MLB: Will Mets Make Run at Albert Pujols in 2012?

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On January 6th I asked the question, will the St. Louis Cardinals make Albert Pujols the first $300 million MLB player? Apparently the answer is NO!

Word is that Pujols' agent, Dan Lozano, has used A-Rod's contract, that guarantees him least $275 million over 10 years (and worth $305 million if he hits all his landmark home-run numbers), as the only comparison in negotiations. The A-Rod contract is the richest in baseball and given Albert's production, it would appear that Lozano is totally justified in using A-Rod as the bogey. Albert is in the prime of his career and is arguably the only active player that has a chance to match the production of A-Rod’s Hall of Fame career.

According to SI’s Jon Heyman however, is that the Cardinals want to guard against paying Pujols into his 40s, which would limit the deal to seven years and are said to have initially suggested a contract that would guarantee Pujols at least a bit less than $200 million.

Pujols already took a “team-friendly” eight-year, $111-million deal before the 2004 season and many think that this time Pujols he wants to get paid as the best player in the game that he is. There’s also the theory floating out there that Pujols’ deal can’t be a “team friendly” deal and needs to be a contract of historic proportions so he doesn't single-handedly set a precedent for something lower than the A-Rod deal for top players in the game.

Heyman suggests that Cardinals don't feel they have to pay Pujols like A-Rod because:

  • Rodriguez was a free agent when he signed his deal, whereas Pujols still has a year to go;
  • The Yankees and Red Sox are not likely to participate in the bidding. Both clubs have superb defensive first basemen under contract for years to come in Mark Teixeira for New York and Adrian Gonzalez for Boston (assuming Gonzalez's deal with the Red Sox is finalized shortly after the season begins), which would likely allow them to only offer a DH spot to Pujols. One competing executive opined that their probable lack of participation could mean Pujols would get "20 percent less" than if those two mega-revenue teams were involved; 
  • The Cardinals got the better of the first deal. That could cause Pujols to dig in even harder and get a deal closer to his market value this time or it could be an indication of just how much he loves the team and the city. 
  • Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt is one of the sharpest businessmen in baseball, and has a history of getting great deals. He purchased the shining franchise for only $150 million, then selling the adjacent parking structure for $90 million, bringing the outlay for the team down to a paltry $60 million for a team that is likely worth at least $700-to-800 million. He isn't likely to mind matching wits with Lozano;
  • The Cardinals can't match the Yankees' revenues. St. Louis isn't New York. While the Cardinals are wildly successful, and are said by people who have actually seen the revenues list to be either in the "top ten'' in baseball or "about "10th,'' they aren't the Yankees, whose revenues, while unknown, have increased substantially thanks to the YES Network and the new Yankee Stadium.

Up until today I didn’t think there was any way that Albert Pujols would be anything but a lifetime St. Louis Cardinals player. Now, I’m not so sure. Heyman suggests that there are synergies with the Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants, Chicago Cubs and Baltimore Orioles but I think he’s missing the big elephant in the room. Without the Yankees or the Red Sox involved as serious bidders for Pujols’ services, it’s hard to imagine Albert getting the money he wants, except from one team; the team with the 5th highest payroll in MLB last year, the New York Mets.

The Mets have made no attempt to hide the fact that they will have the contracts of Carlos Beltran, Francisco Rodriguez, Oliver Perez, and Luis Castillo all coming off the books after this year. Does anyone think that Pujols and Lozano don’t realize this? Even Johan Santana’s contract is only committed through 2013 (there’s a club option for 2014). Should the Cardinals and Pujols part ways, with all that salary coming off the books, there’s no reason that New York Mets shouldn’t be among the favorites to have Pujols play for them in 2012 and beyond. The Mets brought in Mike Piazza and were treated to 7 ½ years of a sold out stadium for the first time since the 80’s along with a trip to the World Series. I don’t see why the same approach of adding one of the biggest stars and the games most feared hitter wouldn’t be appropriate here. 

So are the Mets clearing payroll to make a run at Albert Pujols for the 2012 season? Well, The Mets are making an obvious attempt to spend no new capital this year and seemingly willing to forfeit the 2011season. The Mets are simply willing to bide time until those contracts come off the books so that they can be ready for the free agent class of 2012. You can be certain that unless Ike Davis hits 30 HR’s and drives in 100 + this year, or comes damn near close to those numbers, the Mets will have at the very least, Price Fielder (who has just set himself up nicely to be a free agent in demand next year) on their team opening day in 2012, if not Albert Pujols.

Pujols has repeatedly stated that he will not negotiate once Spring Training starts. While I don't necessarily believe that, I do believe that he won't negotiate once the season starts. The clock is ticking and Mets fans are hoping that time expires.

For those Mets fans who are all into the home grown infield thing and don’t want to give up Ike Davis to get Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder, the only thing I can say is, you’ll get over him pretty quickly. - Josh Bolan

Josh is a retired AP baseball reporter and now writes for Around the Horn Baseball as a freelance writer. 

You may email Josh at [email protected]

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