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Walt Jocketty as Cubs GM could start whirlwind that brings Pujols

Albert Pujols might yet wind up slugging for Cubs if right chaevents sets up after season. | Jeff Roberson~AP

Albert Pujols might yet wind up slugging for the Cubs if the right chain of events sets up after the season. | Jeff Roberson~AP

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Updated: November 10, 2011 9:47AM

CINCINNATI — Of all the general-manager scenarios being talked about internally by the Cubs, the most involved — and one of the most intriguing — involves a chain reaction that winds up putting Albert Pujols in a Cubs uniform.

According to a major-league source, the scenario raised during informal discussions would start with the Cubs going after Cincinnati Reds general manager Walt Jocketty, who would, in turn, hire his old manager, Tony La Russa, from St. Louis. La Russa’s relationship with Pujols would then lead to the Cubs landing one of the top free-agent hitters on the market.

Depending on how far the Cubs get — or don’t — with a GM wish list that starts with the likes of Theo Epstein and Andrew Friedman, the Jocketty-La Russa-Pujols model might not be as far-fetched as it seems at first glance. Jocketty and La Russa are both in contract years, and La Russa is said to be ready to leave St. Louis.

As for Jocketty’s interest in the Cubs job, ‘‘I can’t comment on that,’’ he said before the Cubs’ 2-1 loss to the Reds on Tuesday night. ‘‘I’m under contract here. I’m happy here.’’

No formal contact between the Ricketts ownership and Jocketty
appears to have been made, but he and Tom Ricketts have met.

Jocketty, 60, is in his fourth season as Reds GM, after 13 with the Cardinals. His teams have reached the playoffs a combined eight times in that stretch, including two World Series appearances and a title for the Cardinals.

While Jocketty, last year’s Sporting News Executive of the Year in the majors, wouldn’t talk about the Cubs job in relation to his own interests, he did say it’s viewed within the industry as one of the top gigs.

‘‘I’m sure everyone feels that it’s an attractive position because it’s a storied franchise and one of the great brands in the game,’’ said Jocketty, whose teams have finished ahead of the Cubs in 11 of his 17 seasons as a rival GM. ‘‘There’s a lot of history, and it’s a great challenge, because they haven’t won a championship there in a long time. And I think everyone believes that they’re the ones that would hope to be able to break that streak.

‘‘Plus you should have great resources to work with there. At least you’ve got the new ownership
that seems to be aggressive in wanting to win.’’

Jocketty also said the recent four-year contract extension for farm director Oneri Flieta ‘‘shouldn’t be’’ a hindrance to the hiring process, as some have speculated.

In fact, he believes Flieta and scouting director Tim Wilken have put the Cubs’ farm system on solid footing after years of underperformance by the system.

‘‘You look at some of the guys who are at the major-league level now and some of the guys that are coming,’’ he said, ‘‘and the system looks pretty strong.’’

As for the Cubs’ aggressiveness, the vetting process is well under way, including information-gathering on Friedman, Oakland’s Billy Beane, former Los Angeles Dodgers GM Dan Evans and Evans’ successor, Ned Collettit, according to sources.

Friedman’s boss, Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg, told the St. Petersburg Times this week he doesn’t see Friedman leaving.

‘‘Andrew is a partner here,’’ Sternberg told the newspaper. ‘‘He’s a partner of mine. And he treats this organization even better than I possibly can. There’s nothing to report on that.’’

Sternberg, Friedman and manager Joe Maddon are in their sixth year together in Tampa Bay.

‘‘And it doesn’t feel like six years,’’ Sternberg said, ‘‘and I would think we would keep the band together another six years.’’

If the Rays knock the Boston Red Sox out of the playoff picture in the coming weeks, count on the Epstein Watch heating up, if not getting resolved quickly in early October.

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