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MLB: How Albert Pujols Taking Less Money Could Change the League Forever

One of the more publicized offseason baseball stories of the year has been the ongoing negotiations (or lack thereof) between arguably the best player in baseball, Albert Pujols, and the St. Louis Cardinals.

For those who may have forgotten, Pujols publicly stated that he would not negotiate a new contract during spring training or the regular season, and if a deal was not agreed upon by the time he arrived for spring training, Pujols would become the most sought after free agent since Alex Rodriguez (we know what kind of deal he received).

With no deal currently in place and Pujols scheduled to arrive at spring training on February 16th, the chances of a new contract happening look slim. Pujols and agent Dan Lozano have been requesting a 10-year deal worth around $300 million.

Keep in mind, Pujols is currently 31, meaning a deal like that would last until he was in his 40s, so it’s understandable the Cardinals are more than hesitant at giving “The Machine” that many years or that kind of money.

As the deadline approaches, maybe Pujols will realize that instead of making sure the best player in the game makes the most money, by setting his pride/ego aside, he could change Major League Baseball forever.

How? Take less money to stay in St. Louis.

Now, I don’t mean dropping it to $250 million. I mean dropping it to $100 million guaranteed with tons of incentives for around seven years. Let’s say that reaching every incentive (MVP, lead league in categories, play in 150-plus games) could end up making the deal worth as much as $150-200 million.

Now I admit, the likelihood of this actually happening is virtually zero, but hear me out.

First, by having the best player in the game take a dramatic pay cut, it will prevent guys like Barry Zito and Jayson Werth from making double or triple their actual value simply because when compared to a guy like Pujols hardly anyone deserves to make more than him. Owners could use Pujols’ contract as a baseline for free agents, which would prevent them from drastically overpaying players.

After all, $100 million is an incredible amount of money that only the absolute best athletes deserve to earn (and even that is a little outrageous).

While Zito was very good at the time of his deal and Werth is a good player now, neither deserve anything close to $100 million, let alone $120 million-plus.

Second, Pujols could actually set a trend in baseball. I don’t believe for a minute that a human being NEEDS more than $100 million to live as long as they aren’t completely inept at spending/saving their money. It’s always been about ego and wanting to be paid comparable to their fellow players.

If the best guy in the league is making $100 million, a guy like Werth isn’t going to look for $120 million-plus because everyone in the world knows he isn’t $20 million better than the best player in the game.

Third, by using incentives to sweeten the deal, it would reward the guys who deserve to be paid.

Had Zito’s contract been incentive-based, there’s no way he would have made half the amount of money he did this year. On the other side, a guy like Josh Hamilton, who won the MVP, would have been paid far better than his $3.3 million he made last season (granted, he just signed a two-year, $24 million contract with the Texas Rangers).

Fourth, and finally, the deal would give other great players on the small- to middle-market clubs the idea of taking less money to stay with their original team and allow the franchise to go after free agents or re-sign other players to make the team better.

This has been done before (Evan Longoria is a good recent example), but not on as great a scale.

So, Pujols has two options: to listen to Lozano and get one of the biggest contracts ever for one of the best players in the past 40 years, which would further increase contracts exponentially like they have been in the past 15 seasons (which is completely understandable and incredibly likely), or sacrifice the ego and take less money which could change MLB contracts forever, and in my opinion, for the better.

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MLB Playoff Teams Beware: Cincinnati Can Go To World Series

If someone had come up to me in April and said, “I bet the Cincinnati Reds will go to the World Series this year,” I would have laughed and made jokes at their expense for such an idiotic prediction.

That shows what I know.

Each month, many experts and fans have been waiting for the Reds to falter; to revert back to the losing ways they’ve mastered of over the past decade. Those experts are still waiting. Except now, it looks to be too late.

With a seven game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals as of September 5, and the best record in the National League thanks to the San Diego Padres’ recent plummet back into uncertainty, I think it’s safe to say that the Reds are all but in the playoffs for the first time since 1995.

The question is, how far can they go? Are they in for a Wild Card round exit? Or can they actually make a run?

Judging by the title, my opinion is they can make more than just a run, they can make it to the World Series, and possibly give the American League representative serious trouble. In fact, I think they’re the favorite to come out of the National League.

It would be foolish to solely mention the strengths of the team while completely avoiding their weaknesses, so let’s get that out of the way now. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that the Reds pitching isn’t the greatest.

As a team, their stats are average. Their best ranking in what I view as an important category come October, is save percentage, where they rank fourth in the National League. Typically, they are around seventh or eighth in the NL in virtually all categories. Not horrible, but certainly not a strength.

