So ... where should Albert Pujols go? Or-better question-where will he end up?
Besides his current team, the 2011 World Series champions St. Louis Cardinals, the Miami Marlins, Chicago Cubs, Texas Rangers, Baltimore Orioles and, yes, the New York Yankees, have all been reported to have some level of interest in baseball's best hitter this decade.
However, of all the teams just mentioned, some make sense for Pujols to sign with, while others don't.
On Wednesday, the Palm Beach Post reported that the Marlins actually offered the slugger a nine-year deal worth just under $200 million, making the average annual value around $22 million. That's less than both Alex Rodriguez's annual $25 million with the Yankees and Joe Mauer's annual $23 million with the Minnesota Twins. But, considering the fact that the Marlins are also willing to pay New York Mets free agent shortstop Jose Reyes $90 million over six years and shop around for another starting pitcher such as Mark Buerhle or Roy Oswalt, the offer to Pujols isn't so surprising.
If Pujols wants to start fresh, then the Marlins are the way to go. They just built a new ballpark in one of America's most diverse cities and redesigned their logo and uniforms, basically re-establishing their whole brand and identity. No doubt, Pujols would feel comfortable living in a Spanish-speaking community, where, despite a heavy media base, his private personality will still keep him focused.
The Yankees and Orioles are the two long shots of the group. While most anyone would love to play in New York for a storied franchise, the Yanks have committed too much money to the current roster of players already. To offer Pujols a convincing contract, one or two significant players would probably have to be let go, which would most likely disrupt the cohesion the team has. It's safe to say by now that while Pujols is a great player and would make the Yankees a stronger force, starting pitching is the first priority.
As for the Orioles, whose 2011 salary was $85 million, Pujols would clearly be the franchise player, but the Orioles would be remiss if they were to rely on Pujols to win a championship in the short-term. The Orioles would have to provide the building blocks around Pujols first in order to become a legitimate contender in the AL East, let alone the American League. The Orioles have been at the bottom of the AL East totem pole for many years now. With no clear sign of the Yankees and Boston Red Sox losing their dominance over the division any time soon, even the great Albert Pujols at 31 years of age might not be the answer.
With that said, Pujols would be the definitive answer for the Cubs or Rangers, who are looking to win now-and I mean now. The Rangers have lost back-to-back World Series, despite good hitting, and the Cubs haven't won a championship since, oh, 1908-before World War I. The Rangers have the blocks that would support Pujols-Hamilton, Cruz, Beltre, Napoli, Kinsler and Andrus. If they can re-sign C.J. Wilson, Pujols should be more enticed. Meanwhile, the Cubs have new management, and there is a hole at the first base position. Signing with the Cubs, a division rival of the Cardinals, would be somewhat traitorous of Pujols. But, if the offer reaches its peak value, then it's something that even Pujols might not be able to refuse.
There's a case that each of the above franchises can make for Pujols to join their club, but none seems more right and fitting than the Cardinals. Pujols has won two titles with a franchise just as storied as the Yankees and Cubs and just as talented as the Rangers and Marlins. Pujols has played with the Cardinals his whole career. By re-signing, he can be part of a select few of great players to finish their careers with one team, something that both Pujols and management probably mutually desire to some extent.
We've watched Pujols play with a quiet ferocity, igniting no significant controversy whatsoever. We assume from his play, the way he interacts with teammates and what he has done for the St. Louis community means that he will re-sign, no matter what the value of St. Louis offer is.
There's a reason Pujols is nicknamed The Machine-we don't know what he's thinking because we can't read his thoughts. But, what we do know, is that wherever he ends up, he will produce.