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Should the Royals Crown Pujols?

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Albert Pujols congratulates himself on being awesome. (AP)

Remember that whole “The Decision” deal that LeBron James did last summer?

Well, that’s roughly what’s going on now with Albert Pujols.

With his rejection of St. Louis at their agreed signing deadline yesterday, Pujols threw his hat into the free agency ring after the 2011 season. He’ll be the most sought-after free agent, of course, leading the duo of himself and Prince Fielder in potentially leaving the NL Central as a much less powerful place than it is now.

Now, there are a lot of teams that are expected to be involved with Pujols when the madness ensues. Many people don’t really consider the Royals to be involved. That’s fair, considering their history with big-name free agents, but a discussion within the fan base has arisen about whether they could push to get after Pujols and bring him in.

But is it realistic to think the Royals could get involved? If so, would that even be a good idea for the team’s future?

Bob Fescoe of 610 Sports has been bringing it up lately and is convinced that the Royals will be ready to jump into the insanity when the season ends and the bidding war begins. On the other side of the spectrum, Bob Dutton wrote an article in the KC Star on Monday that ran with the idea that there’s no way Pujols ends up in Kansas City. The money quote from David Glass was this:

“No,” Glass said. “We would not sign any individual player to a $300 million contract.”

Now, that number is one that has been thrown out in the Pujols talk for some time. It’s the idea of $30 million dollars over ten years, which would be the biggest contract in history. It’s a number that would never be associated with the Royals. The biggest contract on a year-to-year basis has been the Jose Guillen deal, if I recall correctly, who was given $12 million per year. Gil Meche pulled $12.4 million in 2010. Jumping to $30 million seems an outrageous idea.

“There’s little justification,” Glass said, “in giving anybody a $300 million contract. You might as well give them the franchise.”

Of course, David Glass can say whatever he wants. Smokescreens are a typical part of the game. Heck, Dayton Moore threw us a wicked one last year when the club was expected to draft catcher Yasmani Grandal over Christian Colon. We know they can do it, so why isn’t now one of those times?

It’s also good to note that the contract may well not reach $300 million. It may be $30 million over seven years. Maybe it’ll be eight years. It’s a small point, but it’s likely that Glass was pressed on that round $300 million number rather than on just signing Pujols. I just wanted to make that distinction.

Even with that, the money doesn’t make sense to me. I don’t think it makes sense to anyone. Sure, the only guaranteed money on the books for 2010 is Billy Butler’s newly-minted contract. The Royals will assuredly pick up Joakim Soria’s option. Those two add up to $12 million. The guys from the minors will be at league minimum, and since there will be many of them on the roster, a lot of the players will be on the cheap. It’s not that there’s isn’t money available now. It’s that you want that money to be available for other things, like signing young guys to long contracts, a la the Rays and Evan Longoria.

The money doesn’t really make sense, but think of the positives. Albert Pujols is from Kansas City. He went to high school there. He went to college there. They Royals just somehow ignored him in the darkening days of the late 1990’s, drafting giants like Kyle Snyder, Jimmy Gobble, Mike MacDougal, Wes Obermueller, Ken Harvey, and Tony Cogan before Pujols was taken in the 13th round. Oh, and those are just the ones that reached the majors, totaling 2.3 WAR in their careers.* Pujols has accumulated 83.8 WAR in 10 major league seasons.

*Don’t let me neglect the drafting of Mark Ellis, who we likely all know and who the Royals sent to Oakland with Johnny Damon in the deal that brought the great Angel Berroa to Kansas City.

Now, I don’t want to devolve into a talk of “We should’ve drafted him first!” But it’s fair to say that the Royals had a great guy in their backyard that they didn’t bring in. That’s just the thing, though. He’s from their backyard. Pujols could be interested in returning to the place that was his home for a few years. He could be looking to settle back in to the place where he continued his growth into the great player that he is now. And it’s possible that he’s interested in playing with a team on the rise and returning the Royals to significance.

“There are only a few clubs who can sign that kind of star on the open market,” one club official said. “For us to get a guy like that, he’d really have to want to come here. We couldn’t win a bidding war.”

That’s a lot to assume, though. He did only spend a few years in Independence and Kansas City, so it’s not as if he was raised in the city. Still, there’s some power to that association, and it could be that Pujols will keep that in mind and give the Royals the time of day. Will he give them a discount? Probably not, as it seems he won’t give any team a discount. Still, his ties to Kansas City could open him up to the possibility of coming to Kauffman on a long-term basis.

It could happen. I don’t think it’s likely and I don’t think the Royals will want to dish out the money, but it could happen.

Now, should it happen?

Pujols is an amazing player. Incredible player. He’s the best player any of us have ever seen, unless you’re well-aged enough to have seen Mickey Mantle, etc. and want to debate abilities. For me, though, he’s the best. Not Alex Rodriguez. Not Derek Jeter. Not Manny Ramirez or Roger Clemens or Pedro Martinez or Barry Bonds. Albert Pujols is the best.

Why wouldn’t you want that on your team? He’s the best in the sport right now and gives a massive boost to his team purely by being him. He’s never batted under .312, even in his rookie season, and his on-base percentage is .426 over his career. His OPS has only been under 1.000 twice, with one of those being .997. The fewest home runs he’s hit in a season is 32, which, you might know, is only four fewer than Steve Balboni’s team record of 36. Pujols would be a centerpiece for a team that is going to be young and looking for added production to propel them forward.

There’s no questioning that every team would want that sort of offense on their team. But should the Royals sell the city for it? I would have to say no.

It’s a hard decision to make. On the one hand, you have a guy that shows no signs of slowing. He could seemingly play at a high level forever. Since it would take a long contract to bring him in, it’s important to note that he’s likely to stick around. It’s not the same situation as with Minnesota and Joe Mauer, whose knees could give out, forcing him to first base or DH and effectively decreasing his value. Pujols should stay where he is and be fine there for years. Time isn’t likely to be a problem.

The real problem is, you guessed it, money. And I hate to say that purely because I’m tired of so many Royals fans being mad because the ownership is “cheap” or “unwilling to spend.” I’ve even heard that some people are mad because the payroll is so low. Well, I guess they should be sorry that Gil Meche and Zack Greinke are gone. What are they supposed to do, go sign every remaining free agent to make up the money? Sorry, but that’s not going to fly.

No, the Royals don’t want to commit what could be more than a third of their payroll in a few years to one guy. I would guess that’s the case, at least. I know I wouldn’t want them to do that. When you want to keep around the young guns that will soon be emerging, you need to commit a significant amount of the payroll to them. On a team where the payroll won’t pass $100 million, at least not for a while, taking a huge chunk of the money out for one guy isn’t a smart decision. You want to sign the guys we develop and keep them on the team. Of course, things might not work out perfectly for all the prospects, but when they do you want to hold them. This isn’t the team of the early 2000’s. This Royals team is about keeping youth around.

To keep that youth around, you need to sign them. You need to have the money to commit to them. Like I already said, bringing in a guy that takes a massive amount of your payroll isn’t conducive to that strategy. And if the Royals want to change the culture of the club, which they do, they won’t bring in Pujols partially for the reason that it just doesn’t make enough sense for their future.

It’s hard to make that decision. It’s hard to give up on the idea of adding the best player I’ve ever seen to my favorite team. I just can’t get over the money it’ll take to bring him in and I worry that committing that much money could put the team in a huge future hole.

Don’t agree? Convince me otherwise in the comments.

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Tags: AL Central Albert Pujols Baseball David Glass Kansas City Royals KC MLB Royals

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