Results tagged ‘ Free agents ’

Pujols entering uncharted territory

Pujols Media Circus.jpgIt’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):

That sounds like a man who is pleased to let all of his talking be done on the field.

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,

G-Mc

Sources: Braves sign Billy Wagner

With the Winter Meetings still days away, the Atlanta Braves appear poised to mark one big item off their holiday shopping list. Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal is reporting that the Braves will sign lefty closer Billy Wagner, “according to major league sources.”

billy_wagner.jpgWagner must now pass a physical before the deal becomes official. This will mark the first marquee closer the Braves have boasted since John Smoltz‘s days at the end of the pen.

According to Rosenthal’s report, the one-year deal is believed to be worth $7 million and includes a $6.5 million vesting option for a second season that would kick in if Wagner closes 50 games in 2010.

Wagner, 38, is coming off Tommy John Surgery in 2008 that limited him to just 17 appearances between the New York Mets and Boston Red Sox last season. The lefty showed his power arm to be intact, racking up 26 strikeouts in 15 2/3 innings of work to go along with a 1.72 ERA in 17 outings. Opponents hit just .154 against the six-time All-Star last season.

During his 15-year career, spent with Houston, Philadelphia, New York and Boston, Wagner has accumulated 385 saves and stands to become just the fifth hurler in MLB history to surpass the 400 save plateau with a healthy 2010 campaign. Only John Franco (424) has more saves all-time by a southpaw pitcher.

Atlanta will give Boston a supplemental first round draft pick for signing Wagner, who as a Type-A free-agent was offered arbitration by the Red Sox prior to Tuesday’s deadline.

The Braves have a very good chance of recouping that draft pick loss, however, as both Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez (who were also offered arbitration Tuesday) qualify as Type-A FA’s and would fetch first rounders back for Atlanta if they sign elsewhere.

This is a potential signing that I believed the Braves could pursue and had highlighted it prominently in my upcoming Winter Meetings Primer entry. Of course, that piece had yet to hit the Blogosphere before news of this signing broke, but rest assured it will still make an appearance. I just won’t be able to claim any psychic connection this time around.

More to come as always,

G-Mc

Yankees strike again, sign A.J. Burnett…

Well, I will say this for the free-spending kingpins of sports in the
free world: When they want somebody, they go out and get them. The New
York Yankees made another bold move to rebuild their rotation, agreeing to a 5-year $82 million contract with righty starter A.J. Burnett on Friday.

This means the Yankees have spent about a quarter of a billion dollars on starting pitching in less that 72-hours. That’s right, billion.
And you thought we were in a recession? Given, they cleared some
salaries (Jason Giambi, Mike Mussina, Andy Pettitte, Carl Pavano, Bobby
Abreu
and Kyle Farnsworth), but that is still more spending that any
other club in baseball could possibly imagine. And it comes roughly
one-year after giving Alex Rodriguez a contract that will be worth over
another quarter of a billion (that’s $250,000,000 for those needing
another illustration of the dynamic we’re talking) by the time it’s
said and done.

Now Atlanta and general manager Frank Wren will
have to find a plan B. Whatever that may be is anyone’s guess, but I
would say it starts with the second tier free agent starters – lead by
left-hander Randy Wolf et al. Perhaps the Braves seek a shorter term
agreement for much less overall money with Ben Sheets, who is the only
real power pitcher left in the free-agent market. Let me go ahead and
say, I don’t think this is going to do anything to revive the very dead
Jake Peavy to Atlanta talks.

But now soon-to-be 32-year old A.J.
Burnett
,
the same pitcher who has won more than 12 games only once
(last season) and the same pitcher who has pitched 200+ innings on just
three occassions, is going to be raking an average yearly salary of
$16.5
million for the next five seasons in the Bronx. His history of injury
doesn’t swallow like a bitter pill in New York, since they are the only
team in baseball that could afford to
lose him for a significant amount of time and feel little-to-no effects
on their October aspirations. They can simply buy a new one if he
breaks down, again.

This signing allows the Braves to save what
I believe will be a tremendous amount of money on an arm that already
comes with more than a few red flags attached. The trade market is
still an option, even if Peavy is not the answer. Atlanta lost the
ability to deal Yunel Escobar when Brent Lillibridge was dealt to the
White Sox in the Javier Vazquez deal. There are still other possibilities though, many of which have proven to be off the radar when it comes to the Braves.

So
the Braves went to
Las Vegas and essentially left the table with nothing to show for it,
having been unable to get their ace in Burnett and the power hitting
outfielder they were seeking. But there could be some bargains out
there if the markets
don’t develope for some of the free agents still lurking. The Braves
came into the off-season with more
money to spend than perhaps any other time in the club’s history and
they may be running out of priority players to spend it on.

In other news:

Atlanta non-tendered left-hander Chuck James
on Friday, making him a free-agent. James, 27, went 11-4 as a rookie in
2006 and 11-10 in 2007 before injuries and ineffectiveness put his
career with the Braves in question. Shoulder surgery performed in
September is expected keep James out for most of 2009. Last season,
James went just 2-5 with a 9.10 ERA in seven starts and allowed 10
homers in just 29.2 innings of work. James was sidelined for much of
spring training and spent the majority of last season in Triple-A
Richmond, where he went 5-5 with a 2.92 ERA in 15 starts.

Till next time

G-Mc