If Pujols gets to market, Cubs shouldn't worry about money

For perhaps the first time in its angst-ridden history of anticipation, the Cubs organization…

Georgia (Feb 17, 2011) — For perhaps the first time in its angst-ridden history of anticipation, the Cubs organization stands within hours of spending this year waiting till next year.


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Wednesday's 11 a.m. deadline for the Cardinals to strike a deal with first baseman Albert Pujols or halt negotiations until after the season threatens to induce three-martini lunches all over Wrigleyville.

I still believe if the Cardinals meet Pujols' terms, say, during the All-Star break with a 10-year, $300 million offer that figures to keep him in St. Louis and thrill a baseball city, he would sign it. But if Pujols wants to follow the LeBron James Guidebook to Free Agency, so be it. It's his legacy.

As for Chicago's role in baseball's biggest drama, the Bulls made the playoffs last season while they waited for the summer of 2010. If the Cubs pull off the same trick this summer passing time until the Pujols derby, they might start casting Mike Quade in bronze right there in the dugout.

With a lineup and rotation full of maybes, I'm not sure anybody really knows yet what this Cubs team will look like. Except that it looks headed for third place.

Hypothetically, how would the view of the future change if Pujols ever became a Cub? Exactly.

That's why, at any cost, if Pujols' free agency looks imminent, the Ricketts family should spend the summer clearing budget space and consider embracing Pujols like a fifth sibling. The Sox already have "All In'' as their slogan, but it describes what the Cubs' mindset should be if Pujols and the Cardinals can't reach an 11th-hour agreement.

From the outside looking in, suggesting the Cubs pursue Pujols if he's available seems as obvious as saying it's smart for Carlos Zambrano to start shopping for good psychologists. Yet as badly as the Rickettses still need to make a signature personnel move, I don't assume the Cubs would display the financial abandon often seen in such bidding wars.

Through no fault of the Ricketts family, Alfonso Soriano still will have three years and $54 million remaining on his burdensome contract in November. Zambrano will have one year and $18 million left. Just a guess, but Carlos Pena and Matt Garza aren't going to cure the attendance issues that concerned ownership last year.

It might not matter how popular landing Pujols would make Chairman Tom Ricketts given that most Cardinals fans would rather see the Gateway Arch wrapped in ivy than their No. 5 wearing Cubbie blue. For a guy as fiscally responsible as Ricketts, committing $300 million over the next decade to one player, even the best one in baseball, would surprise me.

How many starting pitchers might $300 million buy? That's 35.5 percent of the $845 million the Ricketts family paid for the franchise.

The constant Ricketts theme has been growing through the minor leagues and Latin America. In that way the championship model Ricketts seeks to build resembles the Twins more than the Yankees. Right now it is easier to envision Ricketts investing a small fortune in the Dominican, where he has scouted land for a development facility, than paying $300 million for the Dominican.

But this is now. Ricketts is a smart guy. By November maybe he will have his sabermetricians crunch numbers to justify pursuing Pujols — because statistically the pursuit can be justified. And it has little to do with the nugget that, in 296 career at-bats at Wrigley, Pujols has 25 home runs and 64 RBIs — one homer every 11.84 at-bats.

"Over the term of a 10-year contract I estimate (Pujols') average annual worth to range from $33 million to $45 million,'' said J.C. Bradbury, an economist from Kennesaw State University who wrote "Hot Stove Economics.''

Bradbury acknowledges how tricky it is to estimate Pujols' worth in 10 years. But he projects contracts based on a player's historical impact of winning on team revenue, aging patterns of players and league revenue growth. Having studied the effects of aging on production, Bradbury stops at age 36 because the sample size of players good enough to play into their late 30s and early 40s is too small to form conclusions.

"But Pujols is so good that even as his production drops off, he will continue to be one of the best players in the league between 38 and 42,'' Bradbury predicted.

Tom Tango, a sabermetric expert who wrote "The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball," pointed out in an e-mail to the Tribune that concerns over production in the latter part of a 10-year deal ignore the likelihood Pujols would outperform the contract in the early portion of it.

Any team signing Pujols to that deal would "get a big discount in the early part and are going to pay for it in the back end of the deal,'' said Tango, whom major league teams have used as a consultant.

He compared such a long-term investment to a 30-year home mortgage where "you are overpaying today so that you can underpay in the end.''

All over Cubdom, fans already imagine Ricketts handing Pujols the pen to close the deal. If the deadline passes without a new contract for Pujols with the Cardinals, immediately they finally have something at Clark and Addison worth rooting for in 2011 besides Kerry Wood.


A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu