And the context is very important.
Because it was a year ago that the Phillies were into their negotiations with the first baseman and knew how expensive it would be to retain Howard. And as they considered the best ways to get bang for their buck, they kicked around this scenario: What if the Cardinals have a tough time re-signing Pujols? What if it ever looks like Pujols might leave St. Louis? What if his salary demands are just too high for the Cardinals' comfort level?
The conversation was appropriate. The best front offices think outside of the box, and think boldly. It was prescient. Because a year later, the Cardinals are now faced with an extraordinary gap between what they are willing to pay Pujols and what he is looking for. I don't know exactly what the last St. Louis offer was, in total dollars. But given that the two sides basically agreed on the length of the deal but not on the annual salary, the guess here is that the Cardinals were willing to pay Pujols about $20 million a year over 10 years.
That has opened the door now for Pujols to go into free agency, and for other teams to start thinking about what signing Pujols would mean to their franchise.
The Washington Nationals angered other teams with their signing of Jayson Werth, but if they signed Pujols -- and had a team of Ryan Zimmerman, Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, Drew Storen and Werth -- they would officially be at the table with the big boys, and would become part of the buzz on Capitol Hill. If the Chicago Cubs pried Pujols away from St. Louis, it would be payback -- a half-century later -- for the Lou Brock-for-Ernie Broglio trade. If the Texas Rangers signed Pujols, he could pursue just about every record in the book in their uniform, and have a Hank Aaron-like transition to DH in place near the end of his deal. A lot of Frank McCourt's transgressions would be forgotten if the Los Angeles Dodgers signed Pujols. If the Los Angeles Angels armed themselves with Pujols, Arte Moreno would get sore from all the back-slapping.
Pujols is perhaps the only baseball player who can single-handedly alter a team's brand; like Cal Ripken, he is known by casual fans who might normally watch just a handful of games, but would become regular followers if the slugger joined their local nine.
The big mistake the Cardinals made in all of this was not getting Pujols locked down to an extension before they signed Matt Holliday. That deal helped to back them into a corner. But now, after that gaffe, they rightly have concerns about how top-heavy their payroll would be if they give Pujols exactly what he wants, and they are staring at the very real possibility that Pujols is going to walk away for almost nothing, other than a couple of draft picks. He will veto any trade possibility, as he has informed the Cardinals.
The Phillies? Well, they made the safe (and expensive) play, signing Howard to his extension, after considering an intriguing chase of Pujols.
We posted a story on the Phillies' internal Howard/Pujols talk last March. And if you didn't think there was any logic to it then -- and judging from the comments section, it was a head-scratcher for a lot of folks -- maybe today you can see how Philadelphia executives were ahead of the curve in gaming out a possible trade that would've been among the most fascinating in baseball history.
From Scott Beaman of ESPN Stats & Information, some perspective on Pujols' dominance:
"You probably already knew that Albert Pujols became the first player in MLB history with at least 400 home runs in his first 10 MLB seasons. But did you know that he also has 849 extra-base hits (99 more than second-place Ted Williams)? Or that he also has the most doubles with 426? Or that he and Ted Williams are the only players with a WAR above 80 in their first 10 seasons?
"Below is a list of several more of Pujols' accomplishments in his first 10 seasons with the Cardinals … and some perspective on how many other MLB players were his equivalent in their first 10 seasons in the big leagues."
• Bill DeWitt is taking a tremendous gamble, Bryan Burwell writes. Pujols has taken a significant step toward becoming a free agent. Derrick Goold put together this list of potential bidders. The Cardinals' executives still sounded confident, Dave Sheinin writes.
• Total speculation: The Nationals are very, very intriguing wild cards in all of this, because they have the money to be aggressive and because Pujols could do more for them than he could for any other franchise (except the Dodgers).
• Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona has a lot of good options with his lineup, about who to lead off, who to hit second and where to bat Jacoby Ellsbury. And he's got a lot of right-left balance on his roster, as well, the kind of thing that Phillies manager Charlie Manuel would probably like more of.
Francona could roll out very different lineups versus right-handed and left-handed starters, taking advantage of that balance. For example, versus right-handers, his lineup early in the year may well look something like this:
2B Dustin Pedroia (R)
LF Carl Crawford (L)
3B Kevin Youkilis (R)
1B Adrian Gonzalez (L)
DH David Ortiz (L)
RF J.D. Drew (L)
C Jarrod Saltalamacchia (S)
SS Marco Scutaro (R)
CF Jacoby Ellsbury (L)
Over the past three seasons, Ortiz's cumulative numbers against left-handed pitching look like this: a .218 batting average, a .674 OPS and 120 strikeouts and 13 homers in 454 at-bats. J.D. Drew's slide in performance versus lefties is not quite as acute: to .246, with a .358 on-base percentage. But he could also be a candidate for a platoon.
On the flip side, the Red Sox have right-handed veteran Mike Cameron on their bench, and it would be a natural choice to use him to spell the oft-injured Drew against right-handed pitchers. Jed Lowrie hammers left-handed pitching -- last year, he hit .338 with five homers in 71 at-bats against southpaws. And Jason Varitek found a second life as a part-time player last year, mostly playing against lefties.
