Albert Pujols has new company in his fireside chats this winter: The Cubs have expressed interest in the iconic, free agent first baseman, joining the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals as Pujols' three primary suitors, according to sources with knowledge of the talks.
It remains early in the process and it is not known how serious the Cubs' interest is. But new president Theo Epstein's desire to turn things around quickly combined with the new Collective Bargaining Agreement draft rules plus weak free agent classes the next two winters could spur them to action.
Pujols' only offer thus far is believed to be from the Marlins, a reported nine-year offer for less than the $200 million bar the slugger is thought to be seeking. The Cardinals, while continuing to talk with Pujols, are not believed to have made a new offer since last spring.
Industry speculation continues to put Pujols back in a Cardinals uniform in 2012. But St. Louis failed to make much of a move during its exclusive negotiating window with him following the World Series. Maybe the Cardinals think the market simply will not materialize as much as Pujols hopes, or maybe they're simply thinking nine years is too long to commit.
Whatever, the staredown is on, and the intensity is expected to pick up significantly next week as baseball convenes for its annual winter meetings in Dallas.
Pujols already has visited Miami and received a tour of the Marlins' new stadium. And though the Marlins' offer is said to be light, it also is the only one in Pujols hands right now.
The Cubs are an interesting case. General manager Jed Hoyer said on SiriusXM radio Tuesday that they're specifically looking for a left-handed hitter, which, among the top-shelf free agents, would be Prince Fielder, not Pujols. New manager Dale Sveum is the former Brewers hitting coach and was tight with Fielder, so for those looking to fuel speculation, there's your entree.
They're also one of the handful of clubs in the game that can play in Pujols' financial league. Their payroll currently is some $50 million lighter than it was in 2011 after Aramis Ramirez and others dropped off.
And they have nothing to lose by entering the negotiations because at the very least, even if they do not sign Pujols, they perhaps can drive the price up for the Cardinals and sting their NL Central rivals -- and defending World Series champions -- that way.