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Could Christmas Come Early With A Pujols or Fielder Signing?

President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein and General Manager Jed Hoyer seem to be taking a page out of the book of team chairman Tom Ricketts. Ricketts is credited with being a notorious private thinker, who keeps his plans for the Cubs’ organization close to the vest. Since Epstein and Hoyer have joined the Cubs’ front office, there has been little known as to what the Cubs’ plan is for this off-season. In general, both Hoyer and Epstein mentioned that the key to this off-season was to bring talent into the organization. Whether on the major league level or throughout the farm system, the top two executives in the Cubs’ baseball department are focusing on improving the team through acquiring talented players that can have an impact on the long-term future of the organization.

One of the most prominent ways Epstein and Hoyer were expected to utilize that strategy was by spending heavily on the draft. A practice that the Cubs’ have taken a liking to over the course of the past couple of seasons. However, one thing Epstein and Hoyer did not anticipate were the changes made through the new collective bargaining agreement. The new CBA severely limits the amount that a team can spend on the draft, and requires a team to sacrifice a first round pick if they ignore the new restrictions that are in place. With the new guidelines in place, the belief is that teams are expected to spend more money on the major league payroll, which in turn, would mean that teams are going to spend more money on the current free agents.

The Cubs are a big-market team, with a renewed optimism resulting from the fan base in light of the hirings of Epstein and Hoyer. It is no secret that Epstein and Hoyer are facing high expectations to succeed with the Cubs’ organization. Despite those expectations, both Epstein and Hoyer realize that renovating the Cubs’ organization is not an overnight process. But with the new rules in place putting a limit on how much teams can spend on the amateur side of the organization, Epstein and Hoyer may have to alter their strategy for the off-season.

While because of the new collective bargaining agreement or not, Epstein and Hoyer have apparently altered their strategy for the off-season. While the Cubs still are expected to rebuild–mainly through the possible trading of starting pitcher Matt Garza–it seems more likely now that the Cubs will also be geared towards contending in the 2012 season as well. Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported late last night that the Cubs are pursuing both Albert Pujols, and Prince Fielder. Obviously the Cubs are not going to sign both of the free agent first baseman, and there still is a good chance that they sign neither of them, but the one that they have more interest in may surprise you.

According to Rosenthal’s report, the Cubs are more willing to offer a long-term deal to Pujols rather than Fielder. Prior to Rosenthal’s report, it has always been my belief that the Cubs would register more interest in Fielder instead of Pujols. Fielder is almost four years younger than Pujols and from that perspective would be the better long-term fit for the Cubs’ organization. In addition, Fielder would seem to be more appealing to the Cubs–who have long been searching for a left-handed run producer. The current price on Fielder appears to be 8 years, $225 million and all indications would suggest that the newly constructed Cubs’ front office is against offering 8 year contracts.

But the reason Albert Pujols may be more appealing–at least for the short term–is the fact that he is the best player in the game right now. With Pujols being the better defender at the first base position and a better fit for a National League team, it is not necessarily a surprise that the Cubs are more interested in Pujols than they are Fielder. Though it will be interesting to see what the Cubs offer for Pujols is, assuming they reach the point where they make an offer. It is believed that Pujols has two contract offers already on the table; One from the St Louis Cardinals that is believed to be 9 years worth approximately $220 million; and the other from the Miami Marlins for 9 years worth slightly less than $200 million. If the Cubs make an offer to Pujols that is on the same level as the Cardinals and Marlins, Epstein and Hoyer would be contradicting one of the factors they laid out when addressing how they would target free agents. The pair mentioned that the key is to pay for the future rather than past performances, giving a 8 or 9 year deal would certainly qualify as paying for the veteran first baseman’s past successes and not the ones he is likely to endure in the future.

Though there is also the idea that the Cubs may only be interested in Pujols as a way to force the Cardinals into making a bad deal. Epstein implemented the same philosophy last winter when the Red Sox pursued Mariano Rivera, even though there was never a chance that Rivera would leave the Yankees’ organization. Many sources within the baseball industry expect Pujols to re-sign with the Cardinals, but Epstein may be driving up the price of Pujols’ next contract with the Cubs’ perceived interest.

No matter how one looks at it, this certainly gets the Cubs Hot Stove sizzling, especially as the team heads into the winter meetings next week.

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Tags: Albert Pujols Chicago Cubs Jed Hoyer Miami Marlins Prince Fielder St. Louis Cardinals Theo Epstein Tom Ricketts

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