Thursday, September 1, 2011

Is It Time to Pony Up and Get Prince or Pujols?

By
Image courtesy of Zimbio via Getty Images
Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols; these are two names I never ever thought in a million years the Toronto Blue Jays would have a chance of signing. Maybe "never ever" has turned into "faint possibility"?

One year ago, the fate of both these players seemed fairly certain. It looked like the Cardinals were going to sign Pujols to a ginormous contract extension, and Fielder was going to go to the highest bidder on the market.

At this time, the Blue Jays were also putting the wheels in motion of transitioning Adam Lind to first base. Two impending free agents like Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols were probably the furthest thing from their minds.

However, a lot can change over the course of one year; while the Adam Lind at first base experiment has gone swimmingly, the batting cleanup project has not. After 11 seasons with the Cards, Albert Pujols may be a free agent for the first time in his career, and Prince Fielder is still going to get paid handsomely.

How does all of this pertain to the Toronto Blue Jays? Very simple - the two biggest free agents on the market this offseason will be first baseman, the Blue Jays could always use a better first baseman, and there is plenty of cash for them to sign one.

For a team such as the Blue Jays who are merely a few pieces away from becoming a true contender, somebody like Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols would definitely help put them over the top. But is it worth all that money?

Under the current regime, Alex Anthopoulos has yet to sign a free agent to a multi-year deal. While fear of commitment can be detrimental in a relationship, this can be a good thing in baseball. Paying top dollar for a player whose best years are behind them does not seem like a road Anthopoulos is willing to go down.

For a few years now, it's been all about building through the draft, signing international free agents, making lucrative trades. The previous regime went out and paid top dollar for the best free agents, and look where it got them.

For AA to deviate from the plan now after instilling the vision of "building from the ground up" would be contradictory to everything he's stood for since taking over the helm in 2009. The game-changer though is if upper-upper management decides the time for contention is now, and the best way to fast track the plan is to sign a top free agent.

Is it just money after all ... the Blue Jays wouldn't have to give up anything in the way of talent or prospects in order to get Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols. And we know the pockets run very deep, so money is not an issue.

If the Blue Jays wanted to go after Pujols or Fielder, there is no question the money is there to do it. They would essentially be bidding against the Yankees, but at no time has there ever been anything said about a "cap" for the Blue Jays.

First thing's first, if the Blue Jays hypothetically sign Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols, I think that signals the beginning of the end of Adam Lind. Sure, they could revert him back to the DH role, but Edwin Encarnacion does the same job (maybe even a little bit better) and $1.5 million dollars cheaper next year.

Plus, Adam Lind's team-friendly contract makes him a very attractive player to acquire via trade. Not to discount everything I said about Lind earlier this week, but there would be too many cooks in the kitchen at first with Lind and either Fielder/Pujols.

If the Blue Jays decided to let the purse strings fly open, who should they target; Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder? Both sluggers are looking for $100 plus million multi-year deals, perhaps even record-setting contracts.

At 27 years old, Prince Fielder is four years the junior of Albert Pujols (and one year younger than Adam Lind mind you). In the baseball business, those four years are the equivalent of big money, which means Fielder is going to want multiple years ... maybe even upwards of seven I'm guessing?

At 31, Albert Pujols can't be as ambitious as Fielder with the length of the contract demands, but he can certainly ask for top dollar. No matter who signs where, I figure Prince signs longer-term but Pujols signs for more money.

With all this being said, if I had to spend my money on either Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols, then I'd put my cash on Prince Fielder. As much as a long-term deal frightens me, I can't see Fielder dropping off to the point where he becomes worthy of being DFA'd.

If you look at the Blue Jays lineup as it currently stands, it's good ... but it's not great. On any given night, the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees one through six hitters are among the best in the league. Pluck any of those players and put them on any other team and they immediately become their best player.

The Blue Jays have a handful of players like that at their disposal, but not quite the core their adversaries in New York and Boston do. All it would take is somebody like Prince to put Toronto in the stratosphere of the Yankees and Red Sox.

With the addition of Prince Fielder, it could really be that watershed moment that turns the tide for this franchise. Just like when the Red Sox acquired Adrian Gonzalez in the offseason and immediately became the favourites to win it all, so too could the Blue Jays if they land Prince Fielder.

The Alex Anthopoulos regime thus far can be summed up like this; a series of small, calculated moves which are designed to lead to the promised land. Signing Prince Fielder would be one big move ... and if it happens, get ready to buckle in.

