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Baseball Faces Busy Off-Season


Time for some hot stove baseball now. Yes. Even in chilly December, there's still reason to talk about the nation's pastime. For instance, one of baseball's biggest stars is changing uniforms.

Albert Pujols is leaving the World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals. He's been with the Cards for 11 seasons and two World Series rings, but money talks and Pujols is on his way to L.A. and the other league. He'll be playing for the Angels.

Sports writer Stefan Fatsis joins us now to discuss this and other off-season baseball news. Hi, Stefan.


NEARY: So could Pujols do this to the Cardinals and to St. Louis? He must have gotten a good deal, huh?

FATSIS: Yeah. Well, he's leaving for $254 million over 10 years. He was offered $220 million, reportedly, from the Cardinals. That is a big difference. He might have been resentful that the Cardinals effectively low-balled him in contract talks last winter before he became a free agent and he found an owner, Arte Moreno, in Los Angeles who's willing and able to spend to win now.

NEARY: So I imagine that the fans in St. Louis are crushed by this, but is it a good move for the Angels?

FATSIS: Well, let's talk about Pujols for a second. Thirty-two, declining phase of his career. There have been injury concerns with him. Still one of the greatest hitters in history and still very productive. The Angels' general manager said that he'd take a decline from superhuman to just great.

One of the benefits is that, going to the American League, he'll be able to become a full time designated hitter in three or four years, which should extend his shelf life. On the business side, the Angels are getting a marquis Latino athlete. The team is looking at a big jump in its local television contract and this signing will enhance that. The Angels will instantly become competitive with division rival Texas, which has gone to the last two World Series. Tune back in four or five years to see whether this is really a good deal.

NEARY: Well, let's talk about another team on the other coast that's also been active over this winter, the Miami Marlins. Didn't they use to be the Florida Marlins?

FATSIS: Yeah. They were until last month. They've got a new name and this was part of a move to a new $600 million downtown stadium, new uniforms with a stylized fish, an orange jersey. Their primary colors are said to represent sunsets, the citrus industry and the sea, Lynn, so it'll be very soothing to watch the Marlins play next year.

NEARY: Yeah.

FATSIS: One way to capitalize on this newness is to give fans a good product. The Marlins have hired a colorful new manager, Ozzie Guillen, who was in Chicago with the White Sox and they just signed three free agents, two pitchers and a shortstop, to contracts totaling $191 million. But this is a team that's always had a history of boom and bust.

Their latest issue, on the downside, is that there is a federal investigation into the stadium's public financing. We'll see how long the good will lasts in Miami.

NEARY: Well, finally, Stefan, tell us about this. Some teams apparently are looking to Japan to get a big prize, a really good player.

FATSIS: Yeah. There's a pitcher named Yu Darvish who's just come onto the market. Twenty-five years old, six foot five, very hard throwing right-handed pitcher. He's considered the best pitcher in Japan. He allowed less than one and a half runs per nine innings last season for Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters. And the system for signing him goes like this. A major league team posts a closed bid that will be paid to his Japanese team for the right to negotiate with the player. Then they've got to sign him within a month or else he goes back to Japan.

Now, there might be some reluctance by U.S. teams to blow the budget, but someone will pay the money. Someone always does.

NEARY: Thanks very much, Stefan.

FATSIS: Thanks, Lynn.

NEARY: Sports writer Stefan Fatsis. You can hear him on Slate.com's sports podcast, Hang Up and Listen. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.