I’m getting a little ahead of myself, I know. Albert Pujols is still under contract with the Cardinals for the remainder of this season, and though he says his negotiation deadline has passed, it’s hard to believe he’ll be finishing his career anywhere other than St. Louis.
Furthermore, he’s going to command a massive (some might say crippling) contract, maybe the largest in the history of baseball. Based on the Orioles spartan payroll history, and recent comments made by current Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail, there is no reason at all to think that the Orioles could sign him, or that they would even try.
But, permit me to daydream for a moment, won’t you? Here are 5 excellent reasons that the Orioles should sign Pujols, if he ever becomes a free agent.
1. He’s possibly the greatest first baseman ever to play the game. (Duh.)
In general, I actually agree that handing out huge deals to aging stars is what many GMs would probably call “a very bad idea”. Typically, a player’s abilities begin to wane in their late thirties, which in the case of Pujols, means you’d only be getting about 4 years of face-melting offensive production. And of course, that assumes that he doesn’t get injured, and more specifically, that he isn’t injured so badly that he can’t even play out the duration of his contract. Unlike the NFL where contracts are not guaranteed, in baseball, teams must pay their players even if they get hurt. Just ask Carl Pavano.
All of that being said, Albert Pujols is quite possibly the greatest first baseman who has ever played the game. If ever there were an exception to a widely regarded axiom of putting too much stock in one player, this is it. Do you know what the lowest batting average Pujols has finished with in the course of his career? .312! The fewest home runs he’s ever hit in a season? 32! He’s the only player in history to have 10 consecutive seasons of more than 30 home runs and over 100 RBIs while hitting at least .300, and those were his first ten seasons in baseball.
Cogitate on that for while.
But what really makes Pujols amazing is not his mastery of any one statistical category. It’s his overall excellence. In addition to his offensive skills, he also has two gold gloves in his trophy collection, and is considered an excellent defender. Pujols high level of play is so consistent that players have taken to simply calling him “the machine”. I’d like to think that should his power ever desert him later in his career, he’ll still be a very good hitter, capable of delivering key base hits in big situations.
Even if we accept that Pujols is greatness personified, however, the question remains: would he be worth the huge contract it would require to land him?
To help frame the issue in Orioles terms, let’s consider a Frank Robinson. Yes, I know that we acquired him via trade. I know that it was 1965 and he was 30 not 32. But go with me for a moment. Consider the tremendous impact he had on our team in only a short time.
Frank Robinson was an Oriole for only 5 years, but in those 5 years, he won the triple crown, guided us to 3 World Series appearances, and was instrumental in helping us win two World Series titles. If we had to do it all over, and we had the opportunity acquire Robinson, but he was only available via free agency and a huge contract, would he have been worth it? It’s not my money, but I say yes.
I think Robinson showed conclusively what kind of an impact a superstar veteran can have on a team in a limited period of time. Even if we only got 5 amazing years out of Pujols, but he could supplement our pre-existing talent and take our team to levels not seen in a generation, I think it would be worth every penny.
2. If we don’t sign him, chances are the Yankees or the Red Sox will.
You know this is true. Pujols projected contract figures to narrow the field of potential suitors, but should he become available, count on New York and Boston being first in line to vie for his services.
But what about Mark Teixeira and Adrian Gonzalez? Aren’t the Yankees and the Sawx both spoken for at the first base position?
Don’t count on it.
I don’t think for a moment that the Yankees of the Red Sox would shy away trading their current first baseman in order to acquire Pujols, even if it meant they had to eat some of the salary owed to their current players to do so. If there were some way that strictly via financial means, the Yankees could reanimate Lou Gehrig, or the Sox could have the cryogenically frozen head of Ted Williams play left field, I’m pretty sure they would.
What better poetic justice could there be than beating our AL east rivals at their own game when the stakes were highest?
If you want to blow your own mind, briefly compare Mark Teixeira’s career statistics to those of Albert Pujols. Teixeira, a very good player, has a lifetime batting average of .278, a career OBP of .377 and 275 total home runs. By comparison, Pujols lifetime average is a semi-ridiculous .331, his career OBP is .421, and he has hit 405 home runs. While we have to be careful to note that Pujols has been in the league two years longer than Teixeira, I think the sizable difference in their career numbers if sufficient to demonstrate how Pujols rises above even All Star caliber players.
