DALLAS The other night Theo Epstein referred to Albert Pujols as The Big Kahuna.
Out of nowhere, the Los Angeles Angels emerged as the mystery team on Thursday morning, landing Pujols with a reported 10-year deal worth more than 250 million.
One day the Angels may wake up with a huge hangover, but they are now understandably giddy over the prospect of adding an iconic player to create must-see television and keep the turnstiles moving.
At this moment, the Cubs dont seem to have the appetite for that kind of megadeal. They were quiet at the winter meetings and left for the DallasFort Worth International Airport looking at incremental moves.
From a Cubs perspective, the Pujols decision could be looked at through two different prisms: Either the future Hall of Famer would leave the division, or force the St. Louis Cardinals to spend way beyond their means and cripple the payroll for years to come.
Epstein was asked about Pujols on Wednesday night, when the perception was that hed be returning to St. Louis and getting his statue outside Busch Stadium.
If he left, it would probably be a good thing for us in terms of developing young pitching, Epstein joked. You get a young pitcher up there and hes working on his third pitch and working on his fastball command. Youre telling him to get ahead, strike one, and then all of a sudden instead of a Triple-A hitter hes got Albert Pujols there.
(When) he can execute a pitch and it leaves the yard 420 to right-center field, its probably not good for his confidence.
Pujols hammered the Cubs over the years, generating 53 homers and 135 RBI in 174 games. In a surreal moment, Pujols created national news by hugging former general manager Jim Hendry behind the batting cage at Wrigley Field last season.
But it wouldnt have been a great fit on the North Side, where the Cubs are still trying to get out from under the huge contracts given to Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Zambrano.
Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto, who was hired only a few weeks ago, also handed out a five-year, 77.5 million contract to pitcher C.J. Wilson. Dipoto disputed the idea that Pujols is a player in decline.
I see Albert Pujols as the most consistent offensive player of his generation, Dipoto said. If a decline still places you in the top five MVP (vote, then go ahead). We understand that players will go through peaks and valleys. Albert has spent many years operating at the peaks. If you want to call a decline going from superhuman to just greatI dont think youve seen the last great days of Albert Pujols.
Pujols will turn 32 in January, but Dipoto wasnt worried about whispers that the slugger could actually be older than that.
Albert Pujols age, to me, is not a concern, Dipoto said. Hes an honorable man. I think hes a very respectful man and Im not a scientist. (I) can tell you he hits like hes 27.
The Cardinals have been a model of stability, but now Pujols is gone and Tony La Russa has retired. They got 11 great years out of Pujols, who became an institution in St. Louis. During that time, they finished under .500 only once, made the playoffs seven times and won two World Series titles.
The National League Central appears to be wide open, especially with Prince Fielder unlikely to return to the Milwaukee Brewers. Still, the Cubs arent expected to suddenly shift gears.
In this bizarro world, the Miami Marlins had reporters shadowing them while they walked through the Hilton Anatole toward the next possible blockbuster. In terms of buzz, the Cubs didnt exactly dominate the lobby.
At some point, the Cubs are going to need a bigger boat. But Epstein is committed to drafting well, signing international players and developing them in the system. That approach could eventually lead to a huge splash.
The most valuable commodity in the game these days is not dollars, Epstein said. Its prospects you project to be regulars or better, and good young players under control. Thats the swagger, because then the whole universe is open to you if you have those players to work with.