Insider: Albert Pujols showed he's human

Longtime Cardinal Albert Pujols signed with Los Angeles

Longtime Cardinal Albert Pujols signed with Los Angeles this winter. (Sept. 30, 2011) Photo Credit: AP

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Our Baseball Person of the Year award goes to the person who helps us learn not just about the game but about ourselves as people.

This year’s recipient is Albert Pujols, long of the Cardinals and now of the Angels.

Why? Just because Pujols gave us so much to discuss in an extremely eventful 2011.

An impending free agent, he cut off negotiations with St. Louis once he reported to spring training and never raised the issue again. He came back very quickly from a seemingly bad injury (broken left wrist), rebounded from a poor start and helped carry the Cardinals to an improbable playoff berth on the final day of the season — and, of course, a memorable world championship.

He made waves when he blew off the media after World Series Game 2, during which he committed a costly error. The next day, he took responsibility for the error but wouldn’t apologize for his lack of access.

And the topper, of course: He turned down 10 years and more than $200 million from the Cardinals to accept a 10-year, $254-million offer from the Angels, which made him the highest-paid first baseman (over Philadelphia’s Ryan Howard, who earns $25 million annually) in the game. In all, Pujols showed himself to be, well, human. He impressed and disappointed different segments of folks at different turns. He’s neither a hero nor a pariah. He’s just a very talented baseball player, which doesn’t fit the narrative of the heated debates we often enjoy having.

Pujols becomes the sixth winner of this honor, following Barry Bonds’ former trainer, Greg Anderson (2006); Jackie Robinson’s widow, Rachel Robinson (2007); Roger Clemens (2008), Alex Rodriguez (2009) and last year’s co-winners, Armando Galarraga and Jim Joyce.

Prince's next home?

As the Hot Stove League enters 2012, there’s little doubt where the intrigue lies: Prince Fielder. Where will he wind up, and will he top Pujols’ annual average value?

Fielder wanted the Cubs; they’re a reasonable distance from his Florida home and he has outstanding numbers at Wrigley Field. The Cubs, however, appear committed to a full rebuild for 2012.

Washington is always regarded as a likely buyer when it comes to a Scott Boras client. But the Nationals are a little gun-shy after last year’s big purchase, Boras client Jayson Werth (seven years, $126 million), who endured a terrible 2011. Plus, they owe Adam LaRoche $8 million for 2012.

Toronto? That was my bet in late October. The Jays say they won’t commit beyond five years.

One thing for sure: It would be foolish to bet against Boras.

Madson's musical chairs

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And speaking of unsigned Boras clients, the Red Sox’s acquisitions of Andrew Bailey (from Oakland) and Mark Melancon (from Houston) virtually ensure that Boston won’t be the landing spot for former Phillie Ryan Madson.

It has proven a tougher than expected market for closers. Francisco Rodriguez (another Boras client) felt compelled to accept arbitration from Milwaukee even though the Brewers have a closer in John Axford. Last year, Boras faced a similar problem with free-agent closer Rafael Soriano, and he pulled off a brilliant maneuver by convincing the Yankees to make Soriano the most expensive setup man ever. Can Boras duplicate that magic with Madson?

Not with the Yankees, who still have Soriano.

Replay follies

We’re glad that Major League Baseball has added balls down the lines and outfield trap plays to its list of plays subject to instant- replay review. We wonder, however, how the latter will play out.

If, with runners on base, an umpire rules a close play to be an out and replay reverses that, the umps will have to decide where to place the baserunners. It’ll be a bit chaotic, right?

On the other hand, if the ump decides it’s a trap, the play goes to its natural conclusion. If it’s reversed into an out, it’ll be easy to put the runners back in their original spots.

Therefore, will umps be inclined to regularly rule traps as opposed to outs, just because the potential cleanup will be easier?

Maybe not. As a group, umpires are confident. But we’ll monitor it, out of curiosity.

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