The Cubs absolutely, positively should -- not only should, but must -- go after Albert Pujols if he leaves St. Louis.
Earlier today, SB Nation Chicago's George Castle posted this column stating why the Cubs and chairman Tom Ricketts shouldn't sign Albert Pujols when he (presumably) leaves the Cardinals via free agency after this season. Of course, there's always the possibility that the Cardinals and Pujols will reach agreement in the five-day window after the World Series when he can only reach a deal with them; or maybe he'll stand down off his pledge to not negotiate during the season. But it appears likely that this will be the last season for Pujols in Cardinals red, and I'm here to tell you that the Cubs absolutely, positively must go after Pujols as priority No. 1 this offseason. The good folks at Fangraphs agree that the Cubs should pursue him.
First, the Cubs signed Carlos Pena to a one-year deal to play first base. There were other choices available who could have been signed to longer deals -- or even Pena, coming off a rough, injury-filled year, could have been given a two-year contract or at least a one-year deal with an option season. But he wasn't. The fact that the Cubs must again go after a first baseman this offseason leaves the door wide open for Pujols, even if Pena has a rebound season.
Second, George writes: "He can only look at his own payroll with three more fat years of probable dead money owed to Alfonso Soriano after this season." Irrelevant, I would argue. There is a ton of money coming off the Cubs' books after this year, including deals for Kosuke Fukudome, Carlos Silva, John Grabow and Aramis Ramirez. True, the Cubs may re-up Ramirez, but the other three deals alone would pay nearly two-thirds of what Pujols is reportedly looking for.
The other thing about the Soriano deal is this: fans look at that deal and blanch, because Soriano's production has been up and down and he's been injured. Nevertheless, the Cubs wouldn't have won the NL Central without Soriano's great September that year, and, more importantly -- Pujols isn't Soriano. Alfonso Soriano is a good player who occasionally puts up All-Star numbers.
Albert Pujols is the best hitter in baseball today and when he's done, he will likely go down as the best righthanded hitter in the history of baseball. George's comparison to Barry Bonds is irrelevant. The comparison to Pujols isn't Bonds; Bonds somehow increased his numbers after turning 34, which is nearly unique in baseball history and, of course, there are the accusations of PED/steroid usage for Bonds that likely made the difference in his numbers.
The proper comparison for Albert Pujols isn't Barry Bonds. Instead, it's Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Ted Williams and Stan Musial -- first-tier Hall of Famers, all of whom had outstanding seasons in their late 30s and early 40s. There's no question in my mind that Pujols, though he will likely decline in performance as he gets older -- as all players do -- can and will still perform at an All-Star level in his late 30s. That's worth having. A creative contract could be devised where Pujols would get his 10 years and approximately $300 million that he's rumored to want, without breaking the bank in the last years of the deal.
There's one more thing that's a key here, and that is the perception of Tom Ricketts and the Ricketts family as owners of the Cubs. Some fans already view them as "cheap" and claim their focus is "fixing the bathrooms at Wrigley", although that's not true; the family has already beefed up their scouting department, is preparing to build new facilities in Arizona and the Dominican Republic, and still will have this year one of the top-five payrolls in the major leagues.
But if Albert Pujols -- as I noted, the best player of his generation and soon to be the greatest righthanded hitter in baseball history, with a real shot at breaking the home run record now held by the reviled Bonds -- becomes available, the Cubs and the Ricketts absolutely have to go after him and sign him, almost at any cost, or risk being labeled as "cheap" for as long as they own the team. That may not be a fair characterization, but it will be reality if Pujols leaves the Cardinals for any team other than the Cubs.
It's more than just tweaking the nose of your biggest divisional rival. It's making a statement that you want to not just raise ticket prices to the level of the "big boys" in New York and Boston -- it's a statement that you'll play their game. Just think of all the $150 blue pinstripe Pujols jerseys they'll sell, not to mention the tickets and TV ratings.
Finally, in Pujols' ten years in St. Louis, they have made the playoffs seven times, been in two World Series and won one of them. As Cubs fans, we'd take that over the next decade. Do it, Tom. Bring Albert Pujols to Wrigley.