After Albert Pujols had his historic 3 home run night in Game 3 of the World Series, some buzz re-started about The Machine joining the Washington Nationals in free agency. Let’s be clear, Pujols is likely the best player of this generation and may go down as one of the Top 10 best players of all-time. It’s just hard to imagine him ending his career with the Nationals for a few reasons.
There is another stellar first base, power bat option out there in Prince Fielder, and he’s going to be cheaper. I’m not saying that Fielder is better than Pujols. He isn’t, but Prince has one thing going for him that Albert Pujols doesn’t: Scott Boras is his agent. At the end of the 2011 season, by my count, the Washington Nationals had 8 Boras client’s on their 40-man roster, including Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, and Jayson Werth. The Nationals love affair with Scott Boras seems to be stronger than ever, which helps Fielder, though ultimately I don’t think Fielder will sign with the Nats either.
The Nationals should have a lot of money hitting the books in the next few years, hopefully starting with Ryan Zimmerman‘s ridiculously long-term extension this winter. If the Nationals do nothing this offseason but extend Zimmerman and sign Pujols, it would likely cost the organization over $300 million for both contracts. At some point in the not-so-distant future, the Nationals will have to extend Strasburg and Harper, and make a few more deals to contend for playoff spots. Putting that much money on the books for two players is probably not reasonable if the Nats don’t want to end up like the New York Mets (see: Jason Bay and Carlos Beltran).
Additionally, a healthy Adam LaRoche provides decent power and RBI potential and a Gold Glove-caliber defense at first base. I’m not trying to compare LaRoche to either Pujols or Fielder, but the $8 million price tag is right for one more season as long as he can be ready to play.
Perhaps the most important point of all, though, is the Nationals have far greater needs than first base. LaRoche and Michael Morse can both fill that role. The Nationals need more help with a lead-off/high-OBP man and another starting pitcher, where the team is likely to be the most active this winter. The team could almost certainly satisfy both of these needs, combined, for less than the cost of Pujols.
To be honest, what Washington Nationals fan wouldn’t want to see #5 at first base on Opening Day 2012? But when looking at the club’s real needs, Pujols doesn’t satisfy them. It’s always good to have more offense, but it won’t help much without people getting on base in front of him and if the pitching can’t stop the opposition from scoring. The Nationals should target their core deficiencies before going after a Pujols-like bat, and I think they will.