Signing Pujols would not only help our team, it would also impair our direct competition. We would win and they would lose. If we didn’t sign him, of course, it would probably be the other way around.
3. His value is highest to an American League team.
Because he’s likely seeking a 10 year deal that will take him into his 40s, a deal with an AL team seems to make the most sense, as it would allow him to get at bats as a DH, or to switch over to being a full-time DH should his health begin to fail him later in his career. Conveniently, we’re an American League team. And, it just so happens that after next year, when Pujols is scheduled to become a free agent, we’ll have a gigantic opening at first base. Sounds like fate to me.
4. He could set the all-time home run record during his next contract.
Apart from single-handedly improving our lineup, Pujols could potentially become the all-time home run record leader as an Oriole. Think about that. The most important and hallowed record in all of professional sport, currently being held hostage by a charlatan, rescued and restored to its proper place by an Oriole. That has to be worth something.
Can you imagine it?
It’s a cool September night in the year 2021. After leading the Orioles to a World Series championship in 2014 and two pennants, Albert Pujols stands on the precipice of history, as he attempts to claim the all-time home run record before a packed stadium of the Baltimore faithful. Now 41, and only able to display faint glints of his former luster, Pujols strides purposefully toward the batter’s box for his second at bat.
The pitcher winds up to deliver his first pitch as the crowd roars. Then, in a split second, a momentary hush falls over the crowd as Jon Miller makes the call:
And he swings, a there’s a drive to deep center field, IT IS GOING, IT IS GOING, IT IS GONE!! NUMBER 763! Move over Barry Bonds, there’s a new home run king, and he hails from Baltimore!
Can you see it? A packed stadium of Oriole fans celebrating the reclamation of baseball’s holy grail with unbridled joy? The baseball disappearing into the dark inky blackness of the Baltimore skyline?
In a way, it would be so ironically appropriate. The eventual home run king signing with Baltimore for big money, when so many years ago Baltimore was forced to relinquish Babe Ruth to the Red Sox in order to keep the then minor league Baltimore Orioles from going bankrupt due to competition from the federal league Baltimore Terrapins.
It’s not often in life that you get a chance to reacquire your soul, purchase your team a front row seat to history, and dropkick fate in the face, but this might be it.
5. It could actually normalize relations between Orioles ownership and fans.
The fact is, long suffering Orioles fans have seen Mussina leave, Davey Johnson fired, and too many years of losing baseball. All of which have slowly eroded interest in what used to be a community institution. Beginning in the golden age of the 1960s and intensifying in the intervening years between the Colts departure and the Ravens arrival, baseball used to mean something special to the city. It was that way, and it could be that way again.
Reading through Peter Richmond’s book Ballpark recently, I thought one-time Orioles owner Eli Jacobs summarized it nicely. “I think Baltimore is the best baseball city in the country,” Jacobs said. “Baseball is more than just baseball in Baltimore. It performs this kind of community function.”
In order for fans to fall back in love with the team, in order for us to reclaim our identity as a great baseball city, some kind of dramatic statement needs to be made. Of course, an extended period of competitiveness would help, but I think problem is deeper than that. I don’t think Baltimore was known as a great baseball city simply because of its dominance, although that was certainly part of it. It wasn’t simply that we won, but how we won, not simply that we had a great team, but how fans embraced that greatness and wove it into the fabric of the city’s unique culture. That’s the goal to which we should aspire.
What better recompense could there be for a decade of lost opportunity, free agents not signed, and greatness forsaken than the immediate credibility brought by a player of Pujols historic caliber? With his track record, work ethic, and winning attitude, he would be an exclamation point at the end of the statement Andy MacPhail is trying to author.
Goodbye “big free agents won’t come to Baltimore” excuses, stand down “they only sign players past their prime” naysayers. Adding Albert Pujols to the Orioles lineup might not only propel Baltimore back to the baseball pantheon, it might actually send a convincing signal that Orioles management cares as much about the team as fans do. And that would be no small accomplishment.
In reality, I know that none of this is going to happen, but it’s still fun to think about.
Grow the arms, buy the bats? How about grow the arms, buy the bat?
I’m just saying, I could live with it.