According to Ken Rosenthal, the Chicago Cubs are indeed pursuing both big-time free agent first basemen, Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols. The former has been suspected for a while, but the latter was assumed not to be the case.
It seems, as I’ve guessed, the dramatic changes to the CBA may require changes to the Cubs’ rebuilding plans. And those changes may include a need to lock down a big bat right now. From Rosenthal:
[T]he Cubs also are acknowledging two emerging realities – a dwindling number of sluggers available in future free-agent markets, and the restrictions on spending in the amateur draft under baseball’s new collective-bargaining agreement.
New Cubs president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer have made it clear that they intend to rebuild the team. However, the Cubs are indeed showing interest in both Pujols and Fielder, major league sources say.
Pujols, 31, is nearly 3½ years older than Fielder, but sources say the Cubs are more willing to go long-term with Pujols, who is the better defender according to advanced metrics. Some teams, concerned by Fielder’s body would prefer him on a shorter, high-dollar deal.
By signing one of the two, the Cubs would ensure that they are set with a premier slugger as they try to return to prominence in the NL Central.
Rosenthal earlier reported that the Nationals had made Prince Fielder their number one target this Winter, so it’s possible that things are escalating quickly with big name free agents. By the way, Rosenthal is off on the ages (assuming reported ages are correct) – Pujols is four and a half years older than Fielder, not three and a half.
The reasons for signing Fielder (to the exclusion of reasons against signing him) were discussed here yesterday, and now it sounds like the same kind of review may need to be conducted for Pujols. Until this report from Rosenthal, very few believed Pujols was a realistic target for any team not named the Cardinals, let alone a realistic target for a Cubs’ organization expected to rebuild.
Landing Pujols would seem an extremely tall (and expensive) task. Pujols is a Cardinals lifer, who hails from the St. Louis area. The Cardinals have reportedly offered Pujols as much as nine years and $210 million to return to the team, and the belief is that, if any competing bid is going to sway him, it will have to beat the Cardinals’ offer by tens of millions of dollars.
For my part, assuming the Cubs are set on trying to land one of the two, and unless the Cubs are willing to blow off the doors on a four or five-year offer to Pujols (say, $30 million per year), I’d probably prefer Fielder over the life of a deal longer than that. On the balance, even considering the weight and defensive issues, Fielder strikes me as more likely to perform well at the tail end of a six, seven, eight-year deal than Pujols.