It’s no secret that pitching, specifically the bullpen, might be the most important characteristic of a championship contender. That’s why the Yankees have been so dominant behind Mariano Rivera, the greatest closer of this generation and probably ever, for the past 15 years. It’s rare to find a squad without at least an above average staff that wins the World Series.

For the Reds, their bullpen doesn’t have names that the casual fan would recognize. Nick Masset, Arthur Rhodes, and Francisco Cordero don’t jump off the page. However, they’ve become the centerpiece of a bullpen that’s usually effective. Masset and Rhodes each have a K/BB ratio of around 3, a WHIP under 1.25 (Rhodes’ is under 1), and average a strikeout per inning. Cordero, the closer, has been solid for years. Yes, he can be wild at times, but he’s effective.

There’s also a kid who’s been receiving massive attention the past week or so: Cuban defector Aroldis Chapman. He’s appeared in three games, and has consistently thrown over 100-mph, reaching as high as 105. To go along with that, he’s got a Randy Johnson-like slider and comes from a deceptive angle which makes it even harder for hitters to pick up the ball. Talk about no chance. This guy is going to be what Francisco Rodriguez was for the Anaheim Angels back in 2002 and what David Price was for Tampa Bay two years ago.

Onto the starters, where again, there are no big names. They have a six pack of starters who could ultimately start in the playoffs. My bets would be on Bronson Arroyo (the only one with major playoff experience and their leader in wins with 14), Johnny Cueto (the only strikeout pitcher on the team), and Travis Wood (a young lefty who’s won five of his last seven starts). If Aaron Harang or Mike Leake recover from their respective injuries in time, Wood may go the bullpen or become the 4th starter.

Now onto the strengths. The Reds do one thing better than any NL team, and that’s hit. They lead the NL in team Batting Average, Runs Scored, and OPS. This helps make up for their deficiencies in pitching because the rotation can count on getting five runs a game to work with.

The individuals doing the mashing are little more well known than the pitching staff. Joey Votto made headlines during the All-Star break for leading the league in HR, but requiring a win in fan voting to make the team. He’s now become a serious MVP candidate (with an outside shot at winning the Triple Crown along with Albert Pujols), currently in the top 3 in HR, RBI, and BA (32-98-.321) and leading the league in OPS (1.013). If it weren’t for Pujols, he’d be the best first baseman in the National League.

The supporting cast is led by third-baseman Scott Rolen; Votto’s protection in the lineup. His numbers aren’t eye-popping: 19-78-.297, but he keeps pitchers from consistently walking Votto. Rolen’s also the one guy on the team who’s played a major role in winning a World Series when he did so with the Cardinals back in 2006.

As for everyone else, four other starters including Rolen and Votto are hitting above .260 (Orlando Cabrera, Brandon Phillips, Jay Bruce, and Jonny Gomes), four other starters have over 15 HR (Bruce, Phillips, Drew Stubbs, and Gomes), and four have over ten steals (Stubbs, Cabrera, Votto, and Phillips, though not Rolen).

Pretty solid, right? That would be most teams biggest strength? Most teams would sell their souls to have an offense that potent.

Funny thing is, that’s NOT their biggest strength. That would be their fielding.

While the Reds have the best hitting team in the National League, their fielding is the best in all of baseball. As a team, they have the fewest errors and the best fielding percentage in the majors. No starter has more than ten errors (Orlando Cabrera, the team’s shortstop, has ten exactly) or a fielding percentage lower than .977.

Scott Rolen will most likely win another Gold Glove at third, and there are a few other players who have a chance at winning one. The catchers are also adequate at keeping runners from stealing.

This team just doesn’t throw the ball around. They don’t make stupid mistakes, which further benefits the pitching staff. Keep the ball in the park, and chances are the defense will have a chance to make the play. Keep the ball on the ground, and it’s a virtual certainty. When the stakes are at the highest level in the playoffs, being able to field the routine ground ball is monumental (just ask Cubs fans about Alex Gonzalez, the real goat in the Steve Bartman game).

Are the Reds the prohibitive favorite in the National League? Probably not. Do I think they deserve a better chance than people may be giving them? Absolutely.

The teams’ strengths are able to make up for their weakness, which are closer to being average than bad. If I were a playoff team, I would want absolutely nothing to do with the Reds come October.

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15 Predictions for the Second Half of Major League Baseball

With the second half of the Major league baseball season under way, here are some predictions as to what could end up happening when the regular season is all said and done. There will also be two bold predictions at the end, those of which would shock the sports world, and could happen if events fall a certain way.

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Stephen Strasburg, David Price: The Two MLB Pitching Phenoms

There are currently two pitching phenoms in Major League Baseball.

One, though, is getting an absolutely massive amount of media attention in Washington Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg.

The other is David Price, the Tampa Bay Rays starter who recently started the All-Star game in Anaheim this past Tuesday.

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