- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN Insider
Anyone who played Batman and Robin with a friend as a kid will know why it's so very important to get this question answered: If Albert Pujols takes his talents to South Beach, joining Heath Bell and Jose Reyes, is he the LeBron James of the trio?
Bell carries less star power than the other two, so he's the Chris Bosh. But is Reyes or Pujols the LeBron James, and which of the two is the Dwyane Wade?
The big knock on James is that he's never won a championship, and Pujols has won two. On the other hand, Wade and Reyes are both speed guys and seem to match up in style, and with all due respect to Wade, James is the bigger star, no matter how much championship bling Wade has.
Without a doubt, Pujols is a bigger star than Reyes. Pujols may finish his career among the five or six greatest players of all time, ranked somewhere among Babe Ruth and Willie Mays and Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds, and may soon have something else in common with all those players -- playing for more than one team in his career.
It's impossible to envision Pujols playing in a uniform other than that of the St. Louis Cardinals, least of all in the mismatched pajama look of the Miami Marlins. This is like a former president moving from the White House to the Playboy mansion.
But friends have been saying for months that Pujols is ready to leave the Cardinals, if it comes down to that, if the St. Louis offer is significantly less than that from another team. Somewhere along the way, this went from being personal for Pujols to being all about business. Maybe it was last winter, when the Cardinals offered him a contract that would have given him the fourth-highest salary among first basemen in the majors, a contract less than that of Ryan Howard, Mark Teixeira and Adrian Gonzalez. The Cardinals offered nine years, $198 million, or $22 million a year. For many years, Pujols had been playing under what was generally regarded as a very team-friendly contract, and maybe he expected the Cardinals to step up this time around and give him a deal that reflected his place in the game.
Now it appears Pujols is open to anything, which is why his agent, Dan Lozano, met twice with the Marlins on Monday, met with the Cardinals, and met another time with the Chicago Cubs; another meeting with St. Louis officials could happen this morning. It's a common refrain that all it takes is one rogue owner to change the landscape of an offseason, and it appears that Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria is betting big on his new ballpark and has become something like a teenager with a credit card. The Marlins have never had a payroll of $60 million, yet Loria may be on the verge of spending more than $50 million on three players.
Are there folks in baseball concerned about the Marlins' spending spree? You bet. Is there worry that within a few years, the team will be forced to sell off parts, like a failed haberdashery? Absolutely. It's difficult to find baseball people outside of Miami who believe that fans are going to suddenly fill the new ballpark in a way they never filled the old ballpark. It's difficult to find anyone who thinks the Marlins are going to be a success, and that the sudden and enormous investment in free agents is a sound business plan."But there's nothing they can really do about it," said one high-ranked executive on Monday. "It's [Loria's] money."
Yep. Keep in mind, too, that if Pujols takes the plunge into Miami, he will be looking at the greatest earning potential of his lifetime, between salary and endorsements, and even if Loria's whole experiment blows up, Pujols will be inoculated. He'll get his money, he'll presumably get a full no-trade clause, and he'll dictate exactly where he will be traded. Think about what happened to Alex Rodriguez and the Texas Rangers -- after the grand experiment failed, A-Rod forced his way to the New York Yankees, where he has made more money.
Soon we will know if Pujols is going to the Marlins, and while there will not be a show titled "The Decision" for the first baseman, he would have to be the LeBron of the trio. Because the shock in St. Louis over the departure of Pujols would be comparable to the empty, hurt feeling that filled Akron after James left his home state.
Bell is Bosh.
Reyes is Wade.
Pujols would be LeBron.
Don't discount the Marlins' chances, writes Clark Spencer. The Marlins' president can't possibly agree with what's going on, writes Mike Berardino. The New York Mets and Marlins are at opposite ends of a spectrum, writes Tyler Kepner.
The Cubs met with Pujols' agent, and they did talk about Pujols.
• MapQuest estimates a drive time of 19 minutes from the place where C.J. Wilson went to high school, Fountain Valley, to the home park of the Los Angeles Angels. Now, we know the traffic in that area can be brutal, so it's probably safer to say that it would take 25 minutes to cover the 12.02 miles. Either way, it's pretty darned close, and if Wilson signed with the Angels, he knows he would drop into a rotation that already has Jered Weaver, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana -- a rotation capable of driving the Angels back to the top of the AL West.
Wilson, a great college hitter, would probably love to play under National League rules, and there might be something really tempting about pitching with the Nationals alongside Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann, or joining the parade headed to Miami.
Wilson could go back to Texas, too, where he knows the players, the pitching coach, the media.
But remember: 12.02 miles. That's pretty close to home. The Angels have continued their serious pursuit of Wilson, writes Mike DiGiovanna.
Moves, deals and decisions
3. Some ancient history: Last winter, the Philadelphia Phillies were on the verge of trading Placido Polanco in a deal for Michael Young, but the Rangers backed out. Now the Phillies are trying to dump Polanco, and they could be looking at Aramis Ramirez. The Phillies are also looking for a veteran reliever.
5. Ned Yost expects the Kansas City Royals to play much better than .500 next season. The Royals are looking for a situational lefty, and they are one of the teams that has checked in on Gio Gonzalez; the Oakland Athletics and Royals would seem to match up well for a possible deal, but I wonder if the better fit would be with Trevor Cahill, who is under contract for years to come.
8. Oakland is active in trade discussions, writes Joe Stiglich.
11. Another closer came off the board, but not to the Tampa Bay Rays. Alex Anthopoulos says he'd prefer to go the trade route; the best available closers through trade are Andrew Bailey and Huston Street. Anthopoulos is confident he'll get somebody good, writes Richard Griffin.
16. The Marlins don't appear to be major players for a couple of Cuban defectors.
17. Bernie Madoff had everything to do with Reyes leaving.
19. Brian Cashman expects the winter meetings will be quiet for his team.
20. Brady Anderson will be doing more scouting for the Baltimore Orioles. There is something slightly amusing and ironic about this to me, because when I covered Brady as a player, he used to hate when I quoted scouts anonymously in columns I wrote because he felt they didn't know what they were talking about. My response to Brady was, "Do you know who scouts are? Former players." Like Brady Anderson now.
21. Dusty Baker is not ready to retire; he wants to win. The Cincinnati Reds are desperately trying to find a way to keep Joey Votto and will not trade him any time soon, but let's face it -- the math may eventually force them to move him.
24. Robin Ventura wants to keep Buehrle.
25. A couple of young players will battle for the Rays' shortstop job, says Joe Maddon.
Phil Rogers doesn't feel like celebrating because of how the voting played out.
• The Athletics are sensing momentum is building for them to get a new ballpark.
• Sam Mellinger has some thoughts about the firing of Frank White and a producer.
• Welcome, Terry Francona.
• Vanderbilt is headed to the Liberty Bowl.
And today will be better than yesterday.