Phillies GM Amaro denies swap talks

It's the sort of thing that is much more likely to happen in fantasy baseball than in real life, but according to sources, an idea has been kicked around the Phillies' organization internally, with discussions about proposing a swap of slugger Ryan Howard for St. Louis superstar Albert Pujols.

It's not fully clear whether the Phillies actually have approached the Cardinals with the idea, and even if St. Louis were to seriously consider such an offer, executives with the Cardinals would have to swallow very hard before dealing Pujols, a player widely regarded as the best in the sport.

Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro flatly denied that the internal discussions have taken place. "Lies," he said. "That's a lie. I don't know who you're talking to, but that's a lie."

The talk may well echo, in the end, another blockbuster deal that was discussed but never consummated many years ago: Executives of the Red Sox and Yankees once famously discussed a trade of Ted Williams for Joe DiMaggio.

The logic for a Howard for Pujols swap, as discussed within the Phillies' organization, could fall along these lines: Pujols, 30 years old, is eligible for free agency after the 2011 season, and early conversations about a contract extension have not led to any long-term deal. The expectation within baseball is that Pujols may ask for a deal that would rival, in annual value, the record-setting 10-year, $275 million deal that Alex Rodriguez negotiated with the Yankees in fall 2007.

If the Cardinals were to decide, at any point, that they could not afford to sign Pujols, they could consider dealing him, in the way the Toronto Blue Jays traded Roy Halladay, or the Minnesota Twins traded Johan Santana.

And Howard, who is just a couple of months older than Pujols, would not be a bad alternative. In the past four seasons, Howard has hit 198 homers and accumulated 572 RBIs, and has finished in the top five of the NL MVP race.

Here's the public relations kicker: Howard was born in St. Louis, and is regarded as a hometown kid in that city.

Howard is under contract for each of the next two seasons as well -- for $19 million in 2010 and $20 million in 2011 -- as part of a three-year deal he signed last year. He would be more expensive than Pujols in each of the next two seasons, but on the other hand, he probably will not be as expensive to sign as Pujols in his next contract.

Pujols is a right-handed hitter who would help to balance a Philadelphia lineup that has been very left-handed, and he is regarded as a superior first baseman, as well as being the best hitter in the sport.

Pat Gillick, who preceded Amaro as general manager and is currently serving as an adviser, knows something about making out-of-the-box blockbusters.

Twenty years ago, as general manager of the Blue Jays, he stunned the baseball world by trading stars Tony Fernandez and Fred McGriff to the San Diego Padres for Joe Carter and Roberto Alomar.

Buster Olney is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine.