The Mayan calendar hints that the world will end in December 2012, but the "Albertageddon" may come this winter if Albert Pujols hits the free agent market. There's already been a great deal of speculation over which of the big-market usual suspects might jump into the fray if the Cardinals don't sign Pujols to an extension, but given Pujols' unique stature in the game, a larger-than-expected number of suitors might emerge.
So, if you're already dreaming about the possibility of seeing Pujols in your favorite team's uniform on Opening Day 2012, let's break down every club's chances of making this dream a reality…
- The Padres, Pirates, Indians, Royals, Diamondbacks, Astros and Rays all don't have the finances to sign Pujols to the $270MM+ contract that he can command on the open market. Also, aside from the Rays, none of these teams look ready to contend in 2012.
- The Marlins can probably be slotted in with the previous group of teams, except for a slim chance that the team would want to make a huge splash as they move into their new stadium in 2012. Signing Pujols would certainly sell a lot of tickets in Miami, but it would be a huge stretch to see Pujols in Marlin teal.
- The Twins have spent a lot of money over the past year, but they can't afford both Joe Mauer and Pujols on the same roster. Plus, Minnesota already has Justin Morneau at first.
- The Rockies have Todd Helton at first base for two more seasons, but besides that, the team probably doesn't have the necessary payroll space after signing Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez to long-term extensions this winter.
- The Phillies have Ryan Howard locked up at first base through at least 2016.
- Pujols has fewer question marks about his fielding and conditioning than Prince Fielder, but still, if the Brewers aren't willing to pay Fielder $200MM over eight years, it's hard to see them paying as much as $300MM for Pujols.
- Between Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko, the White Sox have their 1B/DH spots covered through 2013.
- It isn't Billy Beane's style to pursue top-shelf free agents, so the Athletics are out of the picture.
- The Reds just extended Joey Votto's contract, so they're set at first base for at least the next three years.
- As awe-inspiring as it would be to see Pujols and Miguel Cabrera hitting back-to-back, the Tigers aren't contenders for Prince Albert. Signing Pujols would commit Victor Martinez to an everyday catcher spot, which he might not be able to handle either defensively or physically in the long-term.
- There will be a lot of ink spilled about the prospects of the Mets or Dodgers signing Pujols, but with so much legal controversy surrounding both clubs' ownership situations, it's hard to see where either team could find the money to pay Pujols a historic contract. If the Picard lawsuit or the McCourt case is settled by the fall, however, the Mets or Dodgers could hop into the top tier of contenders.
- The Orioles have shown a willingness to spend money this winter and were deep in the bidding on Mark Teixeira two years ago, but Andy MacPhail recently said that paying a player an average of $30MM per season is too rich for the O's blood.
- The Mariners could probably afford Pujols but would they want to? And, perhaps more importantly, would Pujols sign with a rebuilding team like Seattle?
- The Braves have first base committed to top prospect Freddie Freeman. Even if Freeman struggles in 2011, Atlanta won't give up on him so quickly to chase Pujols.
Probably No Chance, But With Them, You Never Know…
- The Yankees have Mark Teixeira signed through 2016, and they need to keep the DH spot clear for the likes of Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter in the coming years It wouldn't shock me to see the Bombers at least put a feeler out to Pujols' camp, but they don't appear to have room for Pujols. Plus, having both Pujols and A-Rod on the payroll is financially excessive even for the Yankees.
- If the Red Sox let David Ortiz go after 2011, they have an open designated hitter spot for Pujols, or at least a time-share with Adrian Gonzalez between DH and first base. It seems like a waste to have one of two strong defensive first baseman spending half their time at DH, but that's small potatoes compared to the idea of Pujols hitting at Fenway Park. Still, even with a lot of money coming off the books for the Sox next year (Ortiz, J.D. Drew, Mike Cameron, Jonathan Papelbon), it's hard to see even Boston affording both Gonzalez and Pujols, not to mention their other big contracts.
- The Blue Jays. Signing Pujols would instantly make the Jays not just relevant in the AL East, but contenders as well. Rogers Communications is one of baseball's wealthiest ownership groups, so the money would be there if necessary, plus Toronto just freed up over $80MM in payroll room by dealing Vernon Wells to the Angels. The drawbacks are, of course, that Pujols may not be keen to play on an artificial surface, and that everything Alex Anthopoulos has said about his management strategy implies that splurging on a big-ticket free agent like Pujols is unlikely.
- The Giants. The World Series champs look to have Aubrey Huff and rookie Brandon Belt in first base/corner outfield roles next season, so there's certainly a potential hole at first should Belt not live up to his scorching minor league numbers. It's probably more likely that San Francisco chooses to focus its resources on locking up its core pitchers to multiyear deals, but as we've seen in the past, Brian Sabean is no stranger to huge free agent contracts.
- The Rangers. Barring a big breakout campaign from Mitch Moreland, the Rangers have both a hole at first base and (theoretically) the money to afford Pujols. One possible roadblock: Pujols' agent Dan Lozano also represents Michael Young, who doesn't exactly have glowing things to say about Texas right now.
- The Angels. Signing Pujols would quickly erase any lingering bad feelings Angels fans have over the club failing to sign Carl Crawford or Adrian Beltre this winter. Kendry Morales would be moved to DH to accomodate Pujols, or could even be trade bait if he fails to rebound from his injury-shortened 2010 campaign. Bobby Abreu could still be a factor given that his 2012 option will vest with just 433 plate appearances next season, so if the Halos start giving the durable Abreu a lot of days off next summer, you can bet they're gearing up to clear room for a run at Pujols.
- The Nationals. The Jayson Werth signing has taught us that the Nats aren't afraid to outbid teams, even at the risk of regretting that signing years down the road. Having Pujols at first base, Stephen Strasburg healthy, Bryce Harper possibly ready for the majors and the likes of Werth and Ryan Zimmerman already on board would make Washington the talk of the baseball world in 2012.
- The Cubs. We've already heard that Chicago would be prepared to offer Pujols an Alex Rodriguez-esque contract. The Cubs have Carlos Silva, Kosuke Fukudome and possibly Aramis Ramirez all coming off the books after next season, and Carlos Pena is only signed on a one-year deal. It's also very possible that the Cubs don't mind a bloated payroll in order to sign Pujols and stick it to their arch-rivals in St. Louis.
- The Cardinals. Of course, let's not abandon the possibility that Pujols stays put. The Cards will still have exclusive negotiating rights with their star slugger until five days after the end of the World Series. After an entire season of feeling the pressure from the St. Louis fans and media, the Cards might be willing to budge and give Pujols the ten-year deal he's reportedly seeking. One would think Pujols would at least test the market by that point but if St. Louis gives him the contract he wants, he could accept in order to remain a Cardinal icon for the rest of his career and beyond.