So the Red Sox lineup versus lefties could look something like this:
SS Scutaro (whose numbers vs. lefties are a little better)
Or Scutaro could hit eighth, with Pedroia in the No. 1 spot and Youkilis in the No. 3 spot. By hitting Youkilis at No. 5 versus lefties, Francona could discourage opposing managers from using a lefty reliever in the late innings.
Look, no matter which way Francona goes, he really can't go wrong, given his roster depth. Ellsbury arrived in camp yesterday and indicated he is ready to go after an injury-plagued 2010, Dan Shaughnessy writes.
• Adrian Gonzalez, by the way, is anxious to start swinging a bat, and the Boston training staff is telling him they think his surgically repaired right shoulder has healed and that he's good to go to start swinging a bat.
"But I need that final checkmark to go ahead," he said Wednesday, standing outside the Boston clubhouse. That has to come from surgeon David Altcheck, who will be in Florida next week.
Gonzalez is scheduled to see Altcheck next Wednesday, on Feb. 23, and he has been trying to get his appointment time moved up from 2 p.m. to 10 a.m. that day -- just so he can join in the Boston hitting groups.
• Jon Lester on the Red Sox outfield defense, which has a chance to be extraordinary: "Not a lot of balls will be finding grass."
Lester has walked into a new season, Steve Buckley writes.
• Stuart Sternberg thinks baseball can work in the Tampa area, but believes a ballpark would help. By the way: Folks around baseball assume that if the Wilpon family cannot hold on to the Mets, Sternberg would be given a shot to buy the team. It's all speculation at this point.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. The Toronto Blue Jays locked up Jose Bautista for five years, Ken Fidlin writes.
2. Joel Hanrahan will be the Pittsburgh Pirates' closer, Tim Povtak writes.
3. The Rangers are talking internally about the trade talks they have had regarding Michael Young, sources say. He is scheduled to report to camp on Saturday, Anthony Andro writes.
4. Joba Chamberlain says he's done talking about his weight, Erik Boland writes. I've seen this happen with players in this situation before: Teams will demote a young player who arrives out of shape quickly in spring training. And Chamberlain has options to be sent to the minors, at a time when the New York Yankees already are stacked with right-handed relievers -- they have Mariano Rivera, Rafael Soriano and David Robertson. Chamberlain isn't tipping scales in his favor.
5. Clayton Kershaw has been told he'll be the Opening Day starter.
6. Jeff Wilpon reiterated that his family won't give up the Mets. Potential investors are finding a clickable moment.
7. Delmon Young and the Minnesota Twins agreed to a deal.
8. Rickie Weeks agreed to a long-term deal.
9. Keith Moreland is going to step into the job that Ron Santo had.
10. Edwin Jackson wants to change jersey numbers, Mark Gonzales writes.
11. Freddie Freeman is out to win the Atlanta Braves' first-base job.
12. Russell Branyan signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
13. Ronald Belisario might not be able to pitch the entire season because of visa troubles.
Dings and dents
1. Scott Baker's elbow is flaring up, La Velle Neal writes. Joe Nathan had an outstanding bullpen session.
2. J.P. Howell is going to be treated with caution by the Rays, Marc Topkin writes.
3. Jason Kendall's shoulder has been cleared, Bob Dutton writes.
4. The Detroit Tigers are in good shape with their injuries.
5. Carlos Santana's recovery is the best story in the Cleveland Indians' camp.
6. Mark DeRosa is shooting for the Opening Day lineup, Henry Schulman writes.
• Dallas Green struggles to cope with his grief, Paul Hagen writes. Green is dealing with a hurt that won't leave, Tyler Kepner writes.
• Barry Zito's father has a heart condition.
• Tony Gwynn is recovering slowly from his bout with cancer, Tim Sullivan writes.
• Kurt Suzuki is looking to revive his offense, Joe Stiglich writes.
• Scott Kazmir is looking to bounce back from a disastrous year.
• Dallas Braden sent his batterymate from the perfect game to Hawaii. Classy move.
• A couple of Seattle Mariners love their tattoos, Geoff Baker writes.
• Vladimir Guerrero arrived at Baltimore Orioles camp.
• J.J. Putz is eager to reward the Diamondbacks, Nick Piecoro writes.
• Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum know they have raised expectations.
• The Florida Marlins have high hopes for a reliever, Juan Rodriguez writes.
• The Cincinnati Reds' pitchers and catchers have reported, John Fay writes.
• Todd Helton is competing with an edge this spring, Troy Renck writes.
• Expectations are high for Chris Sale.
• There are a lot of questions about the Rangers' rotation, Randy Galloway writes. Brandon Webb can step into this role.
• Neil Walker may have found himself a home.
• Francisco Rodriguez vows to win back the trust of the fans.
• The Houston Astros are taking the long road back, and it's the right path for them, Richard Justice writes.
• Jerome Solomon isn't going to complain about the Astros' ticket prices.
• Joe Maddon is optimistic about the Tampa Bay Rays, despite the mass exodus of veteran players.
• The Orioles' farm system is imbalanced, Jeff Zrebiec writes.
• Rick Telander has the inside story of Sammy Sosa's corked bat.
• John Jenkins went nuts in the second half and Vanderbilt pulled out a big road win. We're climbing.
And today will be better than yesterday.