The Angels are making a rare interleague visit to St. Louis this weekend, marking Albert Pujols’ first on-field visit back to his former city since he left the Cardinals following the 2011 season. He could have been a much more frequent visitor to Busch Stadium, however, if he had remained within the NL Central, as USA Today’s Bob Nightengale writes that the Reds were the proverbial mystery team that came closest to keeping Pujols away from the Angels in free agency.
Cincinnati offered Pujols a ten-year, $225MM offer, which fell just short of the ten-year, $240MM contract Pujols ultimately accepted from the Angels. The Marlins actually offered more money than either the Angels or Reds, though Pujols turned downMiami’s ten-year, $275MM offer out of concerns that the contract didn’t contain a no-trade clause, and as Nightengale puts it, “Pujols [was] fearful of the Marlins being the Marlins.”
Walt Jocketty was the Reds’ general manager at the time, and had a long relationship with Pujols due to Jocketty’s time as the Cardinals’ GM from 1994 to 2007. “We thought we were going to get him,” Jockey told Nightengale. “We thought he would certainly give our organization a lift with his presence, on and off the field.”
After suffering through nine consecutive losing seasons from 2001-2009, the Reds won the NL Central in 2010 but were then unceremoniously swept out of the NLDS by the Phillies (a series that saw the Reds become just the second team to be no-hit in a postseason game, after Roy Halladay shut them down in Game One). That taste of the postseason gave way to a disappointing 79-83 record in 2011, which led to an aggressive offseason for Jocketty’s front office. Cincinnati added Mat Latos and Sean Marshall that winter, and indeed went on to regain the NL Central crown in 2012 and then reached the playoffs again as a wild card team in 2013.
Needless to say, adding Pujols would have been by far the biggest possible transaction for the Reds, and the signing would’ve had an incredible ripple effect on recent baseball history. The player who would’ve been most notably impacted, of course, is Joey Votto. Aside from six games as a left fielder in his rookie year, Votto has never played anywhere besides first base and (in interleague games) DH in the majors, and a position change would’ve seemingly been unlikely. While Pujols had played a handful of games at third base for St. Louis in 2011, that marked his first action at the hot corner since 2002, so he wasn’t going to be moved away from first base.