When experts speculate about potential suitors for Albert Pujols, they usually start with the big budget Yankees and Red Sox, then move quickly to the Cubs -– a prosperous operation that could clear plenty of payroll room in 2012.
But wouldn’t the Royals offer the ultimate free-agency option for Pujols?
Kansas City is home for Albert and Dee Dee, to a significant degree. That is where they met. That is where Pujols played high school and college ball. It's where he worked with his hitting/training mentor to become the machine that he is.
The Royals are loaded with prospects that player development experts love. They have Tampa Bay Rays-like potential, with plenty of big arms and big bats on the way.
That team has significant money committed to just one player beyond 2011, Billy Butler. The Royals loaded up with veterans on one-year deals this season, including pitcher Jeff Francis and outfielder Jeff Francoeur.
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They possess maximum payroll flexibility for 2012. More than most franchises, the Royals can afford to spend $30 million (or more) per season for one hitter.
Ridiculous you say? Hardly.
Only two types of franchises should bid on Pujols: Perennial contenders with money to burn (Yankees, Red Sox) and teams with the most to gain by adding and marketing Pujols.
No other team should apply.
Let’s look at the first category. Do the elite franchises really want to pay an extreme long-term premium for the second half of Albert’s career?
If I’m the Steinbrenner Brothers, I pass on Pujols. The Yankees have Mark Teixeira at first base. That team is already paying Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter handsomely for their twilight years.
Why go down that long, expensive road for another hitter? Shouldn’t the Yankees focus on building the sort of starting pitching staff the Phillies and Giants have?
The same is true in Boston. The Red Sox just got Adrian Gonzalez, a fine talent to build an offense around. For $30-plus million a year, they could invest in other sorts of players -– like shutdown pitchers.
Neither of those teams need Pujols to generate ticket sales, luxury suite rentals and broadcast fees. Both of those franchises are highly successful. Both already have marquee players.
Cubs management must be intrigued by the prospect of swiping Albert from the Cards. But given that franchise’s notoriously bad luck, wouldn’t Pujols be doomed to Tommy John Surgery on his troublesome elbow?
Could he transform that team by drawing one intentional walk after another? Isn’t pitching a bigger concern for that team?
Doesn’t that team make most of its money off its history and its party-at-the-park atmosphere?
The franchise would be better off investing $30 million a year in stadium upgrades to keep Wrigley Field viable.
The Cards can justify overpaying Albert for two obvious reasons: He has been underpaid during every season in St. Louis and he offers extraordinary long-term marketing value for this franchise.
Even if his productivity fades as he reaches his late 30s, his business value would remain immense. This franchise would be worth a LOT more if Albert plays out his career here, then hangs around as an ambassador or some sort of coach.
It's hard to quantify that value, but agent Dan Lozano is giving it a shot.
Should the Cards pass, Pujols would offer similar value to Kansas City. Imagine the impact he would have on ticket sales. Imagine how he would raise the profile of that once-proud franchise in a market weary of losing.
The Royals couldn’t contend right away, of course, but Albert could be the long-awaited catalyst. He could lead by example. He would provide a clubhouse aura that would lift others.
He could become King of Kansas City. Dee Dee could become Queen – an honor she would not earn in big cities like New York, Boston, Chicago or Los Angeles. Over on the West Coast of Missouri, the Pujols family could settle in and enjoy the sort of pleasant life they built here.
Cards fans wouldn’t be thrilled with that, but at least they wouldn’t see much of him as an opponent.
And for those unwilling to attend Cards games in his absence, his new stage would be just four hours away.