The Miami Marlins and their “new-found” money have been on a shopping spree. They’ve signed Heath Bell and Jose Reyes. They’ve made offers or at very least taken looks at C.J. Wilson and Mark Buehrle. They’ve now been looking at Albert Pujols. It’s no surprise considering the fish have been after any player ever to have had a successful season in their career. However, just because they make an offer doesn’t mean Pujols should accept it.
The Marlins are either going to set the world on fire next season, win a good amount of games, and rank near the top of the league in attendance, or they are going to fall flat, finish out of the play-offs again next season, and attract about the same number of fans they did while they were still the Florida Marlins. My money is on option two.
Here’s the problem with a team completely changing their business plan. It rarely works in business and it rarely works in baseball. For as long as they’ve been a franchise, the Marlins have been small-market with low-payroll. They’re still small-market, but suddenly they have a big payroll to work with. Team owner Jeffrey Loria has not built a team with money in his time as the club’s commander-in-chief. The Marlins have managed to compete, in the few years they actually have, based on building a team of talented players who fit perfectly with each other.
What many fans, teams, and players often overlook is the importance of chemistry in the clubhouse. I am a firm believer in chemistry’s importance. Take the 2010 Padres, the 2011 Diamondbacks, the 2011 Rays, the 1997 Marlins, and the 2003 Marlins. Those teams had groups of players who truly got along. They fed off each other and picked their teammates up after failures. Teams can be successful when built on money, but not often. The Yankees are a rare example of this. The Marlins are not.
Should Pujols sign with the Marlins, he will be taking a dive into the unknown. He will be betting on rebirth in Miami, a new way of business, and sustained success around him. But what happens if the Marlins finish third or fourth or fifth in the NL East next season? What happens if hopes of big attendance figures turn to fears of drawing only enough to place themselves in the 4th quartile? What happens if Jose Reyes’ ego clashes with Albert Pujols‘ ego, or Heath Bell‘s child-like antics get on the nerves of his teammates getting less press? These are all legitimate questions, ones the Marlins need to worry about. Questions Albert Pujols needs to worry about.
The St. Louis Cardinals are not always tops in the league in spending, but they know how to run a baseball team. Albert Pujols is a god in St. Louis. Should he have another down season* in St. Louis, he would be instantly forgiven. Pujols has won two World Series rings with the Cardinals and would have a very good chance of winning more. The Marlins are unproven, being investigated by the Federal Government, and are playing with Monopoly money. Without an instant return on his investment, Loria may quickly pull the plug on this whole high-payroll experiment.
*Down for Albert Pujols is still better than 90% of the league’s good years.
Albert Pujols has reached a fork in the road. The Marlins are likely to offer him a handsome contract. Maybe they’ll even offer more than the Cardinals. His decision this winter can shape his future, his legacy, and his life. He must weigh his options carefully. He will surely get offers from other teams. Whether the offers compare to the Marlins or not, Pujols should think twice before jumping in head first with Miami. Right now, it feels like they are living in a fantasy world built on credit card and no repercussions. However, when they find out they can’t simply print money, how will they respond?
The choices facing Pujols are difficult ones. Should he stay in St. Louis? Should he take more money? Should he play in Miami? His decision may come soon, but should he pick Miami, he would be making a mistake.