Where will Pujols land?

Where will Albert be knocking them out next year?

by Alex Dorsky

Albert Pujols is a stud.

Although he’s played only 11 seasons, most people agree he could never set foot on a field again and still be a first-ballot hall-of-famer. Pujols’ is a career .328 hitter with 445 HRs and 1329 RBIs, which means he delivers just over 40 HRs and 120 RBI in an average season.

In addition to his personal statistics and accomplishments (3 MVPs), Pujols has anchored World Series winning ball clubs in 2006 and 2011.

Now Albert Pujols is now on the market. He heads a respectable list of big-name free agents this offseason that includes Prince Fielder, Jose Reyes, Jimmy Rollins, and David Ortiz. But Albert is the prize of the lot – the consummate team player, a model of consistency, and in the prime of his career currently at 31 years old.

Realistically, only a few teams can afford him (my Pirates and A’s can only laugh at the idea), so let’s take a look at who’s got a shot.

Rangers: Texas really wants to get over the hump. After losing the World Series to the Giants in 2010 and the Pujols-led Cardinals in 2011, Texas is desperate to win its first title. The Rangers offense is fine, however, and they have good options at 1B already with Mitch Moreland and Mike Napoli, who I imagine will start to see more time at 1B and less at catcher as his career progresses.

Instead, Texas should focus on re-signing its own top-notch free agent – pitcher C.J. Wilson – and solidifying the rotation with someone like Mark Buehrle or Edwin Jackson.

Cubs: If the Rangers are “desperate” to win a title, the Cubs are off-the-charts insane. New president of baseball operations Theo Epstein will do everything in his power to get Pujols to join the North Siders, but I don’t see money being enough to lure Albert to a division rival.

Sorry Cubs fans, but you’d be better off going after players like Ryan Madson, Hiroki Kuroda, and Michael Cuddyer — and you could probably get all 3 for less than what it would cost to get Pujols.

Angels: The Angles seem to throw money at a high-priced free agent year after year (Torii Hunter, Hideki Matsui, Vernon Wells…), so why not go after Pujols too? They’ll toss their hat into the ring, but I don’t envision Albert joining the Halos, although he should be happy to see Arte Moreno drive up his price just by being named as a suitor.

Red Sox: Even though Boston just signed all-star 1B Adrian Gonzalez last year the Red Sox will likely be replacing slugger David Ortiz and want to keep its run of success going. Boston’s rotation, which looked incredibly solid going into 2011, will need Clay Buchholz and Dice-K to stay healthy in 2012 (along with Jon Lester and Josh Beckett) no matter who they sign on offense.

I don’t see the Sox winning the Pujols sweepstakes, either, although it would be cool to see Pujols take shots at the Green Monster night after night.

Marlins: I know, I’m usually bashing the Marlins, but apparently they stepped up to the plate with a serious (9-year, $225 million) offer to Pujols. The Fish already netted firecracker Ozzie Guillen as manager, met with and offered a contract to Jose Reyes, and are reportedly ready to increase payroll to $90 million. These are all clear signs the team wants to build on the momentum of the new stadium opening in 2012 by fielding a playoff-ready team.

With the return of Josh Johnson and another year of experience under the young-but-talented team’s collective belt, look for the Marlins to be playing meaningful games in September this year, with or without Pujols.

Cardinals: Sorry to disappoint fans of the rest of the league, but I expect Pujols to stay put in St. Louis. Sure, last winter he turned down a deal from the Cardinals reportedly worth $195 million over 9 years, but I wouldn’t read too much into that. Pujols was originally signed by the Cardinals in 1999 and debuted with them in 2001.

Albert is old-school in his approach to the game, feels comfortable in St. Louis, and would likely take pride in starting and finishing his career all with one club. I’m not saying he will give St. Louis the coveted home-town discount, but all else being equal my guess is that he prefers to stay with the Cards & they know better than to part with their franchise gem.

There probably won’t be any significant progress until the winter meetings (December 4-8) get underway in Dallas. I think it will take an obscene amount of money to pry Pujols from St. Louis, but stranger things have happened & I’d love to see him in South Florida as a Marlin – maybe he could even convince them to rethink their stupid uniforms…

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