With Albert Pujols visiting the Miami Marlins and their new stadium this weekend, the process has kicked up another notch in the bidding for the Cardinals' three-time National League most valuable player.
The Marlins are presumed to be one of at least a half dozen teams, including the Cardinals, interested in Pujols, baseball's marquee free agent, although the most serious negotiations probably won't take place until baseball's winter meetings Dec. 4-8 in Dallas. That's when agents, general managers, owners and managers all will be in the same hotel, if not necessarily on the same floor.
A capsule look at the potential suitors:
Money situation • The Marlins, who surely won't finish last in attendance any more, will have more money, in luxury box suites, season tickets and the like, with which to pursue free-agent talent. But their payroll still will have to be capped internally under $90 million. Signing Pujols would take up nearly one-third of that.
Why Albert? • What bigger splash to make for an old team with a new stadium in a new part of town? The Marlins already have expressed interest in National League batting champion Jose Reyes of the New York Mets. But what they really need is pitching.
Money situation • Third baseman Aramis Ramirez's $15 million contract has come off the books, with Ramirez turning down his half of the dual option for a $16 million salary for next season. If the Cubs somehow could peddle combustible and ridiculously expensive righthander Carlos Zambrano ($18 million), they would have even more payroll flexibility.
Why Albert? • Pujols would be an even bigger force in Wrigley Field, where he has had several of his most momentous games, than he is in St. Louis. He would give Theo Epstein, who has taken over the Cubs' baseball operations, instant credibility, not that he needed much. Now, about that pitching ...
Los Angeles Dodgers
Money situation • Not good. Not now, anyway, until a purchase of the team, which has been mishandled by Frank McCourt, can be negotiated.
Why Albert? • For the Dodgers to be relevant again in an area where the fight for the sports dollar is intense, they have to go outside their organization to obtain a big-ticket player. Pujols would serve as that player, especially at a position where James Loney, who will be a free agent after next season, has been disappointing. But if they extend outfielder Matt Kemp, the potential MVP, there won't be much money left.
Los Angeles Angels
Money situation • Until they can figure out a way to flummox somebody into taking the remaining $63 million (three years) due underachieving outfielder Vernon Wells (.218 in 2011) off their hands, the Angels would be hamstrung a bit.
Why Albert? • The Angels have a Hispanic owner in Arturo Moreno. They constantly are fighting the Dodgers for the Southern California market and this would give them a leg up. And they need more offense to run down the two-time American League champion Texas Rangers. The Angels, however, do have Mark Trumbo, who hit 29 homers this season, at first base.
Money situation • The Rangers have enough to bid for one free agent but heretofore it was thought to be their own free agent pitcher, C.J. Wilson, a bust for much of this year's postseason.
Why Albert? • The Rangers have nothing at first base. Everyone saw what Pujols could do in one game at Rangers Ballpark, let alone 81. With any kind of pitching, the Rangers, two-time Worlds Series bridesmaids, could be baseball's premier team. But, as we saw last month, the Rangers' starting pitching wasn't good enough. Their payroll surely will rise from $92 million, but they need an ace.
Money situation • Chairman Bill DeWitt Jr., said last week that the payroll could move up from a season-ending $105 million to $110 million. That rise would take care of a Pujols bump for six weeks but not for six months.
Why Albert? • Why not? For 11 years, he has been the game's best and most prolific hitter. He is the stuff of legends, like only one other player who ever has worn the birds on the bat. When you already have that player, you do everything within reason to keep him. What's within reason? We're about to find out.