9:42 AM CDT, November 1, 2011
Bodog lists the Cubs at 7-4 to sign free agent Albert Pujols, a bigger favorite than the Cardinals.
Excuse me, but does Bodog know the Cubs are being run by Theo Epstein and not Jim Hendry?
There seems to be a tendency to look at the stars of this free-agency class and lump Pujols with Prince Fielder because they’re slugging first basemen, and further, a tendency to believe the Cubs are going to sit this one out because Hendry’s big-money band-aid isn’t there and Epstein’s new-think is.
But perhaps not so fast.
Pujols is 31, the back end of a hitter’s most productive window that Epstein cited at his coronation last week. By contrast, and this is a very big contrast, Fielder is 27 years old, entering what Epstein considers a player’s prime.
Pujols is closer to the Aramis Ramirez model of paying big money for past performance instead of future production. At 27, Fielder could be the poster child for future performance, which would be spectacular considering he’s coming off a season of .299-38-120 and a slash line of .299-.415-.566.
Fielder’s wins above replacement is 15.3 the last three years, according to Fangraphs. Pujols’ is 21.5, but again, according to Epstein’s barometer, Fielder will get better and Pujols won’t.
Short of seeing Epstein make an actual player move here, I’m simply trying to connect the dots based on Epstein’s public statements here and his resume in Boston. The best “bang for the buck’’ is scouting and developing your own players, Epstein believes, but he added during his introductory news conference that the best “bang for the buck’’ in free agency is paying for future performance.
Presumably, that gospel also will go for the Cubs’ “gang of three’’ after Jed Hoyer is introduced as general manager and Jason McLeod as scouting and player development honcho this afternoon.
No doubt, they will give Epstein an “Amen’’ for stressing his first rule of “building a foundation for sustained success.’’ Cubs fans will think that sounds like code for “wait,’’ but Epstein quickly followed up that idea with talk of a “parallel front’’ approach on the big-league level: “Every season is a new opportunity to win. It’s sacred.
“I will say the decisions that we make will be with the best interests of the Cubs over the long haul. There are no shortcuts in baseball.’’
A 27-year-old power-hitting first baseman is not a shortcut, not if you believe he’s entering the absolute best years of his career. In fact, it could be argued that Fielder is the best heart-of-the-order opportunity that the major-league team could want in pursuing that “sacred’’ chance to win on the major league level now and later.
This sounds like I’m arguing for the Cubs to rush out and pay Fielder whatever he’s going to want.
I don’t know what Fielder is going to ask for, which is a massive consideration for a Cubs team dogged by toxic contracts. Whatever Fielder wants is already too much for the Brewers, who have an exclusive negotiating window that will end this week without so much as a hint of negotiating.
I’m also not preaching that the Cubs stay away from Fielder. I’m just watching because the interest the Cubs show --- or don’t --- could be the first sign of how close Epstein believes his organization is to achieving success and sustaining it.
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