Side-by-side with the daily baseball scores throughout this season will be projections where Albert Pujols, who fancies himself the most expensive free agent ever, will land for 2012.
And, of course, you'll hear the Cubs frequently linked as Pujols' next employer.
The only way to address this overheated subject is to apply calm logic. As much as their hearts crave Pujols, Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts and GM Jim Hendry will have to use their heads here. Pujols won't be coming, and when it's all said and done, probably will end up back in St. Louis.
If you paid attention recently to Ricketts' opening-spring training talk, the bossman said mega-money paid out wasn't as much of an issue as length of contract. He can only look at his own payroll with three more fat years of probable dead money owed to Alfonso Soriano after this season. That deal can't be moved or paid off. So why would Ricketts okay yet another, even bigger eight-year contract to Pujols taking him to 40 -- an age at which the only productive slugger in recent history, a certain B. Bonds, was juiced up?
Say for half an eight-year deal, Pujols continues at his two-sluggers-worth-in-one-body level of production. Great. Will that also guarantee a World Series title or two? Then for a couple more years in the contract, Pujols has decent, but declining numbers, not worthy of $30 million. And, finally, the wrap-up couple of seasons, he has to rest frequently due to age or injuries. Remember, there's no DH to which he can park his old bones in the National League.
In the final four years, one man is taking up a big chunk of payroll, hamstringing the team. What if baseball economics or labor rules change to a lower-level of total compensation in that time? If you think the Soriano deal now is the ultimate albatross, how would a Pujols payout be regarded in 2018?
Major League Baseball has existed in a protective bubble for too long, as if the real world never affected it. The game unfairly benefited from an anti-trust exemption. More recently sponsor and TV money enabled much of the game to defy the laws of economics. Big-market teams operate in their own league. Video replays are an integral part of all other pro sports, yet are largely kept at arm's length in baseball. The Great Recession has battered fans' income levels, but the majority of teams refuse to freeze or lower ticket prices.
In this bubble that too many feel will never burst, a rogue owner or two will ignore economics and offer Pujols his dream deal if he does not return to St. Louis. I just don't think Ricketts will be that individual. I think he means what he says about growing the Cubs from within and filling in the remaining holes with reasonable free agents or the products of trades, instead of overpaying the same to fill every lineup and pitching need.
On a visceral level, Pujols the Cub would be just compensation, 48 years' coming, for the Cardinals' heist of Lou Brock from Chicago. On a practical note, it's better the Cubs develop their own Pujols, at long last, netting a diamond in the rough in the 13th round. That would be a greater, and probably much less expensive feat over the long run, than paying out $240 million or more to a player having passed the second-half divide of his career.