18 comments:

  1. Adam lind can play LF too. Leas stress on the body too. Maybe he's fighting nagging soreness

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  2. Ian - I was thinking about Pujols, Prince, and the Jays a week or so ago, and I just can’t see it. Giant deals just don’t seem to be the Anthopoulos way, and I don’t think ownership is going to pressure AA to make a big move the way that Godfrey is alleged to have pressured Ricciardi.

    As for Fielder – his physique worries me. He makes me think of Mo Vaughn, who started to physically break down when he went to the Angels at age 31, and really let himself go when he signed with the Mets. It’s a risk, and at age 27, Scott Boras (yes, Boras is Fielder’s agent) is probably going to ask for a 7 or 8 year deal at $20+MM a season.

    A more Anthopoulos-like move would be to wait to see which one of Boston or New York signs one of Fielder or Pujols, and then sign or trade for the 1st baseman or DH who gets pushed out of NY/Bos by the new acquisition. Those kind of under-the-radar moves, thinking outside the box, are more AA’s style (IMO).

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  3. I definitely see Lind traded this off-season. Dodgers are most likely candidate, because of their financial situation.
    If the Jays can't land another 1B, they have options in EE, Cooper, McDade.
    I think Fielder will end up in Washington, and Pujols with the Cubs. I just don't see AA going over 5 years in any deal, but the Cubs and Nats will.


    I do see the Jays making a play at Votto. He's 27 going on 28 in Sept. He'll be 30 as an FA unless the Jays renegotiate his contract and extend him a few more years. If you can give him an extension, you make a deal with the Reds.
    Reds are looking to upgrade SP and they need a SS for next season. Morrow and Hech should get the deal done, but only if the Jays can work out an extension first.

    But I just don't see either Fielder or Pujols here next year. Votto will be the best, cheapest option at that position. Votto is the only one out of the 3 not represented by Boras, so a renegotiation is possible.

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  4. Although it may be a bit of wishful thinking, I definitely think signing either Pujols or Fielder would be a great move by the Jays.

    However if I had my choice between the two of them, I'd spend the extra money to get Pujols and this is why:
    - Fielder is very good but he is reportedly asking for an annual salary of somewhere north of $25 million a year, which isn't much differen't than what Pujols wants.
    - Pujols is a very good defensive 1st basement, while Fielder may be better served as a DH.
    - Fielder is a very good hitter, however, Pujols is looking like one of the top 5 hitters of all time. I don't think a lot of people realize just how good he is. We are talking about a guy that has finished 1st or 2nd in the MVP voting 7 times in the past 9 years.

    As for Lind playing LF, I'm starting to think Eric Thames is the better hitter.

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  5. Nicholas, good point - I completely forget he actually used to patrol the outfield (not incredibly well mind you, but at least that's an option).

    Roberto, if it were purely up to AA, then I don't think he tables an offer to either of these guys. But if there's some pressure from upstairs, that's where things might change.

    It's funny you mention the trade thing, because I was pondering that myself. Some folks are counting the Yankees out of the Pujols/Fielder sweepstakes because they already have a first baseman - but they would both be an upgrade over Mark Teixeira.

    GC, I think you're right ... if the Blue Jays make a play at anybody, then Lind is the first to go. I was kind of hoping they might be able to parlay him into a deal to get Madison Bumgarner, but the Giants already have Aubrey Huff signed to that ridiculous $22 million dollar contract.

    I'd love to see Votto in a Blue Jays uniform, but it's going to take one hell of a package to get him. I'm thinking the kind of haul the Blue Jays got for Halladay ... and THEN SOME (because Votto still has 2 years left). And the Boras thing is also a feather in the Blue Jays cap. Dealing with Scott Boras is like dealing with the devil.

    Peter, another amazing thing about Prince and Pujols is how healthy they have been over the course of their careers. Albert has only missed 68 games in 11 seasons and Fielder has only missed 20 in 7 seasons. That's a pretty amazing track record for a heavier guy like Fielder.

    Right now, I'd say yes - Pujols is the better ballplayer than Fielder. But I believe Prince is just hitting his stride, and with Albert's injury earlier this season, it shows that he may not be quite as inhuman as we once believed.

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  6. Personally, if I'm spending big money this offseason, I'd go out and sign Yu Darvish.

    Then use all of the pitching depth to trade for some sort of big name first baseman, or find one who's popular on Twitter yet disliked by his team's management, or another short-term option through free agency.

