Let's face it: Like it or not, money is the driving aspect of this great game. And the best player on the planet is Albert Pujols. Mr. Pujols, as you might have heard, has set a negotiating deadline of Feb. 16, 2011, and he's all done giving the Cardinals a hometown discount. According to FanGraphs.com, Pujols has "delivered" nearly $270 million in "value" while being paid only $89.5 million to date in his amazing career. That's a darned good return on investment.
Pujols is threatening to become the highest-paid player in baseball, and as a Yankees fan, I know more than a little bit about highly paid baseball players. Rumor has it that Pujols wants a multiyear deal for a lot of money -- maybe 10 years at $30 million a year. That's more than a lot of money. What team could possibly afford to pay Pujols that much money?
We're Yankees fans and we're not completely stupid, so maybe the better question is: What other teams could afford to pay Pujols that kind of money?
Let's give it some thought. Some of you may be old enough to remember the 10-year, $252 million contract that Alex Rodriguez signed with the Texas Rangers in 2001. History's judgment is that this contract crippled the Rangers -- that after signing A-Rod, the Rangers lacked the wherewithal to do anything else. If we do the math and figure that the Rangers' payroll was around $100 million in the early years of A-Rod's contract, that would mean that the Rangers had about 25 percent of their payroll committed to one player. Let's establish a rule of thumb and say that no team should devote more than 25 percent of its payroll to any single player since the 25 percent allocated to A-Rod was enough to stifle an organization. This is simple asset allocation theory with a baseball application. Quick math indicates that if Pujols is going to make $30 million a year, then only teams with a payroll in excess of $120 million a year should sign Pujols.
This is not to say that there will be some new owner, or lovestruck owner, who will ignore this basic business premise and decide that having Pujols on their team is a risk worth taking, even if it means allocating 40 percent of the organization's liquid resources toward one asset. Put nothing past the owners. How else could you explain Mike Hampton, Barry Zito, Alfonso Soriano, Jayson Werth, etc.? It only takes one. And the one owner I'm personally scared of is Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg. If he can rationalize 40-plus percent of his payroll to one player, look out!
What teams are we talking about?
There were only six teams with a 2010 Opening Day payroll of over $120 million: the Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs, Phillies, Mets and Tigers. I'll add the Angels to the list of teams that might sign Pujols, since the Angels' 2011 payroll will exceed $120 million, plus this team seems to be willing to spend money without reason. I'll add the White Sox to this list, since they play in Chicago and ought to be able to spend money like a big-market club. I'm tempted to add the Rangers to this list, only they have already signed Adrian Beltre and Josh Hamilton to big contracts this year, plus they already have one unhappy, highly paid infielder more than they know what to do with.
I'm going to scratch the Mets off the above list, because the only way Pujols is going to get millions out of the Mets is if he lost money investing in Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme. The Mets have Ike Davis at first, and he'd be an attractive trade target if the Mets were able to spend at will, but that's not the case. Shea goodbye.
I'm going to scratch the Tigers off the list because they have $20-plus million annually committed to Miguel Cabrera to play first base for them through the year 2015, plus $12-plus million annually committed to Victor Martinez to do something for them through the year 2014. Pujols might have the ability and desire to move back to the other side of the diamond and man third base again (he started 89 games at third base back in 2001-02). Putting Cabrera and Pujols together could be as great a 3-4 batting duo as baseball has ever seen, but the Tigers' existing commitments seem to rule out this pairing.
I'm going to scratch the Phillies off the above list, because they have upwards of $25 million committed annually to Ryan Howard to play first base for them through the year 2016. Also, they don't need a DH. Also, they don't want to admit (yet) that the Howard contract was probably a mistake.
I'm going to scratch the White Sox off the above list, because they probably did not belong on this list in the first place. Also, they have both Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko signed to huge long-term contracts. General manager Kenny Williams is unpredictable, so maybe he can Jedi mind-trick Pujols into moving back to the hot corner … but I doubt it.
I'm going to scratch the Yankees off the above list, because they have a $22-plus million annually long-term commitment to Mark Teixeira, plus a long list of aging players that will need to share the DH position until most of us are receiving Social Security. Not to mention, one of those aging players is A-Rod, who ripped up the balance of that $252 million contract only to get Hank Steinbrenner to panic and up that contract when no one else was within $100 million.
The Cubs stay on the list. They have committed $10 million this year to Carlos Pena to play first base, but that's a one-year commitment. The Cubs' salaries for Aramis Ramirez and Kosuke Fukudome come off the books in 2012. So, the Cubs will have both money to spend and the need for a first baseman when the 2011 season comes to an end. Not to mention their new ownership who might be very eager to make a splash.
The Angels stay on the list. Given the way that Moreno has reacted the last few years about the front-line free agents he didn't get, I can't see him going the extra yard to land Pujols. He spit the bit on Carl Crawford and pitched a fit about it. But just because I have my doubts doesn't mean we take them off the list. The team has $75 million committed to the 2012 roster, but that ignores many arb-eligible players due for nice raises, like Kendry Morales, Jered Weaver, Erick Aybar and Howie Kendrick. Adding in an estimated $25 million for those four guys puts the team's payroll at $100 million. Are the Angels prepared and able to afford a $150 million payroll? Ask Arte.
The Red Sox stay on the list. True, the Red Sox already have Adrian Gonzalez (assumption that he signs this spring) and Kevin Youkilis manning the corners for years to come. But come 2012, J.D. Drew and David Ortiz will be free agents. The Red Sox will need another big bat in the 2012 lineup, and they'll have some money to spend to acquire that bat. The team has shown an ability to surprise with the Carl Crawford contract, but keep in mind, the Red Sox already have over $101 million committed to the 2012 roster, and that doesn't include Gonzalez's pending deal and the escalating arbitration costs of Jacoby Ellsbury and Clay Buchholz.
The Yankees go back on the list. No way the Yankees let Pujols go to the Red Sox without a fight. OK, maybe the Yankees don't need Pujols, maybe there's no place for him to play. But the Yankees would pay Pujols $30 million a season to replace John Sterling on their radio broadcasts before they'd let him go to the Red Sox. Brian Cashman could whisper: "Albert, we will beat every other offer, but you need to be willing to move to third base four days a week, with a day a week at first with another day or two at DH to keep you fresh."
If Albert Pujols doesn't re-sign with the Cardinals, then he's going to become something else for the Yankees and Red Sox to fight over, even if there's no obvious "need" at either club for his services. I'm still of the belief that he remains in St. Louis the balance of his career. Any other place would be a huge upset. But, if Pujols is truly going to test the free-agent market, prepare for an epic showdown of the league's financial super powers.
Jason Rosenberg is the founder and lead writer of "It's About The Money," a SweetSpot Network member. IIATMS can be found on Facebook and on Twitter. Larry Behrendt contributed to this article and can be followed on Twitter.