yankee Stadium, getting ahead of hitter after hitter and putting them away with his assortment of wicked breaking pitches. He will need to channel that success to match up with the 2008 AL Cy Young Award Winner in Cliff Lee.
One injury note forced the Yankees to make a move prior to Game 5. Melky Cabrera came up limping following his final at-bat Sunday and was replaced by Brett Gardner in the field in the sixth inning. Because of a strained left hamstring, New York has deactivated Cabrera for the remainder of the series and added infielder Ramiro Pena to the roster. Gardner will get the start in centerfield in Game 5.
Prediction: Phillies stay alive with a 5-2 victory
Till next time,
What a difference a year makes. The Phillies were perfect at home in the 2008 World Series and Cole Hamels was named the series MVP.
The Yankees 8-6 win in Game 3 of the 2009 World Series wiped out any
notions that Philadelphia may have had about ending the Fall Classic at
home, and Hamels suffered through yet another rough start this October.
On the mound for New York, Andy Pettitte added to his postseason
legacy by gutting out six innings for his 17th career playoff victory.
The lefty even got into the action at the plate, nailing a game-tying
single as part of a three-run fifth inning.
What would the World Series be without a little instant replay?
Saturday was a fine example of New York doing what it does best. Alex Rodriguez
belted the replay reviewed two-run homer and found his way on base four
times after struggling to an 0-for-8 to start the series. The instant
replay homer gives A-Rod the distinction of not only being the first player in baseball history to have a home run awarded via review, but also the first in the history of the Fall Classic.
A total of 13 runs were scored despite the fact that the two
teams combined for just 14 hits. The Philadelphia bullpen proved
vulnerable while Yankees relievers Joba Chamberlain and Damaso Marte threw scoreless innings in back of Pettitte. Mariano Rivera did have to come in and quiet the Phillies in the ninth after Jason Werth‘s towering one-out homer against Phil Hughes. A small price to pay when it comes to securing the series lead.
wasn’t the prettiest start for Pettitte, who allowed four runs – all
earned – over six innings of work, but it was good enough to keep the
Yankees in the driver’s seat on the night.
Hamels’ night did not
offer any silver linings. The left-hander could not maintain a
three-run lead and was battered around for five runs in 4 1/3 innings.
A pair of walks and a hit batsman added to the Yankees chances, but
things really seemed to start going downhill for Hamels when the
instant replay of Rodriguez blast revealed it to be a two-run homer.
year ago, Hamels was as sure a thing as there was for the Phillies.
Last postseason saw Hamels go 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA in 35 innings of
work, but his ’09 record stands at just 1-1 with a 7.71 ERA and
opponents have belted seven homers over his four playoff starts.
Phillies skipper Charlie Manuel
was hoping that starting Hamels at home would make for a winning
recipe. Who could blame him based on a look over the split stats that
Hamels piled up over the regular season? Hamels went 7-5 with a 3.76
ERA in 17 starts at Citizen’s Bank as opposed to 3-6 with a 4.99 ERA in
15 road assignments. Safe to say, things did not go according to plan.
Looking ahead to Game 4
The Yankees turn to their short-rest ace CC Sabathia yet again in Game 4 as they attempt to push their series lead to 3-1. Interesting to note, Philadelphia chose not to give ace Cliff Lee his first career start on less than full rest and will instead counter with NLCS Game 4 starter Joe Blanton.
results for Blanton against the Yankees have been far from pretty – 0-3
in four starts with a 8.18 ERA in 22 innings against the Bronx Bombers.
Hardly numbers that inspire confidence, but if Blanton can find a way
to replicate his start against the Dodgers (four runs – three earned –
over six innings of work) then at least he will help take the load off
the bullpen and give the offense a chance to push the series to a 2-2
Sabathia threw seven innings of two run ball against the
Phillies in Game 1, taking his first loss this postseason thanks to
Lee’s complete game gem. It will be no easy task for Philadelphia to
beat Sabathia on two occasions in the same series.
outslugged by the Yankees last night, the Phillies are no strangers to
winning at home and scoring runs. Most nights that you score six runs,
as they did in Game 3, you’d like to find a way to have won that game.
Still, Philadelphia is perhaps the best offensively equipped National League squad to match up with the Yankees. To do that, Ryan Howard will have to find a way curb the strikeouts (nine in 13 World Series at-bats) and start producing runs. Second baseman Chase Utley
has not collected a hit since belting a pair of homers in the Game 1
win and his bat will also be necessary to get the Phillies hitting on
If Alex Rodriguez has just come alive for
the Yankees then the Phillies may be in big trouble. Erasing all memory
of his past postseason failures, A-Rod has delivered big hits in key
spots to get the Yankees into the World Series. A productive Rodriguez
may also translate into more hittable pitches for Mark Teixeira to see
ahead of A-Rod in the three slot.
A quick look at the men each pitcher will be looking to reverse their fortunes against:
Successful Yankees vs. Blanton (Career)
Mark Teixeira —- 9-for-27, 3 HR, 7 RBI
Derek Jeter —— 4-for-12, 1 HR, 3 RBI
Alex Rodriguez — 4-for-7, 2 HR, 5 RBI
Successful Phillies vs. Sabathia (Career)
Raul Ibanez —— 11-for-43, 2 HR, 9 RBI
Chase Utley —— 2-for-7, 2 HR, 2 RBI
Shane Victorino – 5-for-12, 1 HR, 5 RBI
Prediction – Yankees win 5-3
Till next time,