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  7. BVH and BlueJaynator, I'm just afraid the same thing might happen to Yu Darvish that happened with Daisuke Matsuzaka. He has a couple of great seasons, and then falls off the radar completely.

    But I guess using Dice-K's $52 million dollar/6 year deal as a benchmark, that's really not all that much if Darvish comes as advertised.

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  8. I don't think AA would pull the string on this type of deal, even if it was possible. That doesn't seem to be his formula, signing the big free agent. Building from within and a strong farm system is his plan. The downside of that is it might take 5 or 6 years or so before the Jays are contenders. The days of going out and getting a Joe Carter, Paul Molitor or Dave Winfield type of player are over. And even though Rogers has deep pockets, they don't seem to be the type to pony up the cash. They are a communications company first and foremost. Hell, the Leafs have tons of money as well, and look at them.

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  9. Tony, a signing of this magnitude is not a typical Alex Anthopoulos move, I'll give you that. But all indications seem to point towards the Blue Jays being much closer to contention than everyone thought - the Rasmus trade, the Kelly Johnson trade, I think these are all signals that Toronto is going for it sooner rather than later.

    With Bautista's contract going into its second year, the window of opportunity may be closing quicker than we think.

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  10. I agree with you, Ian. The window of opportunity is beginning to close. Bautista may only have one more season after this where he'll hit 35+ homeruns. When you have a player of this extreme talent, and some other solid ballplayers in Rasmus and Johnson, who will be in their prime the next couple years, this is the time to contend. Just think of how good this lineup would sound next year:

    Escobar SS
    Rasmus CF
    Bautista RF
    Fielder 1B or DH
    Encarnacion DH (or someone else, maybe a 1B and Fielder could DH)
    Johnson 2B (if he sticks around, which I'm starting to hope he does)
    Lawrie 3B
    Arencibia C
    Eric Thames/Travis Snider LF

    That may be the best line-up the Jays would have for the next 20 years. You know your line-up is good when you have Lawrie-Arencebia-Thames as your 7-8-9 batters. (although i could see Lawrie moving up to the 5-hole for next year). I know it is not AA-style, but signing Fielder would seriously make this club a AL East, even World Series contender. (not to mention it would drive up attendance!)

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  11. Moppi, with the addition of Fielder, that's a phenomenal lineup - one that can truly rival that of the Yankees or Red Sox. Even if a few of the guys regress a little bit next year, the addition of fielder would certainly make up for it.

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  12. I hope the Blue Jays don't sign any of those guys. The Cardinals won't let Pujols leave, they will offer him a share of the team if they have to, they need him there, if not to win championships, at least as the face of the franchise, the next Stan Musial. As for Fielder, I feel sorry for the team that will sign him for an extended extra millionaire contract; let the Cubs do that! The BJ's already have a power hitter in Bautista. If the BJ's spend some money in free agents, I hope they invest it in starting pitching. Someone like CJ Wilson would be a good acquisition for the Jays.

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  13. Mr. Lopezzio, that's always the inherent risk with signing a free agent. There's a danger that their worst years may be behind them, and yet the players are aiming for top dollar with the impression they'll continue to put up those same numbers.

    There's no question the Blue Jays could use some starting pitching, but again ... is Wilson at his peak? There are plenty of young starters in the system who could fill the void, but they are huge question marks when it comes to reliability.

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  14. Ian, you are absolutely right. What I really meant is that if they decide to spend that money in free agents then go for starting pitching instead of power hitters like Fielder and Pujols.

    Having said that, I hope the rumour of AA scouting japanes pitcher Yu Darvish does not become a reality. Japanes players don't seem to flourish in the majors as other international players.

    BTW, good blog, keep up the good work!

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  15. Mr. Lopezzio, I hope the Blue Jays aren't that serious about Yu Darvish either. Too many variables to go wrong and way too much money up front to sign the guy. Would be much better spent on a free agent.

    And thanks for the kind words and thanks for commenting, I appreciate it!

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  16. Mr. Lopezzio, if you're going to take the time to post why not take the time to look at the free agent class... The Jays arnt going to chase CC and the price for trading for arms is HUGE.

    You buy bats, trade for arms, really not a tough concept to grasp. If the Jays fall in the bottom 15 we don't give up our first to do so either.

    Our farm system is ranked as high as it is because of our arms, yes developing from within is a process with highs and lows but once its established adding 1 young arm at a time to it wont offset the balance, its just getting to that spot.

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