By Dan Bernstein–
At some point today Albert Pujols will either sign an extension with the Cardinals or announce that he is headed to the open market after the season. If the latter is the case, his pending free-agency will infect the discussion of any team believed to be interested in acquiring him.
That means the 2011 Cubs should prepare to have every transaction and every outcome examined in that context: “How does this help them get Pujols?” “Does this mean they’re less likely to get Pujols?”
Each dollar spent or saved, any in-season trade, any attendance figure and every TV rating announced will be seen as some kind of harbinger, with all of them potentially used to support the Albert-is-coming angle that grabs eyes and ears.
In one scenario, Mike Quade’s steady hand leads healthy, resurgent veterans and blossoming young talent to overachievement. The sizzle returns to Wrigleyville. Some will write that the up-and-comers are now a more attractive destination for him. How could Pujols not want to be a part of what’s going on? He’s all they need, now! It’s Gonna Happen!
In another, the clunky roster muddles through an expectedly desultory year. The empty seats as last year wound down, the unsold Cubs Convention tickets, and uncharacteristic advertising push turn out to have, indeed, portended a softer business market. TV numbers edge lower. You will then hear that Tom Ricketts is now compelled to sign Pujols out of sheer need. The negative becomes a positive. Now Ricketts HAS to go get him! It’s Gonna Happen!
Pujols would become the biggest storyline of this Cubs season, even if it simmers on the backburner throughout the year.
If, as expected, the deadline to re-up with St. Louis passes today with no deal, the next seven months of Cubs baseball become about him. And you’re tired of it already?
This is before we even get into debating whether it’s a smart move to give him the $300 million over ten years. Will he be worth it? Is he using performance-enhancing drugs? If he is, should we want him to continue using them after the Cubs sign him? Will he want to after getting paid? Are rhetorical questions useful?
(As far as wanting him to continue whatever juicing many suspect he’s doing, the answer is probably “yes.” Check out this uncanny graph from fangraphs.com. It tracks WAR over age. Orange is Barry Bonds, green is Pujols:)
A 31-year-old Baseball God may be available to a new ownership group with cash concerns. They need to fix a ballpark that is falling apart while servicing the debt they had to incur as part of the purchase agreement. They fumbled their request for public money. Ticket prices will increase, soon and significantly. There’s a JumboTron going up whether you like it or not, on which big, flashy ads will be sold.
Ricketts knows the right way to build a major-league team that sustains quality, controls costs and gives itself the best chance each year for the playoff appearances that provide championship opportunities. He has articulated this belief, including his desire for the savvy application of metric analysis employed by successful, modern front-offices.
Still, smart people act rashly, especially when tantalized by short-term gain. Should Pujols join the Cubs, how soon after do you think the request for tax dollars gets repackaged and resubmitted – five minutes?
We can talk all we want about Carlos Zambrano’s mental problems, Tyler Colvin’s position or Kerry Wood coming home to his happy place.
But the biggest Cubs concern for this year will probably arrive today.
Dan Bernstein has been the co-host of “Boers and Bernstein” since 1999. He joined the station as a reporter/anchor in 1995. The Boers and Bernstein Show airs every weekday from 1PM to 6PM on The Score, 670AM.
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