It was a bad week for the top two players in our Mastersball projections for 2011. Albert Pujols made a decision to become a free agent this fall, while Miguel Cabrera had his second alcohol-related incident.
At this point, the latter is not expected to serve any jail time. His manager, Jim Leyland, is unconcerned over the arrest, telling The Detroit News, “I think Miguel Cabrera is probably going to have the biggest year of his life."
Despite his obvious terrible judgment, Cabrera has displaced Pujols at the top of my draft list. I will share with you my thought process as to why I am dropping Albert down to number two. Granted, that isn’t much of a fall, but still may seem blasphemous to some.
When I am not here dispensing fantasy baseball opinions at Mastersball, I focus my writing energies on the St. Louis Cardinals, including covering Mr. Pujols. As anyone who follows baseball knows, the club’s superstar first baseman has just one year remaining on his current commitment.
Normally, contract negotiations aren’t cause for much concern in fantasy baseball circles. There are some who believe that players might perform better in the final year of a deal, while on a “salary drive.” Yet there are probably just as many owners who fear a player may stumble under the pressure and impending career uncertainty.
At first blush, Pujols would seem to be impervious to such trivial matters. In fact, he may be resistant to nuclear attack. In his ten seasons with the Cardinals, the 31-year-old batted at least .300 with 30 or more home runs and at least 100 RBI every single year, extending his own existing Major League record.
2011 is a bit different, however. Pujols has never been an impending free agent before. He signed his current deal before he ever reached arbitration. Now, there is a standoff as the player and club have ceased contract negotiations until after the season. Pujols is almost certainly going to test his market value as a free agent.
Though he says he wants to be a Cardinal forever, Pujols has to be wondering if circumstances will allow him to remain in his only home as a major leaguer.
While the acknowledged best player in baseball has nothing to fear regarding his financial security, having watched him closely over the years, I fear the situation may weigh on him during 2011. Perhaps it won’t be one overriding factor, but a thousand cuts might even cause the great Pujols to shed some blood.
Despite Pujols having written ten of the most consistent years in baseball history on his resume, if there would ever be a time for him to be impacted by external factors, it is now.
Though he says he is done talking about the contract, Pujols is destined to be queried at every road stop as to how he might like playing in that city in the future. Anything that threatens to take Pujols away from his game focus will be met with anger and disgust. I know; I have seen it first hand.
The media will continue to speculate all year long how many years and how much money it will take and which clubs are viewed to be the leaders in the derby to secure Pujols’ ongoing services. As the season progresses into the fall, the hype will only grow to what may become LeBron James levels of noise.
Deep inside, Pujols may have to deal with personal considerations. He might be concerned about the possibility of relocating his young family to a new city and area of the country. His wife is from the nearby Kansas City area, as are a number of Pujols’ American relatives. He is a native of the Dominican Republic.
The agent representing Pujols, Dan Lozano, broke off from the Beverly Hills Sports Council last year, taking his top client with him. Lozano may be motivated to place his name among MLB’s agent heavyweights by scoring a record contract for Pujols. Alex Rodriguez/Scott Boras remain the champions at 10 years/$275 million, of course.
Further, a player who has probably never been booed in his life may face backlash from some his adoring legions of Cardinals fans. Having stated in the past that money was not the issue, Pujols’ actions seem to be indicating that it in fact may be.
His only major league manager, Tony La Russa, may have been worried about this perception issue when earlier this week, he tried to paint the Players’ Union as the bad guys. La Russa claimed the Union is applying significant pressure on Pujols to hit the open market and seek top dollar.
These allegations were flatly denied by Union head Michael Weiner, yet does anyone doubt that baseball’s labor organizers would not want to see Pujols accepting a hometown discount from St. Louis?
My feeling is that La Russa is concerned both about the impact on Pujols as well as his baseball team and was trying to do whatever he could to draw heat away. If that is the case, it would not be the first time La Russa has deployed this type of diversionary tactic. Despite his likely intentions, did the manager just add to his player’s woes?
Pujols does hold the no-trade protection card, a right he earned at the completion of his tenth season as a major leaguer. He has made it clear he would veto any move and the Cardinals say they will respect his wishes.
Yet the combination of these many pressures could knock baseball’s top player down at least one notch in fantasy production this season. Perhaps the dip would be so small that few would notice, but Pujols has always been measured on a different scale than others.
In the meantime, character flaws and all, Cabrera is my new number one.
Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 13-year history. He is a 2009 NFBC league winner and finished in the top 25 nationally in both the NFBC and NFFC that season. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com.