Monday, Feb. 28, 2011
By Frankie O
Unexpectedly, the favorite topic at the bar this week had nothing to do with something that is going to affect this year. I know, I know, Chicago, and more specifically, Chicago baseball, is at the origin of Wait till next year! Considering that THIS season doesnt start for a month, even for here, its a little ridiculous to be talking about next season. But thats what happens when the best hitter in baseball, someone in my top two of hitters that I have watched in the last forty years, says that he is going to be a free-agent after this season. Players of that caliber, still in their prime, dont become available often, nor do they come cheaply. And that is where the fun starts.
In the economic age in which we live, financial discussions elicit a lot of passion. But as I readily point out, player salaries, in any sport, are way past absurdity. (I then ask: Has anyone seen the bonuses paid out to the big-wigs at Goldman-Sachs? Now that is worth getting worked up about, but I digress.) The point is though, someone actually pays athletes those salaries and once in a while gladly so.
The saying goes: Stats are for losers. Well, I think that could be said about team payrolls. The only time salaries become a topic is when a player or team, greatly under-perform for what they are being paid. More money being paid means that the expectation for better results rises accordingly. Putting your payroll to levels where its never been, means youre all-in, right Kenny? If the White Sox perform this year like they are being paid, the talk will be of making the right financial investments to put together a winner. If this team does not perform, and I wonder how much time they will be given, things could get very interesting here this summer.
But thats this year. What Im talking about right now is next year. By all accounts, Albert Pujols is playing his last season in St. Louis. I do not believe that they will pay him what he wants. I believe that he thinks he has been under-paid in his current seven-year 100 million contract and I agree with that. The conventional thinking is that St. Louis wants players to sign for less than market value with them, just for the privilege of playing in such a great baseball town. If you look at their payroll they only pay big-money to four guys (10 mil per season) and peanuts (remember, this is a relative term) to the rest. That they are in contention every year is a testament of how shrewd they are. Or are they? Chris Carpenter is paid like an ace, but his health is always a concern. They pay Kyle Loshe 10 mil a year. What? Whos Kyle Loshe? But the eye-opener is the 7-year 120 million (plus an option year)contract that they gave Matt Holliday before the 2010 season. Didnt this contract, to this player, look like protection against losing Pujols if he did not take their low-ball offer? I think it was. This year, Pujols is playing on a 16 million team option that was part of his seven-year deal. He is still UNDER-PAID! If you were serious about keeping him, wouldnt you have made him an offer before now? Isnt having to option your best player a bad sign? My guess is that the Cardinals brass is going to spin this as Albert being greedy. That he thinks hes too good. He is that good! I dont know a lot, (I heard that!) but when you do something in Major League Baseball that hasnt been done before, thats usually pretty good. Ten years straight of 30-homers, 100-RBI and having a .300 avg., has never been done before, never that is until The Machine. His stat line is absolutely incredible. More so though, its incredibly consistent, thus the nick-name. The only other players of our time who are close to matching his productivity are two players with the stain of steroid abuse: Alex Rodriguez and Barry Bonds. Say what you want about those two, but their numbers are scary. Pujols is right with them. And he has done it without a ton of suspicion about him. Averaging 155 games played over ten years tends to erase doubt, since until this point, most abusers tend to break down and need periodic tune-ups.
So what Im trying to say here is that someone is going to have a unique opportunity to shape their franchise with arguably the best player of his time. The price will be steep, but paying for top-of-the-line always is. If you want the best, ante up! The St. Louis argument against doing so is two-fold: His production is bound to go down, why pay for past results? And, who in their right mind, has the ability, and gumption (I really wanted to use another word!) to sign him for what he wants? The number he wants, by the way, is reportedly 10years-300 mill. BOO-YA!
I agree that number sounds insane, but is it? Arent we being told that baseball attendance is the best of all-time? Doesnt it make sense that revenue would be at all-time levels? I have not seen the price of a ticket, or a beer, coming down. A line has to be drawn at some point, but didnt we also say that when we saw the first million dollar player? The first ten million dollar one? The three other major sports have salary caps, will baseball finally join suit? Not without shutting down for a while and that will not benefit anyone, so damn the torpedoes!
So who could it be? Who could be so bold? The usual suspects, the Red Sox and Yankees, are out I think, both having big-contract 1st basemen. The Phillies have Ryan Howard: Trade? The Mets are going to be in Madoff-limbo for a while. The Dodgers have to sort through the messy divorce of their owners. Texas just signed the awful Adrian Beltre deal. Baltimore used to spend money. Detroit? Get serious. The Nats? Now thats a good question. If theyre wacky enough to give Jayson Werth 120 mil, who knows? But it would be shocking. And there are a number of franchises that could make the leap into relevancy, but would they have any money left?
So who are the teams that Cardinals fans should fear could take their Phat Albert away? For my money (easy for me to spend!) it comes down to two teams. One is the Los Angeles California Angels of Anaheim. I dont know if its realistic or not but with owner Arte Moreno is involved, anything is possible. And like I said, with the Dodgers ownership a mess, this could be the perfect opportunity for him to be what hes always wanted: Be the most relevant team in Southern California.
The other is the reason for the animated conversations at the bar: The Chicago Cubs. When you stop laughing, read on! I have written in this blog many times that I believed that something seismic would occur for the Cubbies to end their century-plus of futility. I often pondered this while I was watching games last August and September and was admiring all of the fans dressed as empty seats. Then there was the very public rebuff of Cubs ownership of a loan to the team to be paid by taxpayer money. This is a franchise in need of a jolt and Albert would provide that, and then some. Talk about seismic, this is off the charts!
First off: can they afford him? Yes, and, yes! This team brings in money no matter what I think we can all agree. Coincidentally, after this season, they take four big contracts off the books in Aramis Ramirez, Carlos Silva, Kosuke Fukudome and Carlos Pena. Pena has a one year deal at first base, imagine that. Those contracts are worth about 48 million. Ramirez has an option for 16 million next year and I wish him well with that. Silva and Fukudome are gone, or at least are going to take humongous pay cuts. Pena is on a one year deal that works out perfect for using him as a plan B.
Dont know about you, but I think the team could use a face to help itself in the attendance and loan issues. Say what you want about him, but no matter what, Sammy Sosa put people in the seats and before his fall from grace, he was the face of a franchise that made a ton of cash from it. His face was their case! Sometimes you have to invest money to make even more of it. Having a player of Pujols Hall of Fame stature could only help.
And did I mention, this would only tick Cardinals fans off? How cool is that? Working at a Cubs bar has made this Phillies fan as annoyed with Red Bird fans as anyone wearing blue. Nothing would be better than to help shut their yaps about how many titles they have won and that a rivalry is between teams that win championships more than every hundred years. This reason alone would be enough for me to get a deal done.
So to FINALLY put an end to what Im sure will be many pages spent on this subject for the next 12 months, I think that the Cubs need to follow the wisdom of one of the heroes of my youth, and Dare to be great! The philosopher who uttered that phrase that I will never forget, nor its message, was none other than Julius Erving. The Doc. 6. Its about not being afraid to take advantage of an opportunity, if it means you have a chance to win. Is paying anyone 300 million crazy? Sure it is. But its not like paying the 208 million of the contracts to Fukudome and Alfonso Soriano, now that is CRAZY! Someone is going to be nuts enough to sign him, so why not here? Hes the best hitter in baseball and he could be yours. Theres eight months to get everything in order, and Ill be with you every step of the way. Like LeBron James last year in Cleveland, this will be a story that wont die. Oh, and if what you read here doesnt make any sense, come on I and join me at the bar and Ill serve you till it does, it should only take a couple!