On Wednesday afternoon, Albert Pujols was standing outside of his restaurant watching the unveiling of a ten foot statue of himself outside his suburban St. Louis restaurant. It was a proud moment for Pujols and his family as they looked at the statue of the slugging first baseman pointing to the sky, just as he has done after every one of his 445 home runs wearing a Cardinals uniform.
The statue resembles a familiar sight to so many St. Louis fans. But will the statue be their last memory of Pujols pointing to the sky after a home run in a Cardinals uniform?
Pujols officially became a free agent on Sunday. But at 11 pm CT on Wednesday night, Pujols will hit the open market and every team in Major League Baseball will have a crack at signing the slugging first baseman, who has likely already paved his way into a future invitation at Cooperstown.
Many in St. Louis, perhaps because of the never-ending high of a World Series Championship, are optimistic about Pujols returning to St. Louis and donning the Cardinals uniform for the rest of his career.
How could he not want to return to a franchise that has won eleven World Series Championships? A franchise that churns the gates with over $3 million adoring fans each and every season?
Cardinals fans wanting Pujols to return to St. Louis point out that the traditional bidders of high prized free agents won't be in the "El Hombre" sweepstakes. The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox already have high priced, productive first basemen. The New York Mets and Los Angeles Dodgers, typically teams willing to pay up for free agents, are both in dire financial situations.
In the eyes of all Cardinals fans, Albert's heart, and his statue, are already in St. Louis. But is that really true? Does Albert's heart really belong to the Gateway City?
I, like everyone else in the great city of St. Louis, hope to see Albert Pujols return to the Cardinals. I want to see #5 receive his World Series ring before the home opener in 2012. I want to see Albert Pujols hitting third, playing first base, and smiling in a Cardinals uniform after smacking a double in the left field gap at Busch Stadium on Friday, April 6th, 2012 against the Milwaukee Brewers.
I want Albert Pujols to finish his career wearing the birds on the bat.
But just as Cardinals right fielder, and possible first baseman next season, Lance Berkman said before he received his one year contract extension, it is always about money.
Albert Pujols is a different type of player. Analysts always point out how the ball sounds different when it comes off of his bat. His work ethic, determination, and pure guts are unmatched.
And because Albert Pujols is a different type of player, different type of bidders for his services will arise. The usual suspects like the Yankees, Red Sox, Angels and Chicago Cubs will certainly test the waters with Pujols.
But they will not be the only teams making phone calls to Dan Lozano, Pujols' agent. I believe there will be plenty of other suitors, teams that Pujols may find enticing to play for.
Here is a list of teams that I think will make a serious run at Albert Pujols and that he may seriously consider.
San Francisco Giants - The Giants offer an intriguing option for Pujols. They have the money necessary to pay him and also an opening at first base and a need for a middle of the bat order to go along with their dominant pitching. If Pujols is looking for a fan base that adores him, San Francisco has been known to go bonkers over a superstar in the past. His name was Barry Bonds.
Florida Marlins - The Marlins are opening a new stadium near downtown Miami next season and conveniently, the Cardinals are scheduled to open the new stadium as the visiting team. Pujols is also a Latin player and has been close to Latin teammates like Yadier Molina, and more recently, Rafael Furcal. The Marlins have a new Latin manager in Ozzie Guillen, a superstar Latin shortstop in Hanley Ramirez, and a thriving Latin community that might support a baseball franchise that would suddenly be dangerous with Albert Pujols at first base.
Washington Nationals - The Nationals showed last year that they are willing to spend big time money when the gave Jayson Werth a ludicrous contract. Now that Albert Pujols is available to the highest bidder, who says they won't open up the bank again? The Nationals can move Michael Morse to the outfield and bring in Pujols to be a cog in the middle of a young and very talented lineup. The Nationals are on the fringe of being very, very good team and Pujols obviously can help to push them over the edge. Plus, along with pitching sensation Stephen Strasburg, Albert's presence in Washington would help the organization fill the stadium each and every night.
So while it is easy to speculate that the Yankees, Cubs, Angels, and Red Sox will bid on Pujols' services, lets not forget about these other teams who be looking to land a big fish.
I hope Albert returns to St. Louis and I believe the Cardinals organization will do everything they can to keep him in a Redbirds uniform. I just worry, that for this type of star, too many teams will be in the market and be willing to pay Pujols an absurd amount of money. And when demand goes up, so does the price.
Lets just hope Pujols' heart is planted in St. Louis just like his statue.