During the 2011 season, Cardinals superstar Albert Pujols was playing out the final year of his contract and would not sign a contract extension. Naturally, during the season, it was in vogue to question who Pujols' possible suitors would be in the ensuing offseason.
Among the rumored candidates were the Cardinals rivals, the Chicago Cubs. Not only did the Cubs have large-market deep pockets, but Cubs general manager Jim Hendry and Pujols were friendly with each other. And Hendry wasn't shy about throwing money around, lest we forget the Alfonso Soriano deal.
At the time speculation began to pick up, Jon Heyman (now my colleague, then of SI.com) reported that the Cubs might offer Pujols "the A-Rod deal." That is, a 10-year, $275 million deal.
And then, when the Cardinals visited Wrigley Field that summer, Pujols and Hendry shared an embrace and the story exploded.
Had Hendry not been fired, it's entirely possible the Cubs would have signed Pujols. Instead, the Cubs correctly decided they needed to rebuild and Hendry was fired in favor of the Theo Epstein administration.
Teams don't sign 10 year deal with superstars in order to begin a rebuilding project, so had Hendry not been fired and had the Cubs then landed Pujols, the team would have turned out completely differently.
First of all, with Pujols at first, Andrew Cashner wouldn't have been dealt for Anthony Rizzo. The Cubs would have likely dealt what few prized prospects they had in favor of big-league talent in an attempt to "go for it" with Pujols. What they had on the roster, though, wasn't likely good enough for a playoff run in either 2012 or 2013 even with the NL version of Pujols. They would have won a few more games, sure, but all that would mean is worse draft picks -- so no Albert Almora or Kris Bryant.
As it turned out, the Cardinals lost Pujols and it would end up being a blessing in disguise. The Cardinals have both Allen Craig and Matt Adams as options at first base while the club made the NLCS in 2012 and the World Series this past season. Pujols' Angels, meanwhile, have greatly disappointed.
If Pujols was off the table, the Angels may well have swooped in to sign Prince Fielder. They also might have used some of the Pujols money to sign better pitchers, possibly even getting good enough arms to make a playoff run. Remember, in 2012, they were 89-74 with Pujols being really good -- but not great.
Wrigley Field is a much better hitters park than Angel Stadium and Pujols' first month for the Angels was a disaster. Maybe with a much shorter move to Chicago in a division with which Pujols was very comforable, he'd avoid a bad start and continue to hit like the best player in baseball. It's entirely plausible that signing with the Cubs would have helped him maintain his insane level of production.
In terms of money, had Hendry not been fired, it seems rather likely Pujols would have been even richer. Remember, he signed with the Angels for $240 million, or $35 million less than "the A-Rod deal."
The Cubs and Cardinals are much better off in the long-term, as Pujols' current deal appears to be a handcuff-type contract. The Angels are likely to regret the deal in a big way, while Pujols isn't as rich as he probably could have been for the Cubs.