Pujols-for-Howard makes for great talk but won't happen
JUPITER, Fla. --
"Huh," La Russa said with surprise in his voice. "That was
"Really?" a reporter asked.
"No," La Russa said with comic disgust in his voice. "Not REALLY."
Not really. It's hard to imagine a much more unlikely and unreasonable rumor than this week's
But, somehow, this mention of an internal discussion became a "rumor" and this rumor morphed into "talk" and talk transformed into actual questions of the the actual people involved, leading to either angry denials or comical ones.
The fact that this rumor got ANYWHERE gives you an idea about how hungry we in America are for dramatic trade talk, no matter how illogical. And this is as illogical as they get. Albert Pujols is the most popular athlete in St. Louis -- probably the most popular athlete in St. Louis since
Beyond that, Albert Pujols is much, much, much, much (not enough here room for all the muches) better than Ryan Howard. This is not a knock on Howard, who is an excellent player. But the only thing that Howard does even as well as Pujols is hit with power -- and Pujols did hit more homers last year. Howard hits for a much lower average, gets on base much less, is not as good a runner, is not as good a defender, and has become just about useless against left-handed pitching. I mean Pujols is the best player in baseball and Ryan Howard is a very good first baseman. There's nothing wrong with being a very good first baseman.
The difference between Pujols and Howard last year, based on Wins Above Replacement and Runs Above Replacement, was roughly, oh, about
So, no, this never had any chance of happening. But even the mere mention of the Phillies talking about it internally sparked a couple of days worth of spring training jabber. The idea of trading one huge star for another is something that constantly intrigues us sports fan. You have no doubt heard that the Yankees and Red Sox came close one drunken night to swapping
There have been other gigantic trade rumors -- according to
In late 1959, the Kansas City A's were about to send
In 1975, there was some serious talk about Kansas City sending
Funny thing: These trades tend to work better as imaginary "What might have been" deals than they do in real life. Perhaps the most famous one-for-one trade ever happened on April 17, 1960 -- two days before the season began -- when Cleveland traded home run champ
In 1926 -- in what was more or less a one-for-one deal -- the Cardinals traded
Frisch, meanwhile, was 28 and also coming off what was probably the worst offensive season of his career -- .314/.353.409, a 105 OPS+. He had been a key part of four pennant-winning Giants teams between 1921-24, but he apparently had a savage argument with Giants manager
The trade cost the Cardinals plenty -- they had to come up with a way to buy all of Hornsby's shares in the team. But it was great for the Cardinals -- Frisch's presence, better defense and solid hitting made him a staple of the Gas House Gang. The Cardinals would play in four World Series with Frisch -- the last with Frisch as a player/manager.
Meanwhile, the Hornsby thing didn't work with the Giants. John McGraw was one of Hornsby's rare friends -- the two tended to see baseball about the same way. They also enjoyed going to the track together. Trouble is, nobody else could stand Hornsby -- and this was especially true of Giants owner
Point being, that in general when these preposterously big trades actually happens, one team will usually get a huge advantage. The Reds
The Phillies and Cardinals are probably the two best teams in the National League this year. Sure, the Dodgers and the Rockies are in the discussion, maybe a couple of other teams, but in seems, on paper at least, that the Phillies and Cardinals are the best. The Phillies have that combination of good starting pitching -- especially with
They are going into the season looking just right. Their first basemen perfectly fit their clubs. There's no real intrigue in how they would do anywhere else, at least not for me. Ryan Howard will slug 45 home runs because he always slugs 45 home runs. He will make Phillies fans happy with his 140 RBIs because in that lineup, with his power, he will always knock in 140. He's good enough defensively and good enough on the bases to go mostly unnoticed there. He hits right-handers so hard -- last year he hit .319/.395/.691 against righties -- that his left-handed splits will mostly just be a nuisance. He's a terrific player who should always been close to the heart of Phillies fans.
And Pujols? He remains close to the perfect player for St. Louis fans -- the staggeringly good hitter, the aggressive base runner, the intense defensive player, and a man respectful of the Cardinals past. This is not to say that Pujols would not be the perfect Phillies player or the perfect Royals player or, hard to imagine, the perfect Cubs player. With his talent and work ethic, he would be perfect anywhere. But he was drafted by St. Louis, and now he fits St. Louis; he fits better than the Arch. People wonder if the Cardinals will come up with the money to pay Pujols ... I would suggest they have no choice. Trade him? Are you kidding? The Cardinals are entirely wrapped up in Albert Pujols.