It’s impossible to be a baseball fan today and not know that Albert Pujols - undoubtedly the best position player in baseball today - signed a 10 year, $250 million deal with the Los Angeles Angels.
This is the best possible news I could have heard. Like most baseball fans who root for a NL East team north of Orlando, the last team that I wanted to see Pujols sign with was the Miami - nee Florida - Marlins. I still have bad memories of this past October 7th, the night in which Pujols’ former team, the St. Louis Cardinals, bested my beloved Phillies 1-0 in Game 5 of the NLDS. (I was at my sister’s apartment in State College for what I now know was the last game I’d ever attend in which JoePa coached.) The last thing I needed was for the Phillies to face the best player in baseball 18 times next season.
What made this deal extra special is that Pujols will not be a threat to my Phillies until October. Like many in Phillies nation, I worry about how long our dominance in baseball can last. For good or for bad we built our team for today, and today is quickly fading away. Only one of our projected everyday starters is under the age of 30, and our offense has lacked the punch that it did when we won it all in 2008. It is likely that we will keep shortstop Jimmy Rollins; we were never going to go after Jose Reyes and Rollins is arguably the best option out there after Reyes. We continue to have the best starting rotation in all of baseball, but without any offense we won’t be able to replicate last year’s 102 win season.
Philadelphia fans learned the hard way last year that “championships aren’t won in December, they’re won in October.” The morning after pitcher Cliff Lee rejected larger offers by both the Texas Rangers and the evil New York Yankees even our mayor proclaimed that he would consider reserving Broad Street the first weekend of November for the team. 2011 was supposed to be our year. And it wasn’t.
Maybe 2012 will be our year. Maybe it won’t. But knowing that Miami (and St. Louis) won’t be as much of a threat to us helps me sleep easier at night.
NB: I have to question this Miami spending spree. The team finally has its new, retractable-roof stadium and is out of its costly lease at Dolphins Stadium. But as we’ve learned with the Washington Nationals and the Minnesota Twins, the last two teams with average fan bases to build new stadiums, having a high end facility and a decent team doesn’t mean anything. Neither team has seen a solid jump in attendance despite the new venue, and now must either settle for below-average players since they can’t afford to bring in the big fish (pun not intended). And pretty soon, as we’ve learned with the Houston Astros, they might even need to offload their top talent to pay the bills. The Marlins bet everything on Pujols, and now that they’ve lost it’s only a matter of time until the team begins unravelling again.