On the same day the Florida Marlins rebranded themselves with a new name and a new look to go with their new ballpark, executives with the club continued their aggressive pursuit of new players by wooing the biggest fish in the market, three-time MVP Albert Pujols.
Pujols and his representative spent all afternoon in Miami meeting with executives from the Marlins. Pujols received a "substantial" offer during the visit, according to a source familiar with the Marlins' plans.
For the first time in his career, Pujols is able to receive contract offers from clubs other than the Cardinals, the only professional franchise he's known. He made it clear during spring training that he planned to explore free agency, and the expectation was that he'd be courted by several teams. Friday offered what could be the first of several recruiting-style visits, during which Pujols receives the same royal treatment a blue-chip prospect might on a campus visit.
Pujols lunched with Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria and other Marlins executives, according to The Miami Herald. He also received a tour of the $515 million ballpark, which will debut next spring on opening day when the Marlins host the World Series champion Cardinals. A source familiar with the Marlins' greeting for Pujols said the club had many action pictures of Pujols around, though each was modified to show him in the new Marlins jersey and hat.
The Cardinals have been focused recently on hiring a new manager, a process general manager John Mozeliak said he hopes is completed by early next week. He described the club as "fairly confident" that the next manager would come from the list of six candidates who had face-to-face interviews in the past two weeks: Cardinals third base coach Jose Oquendo, former catcher Mike Matheny, Hall of Fame infielder Ryne Sandberg, Class AAA Memphis manager Chris Maloney, White Sox third base coach Joe McEwing and former Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona.
It is not known if the Cardinals have altered the offer made to Pujols nearly 10 months ago before the 31-year-old first baseman imposed his deadline to complete an extension with the club. Mozeliak reaffirmed Friday that the Cardinals do not plan to discuss publicly their contact with Pujols' representative Dan Lozano or details of their plans to re-sign the first baseman.
Before spring training, the Cardinals offered Pujols a nine-year, $198 million extension. Details from the Marlins' offer were not available.
Lozano could not be reached to comment.
The Marlins have been one of the most aggressive teams this winter, meeting with shortstop Jose Reyes and lefthanded starter Mark Buehrle. Both free agents also received tours of the new ballpark. Reports out of Miami and on FoxSports.com on Friday said the Marlins had also made contract offers to Reyes and Buehrle. a former Francis Howell North star.
All of the feting of free agents was prelude to the Marlins' big unveiling late Friday night. As part of their move to the new ballpark, which has been built on the former site of the Orange Bowl, the club is renaming itself the Miami Marlins. The name became official Friday night, and the team also released new merchandise and debuted new team uniforms and a new color scheme.
An early step in the club's altered identity was hiring Ozzie Guillen as their new manager near the end of the regular season.
"He's terrific. I can only tell you he loved the stadium," Marlins owner Loria told reporters in Florida late Friday night. "He liked being here. He loves the flavor of Miami as I do and everybody else here does. And we are hopeful that some of these deals will happen.''
The Marlins emerged this season as a potential and aggressive suitor for Pujols despite their years of restrained payroll. The new stadium portends increased revenue for the club that opened the 2011 season with a $56.9-million payroll, the seventh-lowest in the majors, according to USA Today. The Marlins were also emboldened by the fact that Pujols several years ago had listed them as a team to which he would accept a trade.
Before he earned no-trade protection for the final year of his contract with the Cardinals, Pujols had a limited no-trade clause. He had to submit a list of teams during the offseason, and in 2010 he confirmed to the Post-Dispatch that the Marlins, Astros, Angels and Dodgers were four teams on that list. The Texas Rangers also appeared as an option, a source later described.