The Yankees have a very expensive first baseman, and they don’t plan on getting rid of him soon. On the 23 of December of 2008, the Yanks gave Mark Teixeira an eight-year, $180-million deal with a full no-trade clause, and since then, Teixeira has helped the Yanks win a World Series while missing just 10 regular season games. He had a down year in 2010, but there’s no reason to think he won’t pick it up this year in his age 31 season.
In St. Louis, meanwhile, the Cardinals’ own 31-year-old first baseman is playing out the final year of his contract. Albert Pujols wants to get paid and had set a deadline of yesterday at noon to sign an extension. The Cardinals may or may not have offered him a rather low-ball eight-year offer, and the two sides are heading into the season without a long-term deal in place. They say they won’t negotiate until after the Cardinals’ 2011 campaign is over. While St. Louis needs Albert Pujols far more than he needs them, things could get ugly indeed.
So as the Pujols drama plays out and with the Yanks being the Yankees, everyone and their mothers wants to know if Pujols could come to the Bronx. Of all the crazy speculation, though, the nuttiest comes from Ken Rosenthal. I once laughed at Rosenthal’s proposal that the Phillies, Blue Jays and Mariners engage in some three-team shenanigans over Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay, but I think it’s safe to say that his latest is well divorced from reality. He wants the Cardinals to trade Pujols for Teixeira.
Warning that his piece is “pure speculation,” he thinks it would help everyone. The Cardinals would get their All Star first baseman, and the Yanks would make a splash to counter the Red Sox’s trading for Adrian Gonzalez. Plus, the Bombers could dole out another ten-year, $300-million deal to someone on the wrong side of 30. Everyone wins! Hooray!
The Internet of course had a field day with it. In a vacuum, swapping out Teixeira for Pujols is a no-brainer (sorry, Mark), but things don’t work in a vacuum. As Fangraphs noted, the trade would be insanely lopsided from a WAR perspective, and Teixeira would have no incentive to waive his no-trade clause. He would be the lesser player tasked with replacing Albert Pujols. If Tino Martinez thought he had it rough in 1996 when he was serving as Don Mattingly’s heir, imagine Teixeira stepping in for one of the — if not the — greatest players of all time. Sounds like a blast.
But rather than indulge in fanciful speculation fit for a fantasy baseball league, turn instead to an excellent piece on the state of baseball free agency by Cardinals fan-extraordinaire Will Leitch. Over at New York Magazine’s The Sports Section, Leitch wrote a piece entitled “Albert Pujols, and Why the Yankees Are the Yankees.” Of the Yanks, he writes:
The Yankees, famously, refuse to negotiate with players who are about to be free agents during the season. They can do this because they are the Yankees. Because they have the most money, they can set the market on any player, and they can wait until all information is available. The Cardinals failed to wrap up Pujols early — the way the Twins did with Joe Mauer, for example — not because they didn’t want to keep him around, but because they couldn’t balance the risk (a $300 million, ten-year contract) with the uncertainty (knowing how many teams would be bidding, knowing how Pujols will play this year, whether he’ll stay healthy, and so on). The Yankees never have to worry about that. At the end of every day, the Yankees can pay more than anybody else can, so they can let the market play out. The Cardinals were trying to avoid that. They failed.
The Yankees refuse to negotiate with their free agents, even the Jeters, even the Posadas, until it’s on their terms. The Cardinals — who have the ninth-highest payroll in baseball — can’t even get their top free agent to talk to them until he has decided he is ready, until it is on his terms. The Cardinals didn’t blow an opportunity today through mismanagement or disrespecting their superstar. They just aren’t the Yankees.
Despite this off-season in which Cliff Lee spurned the Yankees for ever-so-slightly fewer dollars and a unique opportunity to pitch in Philadelphia, the Yankees get their guy because, as Leitch said, they can spend. And that brings us to CC Sabathia. The big lefty will exercise his opt-out to one degree or another this year because it makes financial sense for him to do so. That doesn’t mean he wants to leave the Yankees.
Rather, he wants to use his leverage to get more security on the back end. If the Yankees were willing to go all in for Cliff Lee, they’ll certainly do that for the younger and seemingly more durable Sabathia. The Yankees, with their dollars, will keep their man.
In another world, perhaps, Pujols would be a free agent, and the Yanks would have a spot for him. But that other world exists only in the pages of The Onion. Albert isn’t coming here, Mark Teixeira isn’t going anywhere and neither, ultimately, will CC.