What to make of the St. Louis - Pujols situation

Chris Ruddick,
MLB Editor

Rounding Third Logo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - I said it last week. The month of January is the worst time of the year if you are in the baseball business. If you didn't believe me then, maybe you will now because the biggest news this past week was whether or not the St. Louis Cardinals were going to let three-time NL MVP Albert Pujols test the free agent waters after this season.

Seriously, are you kidding me?

This is less of a story than when the New York Yankees and Derek Jeter were negotiating. It's nice to talk about, but it will never happen. Pujols announced this week that he wanted a deal done by spring training and would not talk contract during the season.

Boom. Cue up the headlines, Pujols is ready to walk. I guess that's still bigger news than Gil Meche announcing his retirement, but it is all much to do about nothing.

Pujols can place any deadline he wants on the Cardinals. The fact of the matter is a deal is going to get done. Either it will be done by Pujols' self- imposed deadline, which I guarantee you has some leeway, or it will be done after the year within St. Louis' exclusive negotiating rights with him.

Mark my words. St. Louis will never let Pujols - the franchise's most important player since Stan Musial - become a free agent. Now it may get contentious here over the next few weeks or at the end of the year, like it did with the Jeter and the Yankees, but just like that situation, something will eventually get done.

Honestly, I don't envy the Cardinals here. Pujols is still in the prime of his career. How good is he? Well he is coming off a down year by his standards, but he still led the National League with 42 home runs and 118 RBI.

Albert Pujols is coming off a down year by his standards, but he still led the National League with 42 home runs and 118 RBI.
This won't be easy for the Cards, but they will eventually have to bite the bullet. They paid Matt Holliday $120 million last year. If anyone in the Cards' organization thought that would hinder any potential Pujols deal, you think it ever would have happened?

Alex Rodriguez gets $27.5 million a year. Granted he got that money from the Yankees, who defend their deal with facts like they never drew over 4 million fans until A-Rod arrived and have mentioned that the money the team will make on his potential run at the home run crown makes up for the fact that they may have overpaid.

Still, though, how can the Cards not start with A-Rod's deal or Ryan Howard's five-year, $125 million deal? Pujols' mere presence means more to the Cardinals than Rodriguez means to New York and certainly Howard in Philly.

By all accounts Pujols is a decent guy. I don't think he is going to rake the Cards over the coals. He just doesn't seem like the type. Now Alex Rodriguez does seem like the type. But, still Pujols wants to get paid. Even if he does give St. Louis a discount, how much would it be?

Pujols may be a decent guy, but he's not an idiot. I mean he's a player who averages 42 home runs and 128 RBI a year, while hitting .331. And oh by the way he is a lifetime .426 on-base percentage. I can't imagine him giving in that much. But he will. Both sides will.

There will be two teams monitoring this situation closely and that is the New York Mets and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The Mets are going to have an awful lot of money coming off their books at the end of this season and the Angels are coming off one of the worst winters in the history of their franchise.

Both teams are probably set at first base, but if Pujols becomes available I have a feeling something could change.

In the end, though, I see Pujols getting a seven-year extension with the Cards worth around $28 million annually with MVP and other special bonuses in there that would push the deal well over $200 million. It may not seem like much for a player of Pujols' caliber, but it is when you consider that the Cardinals, as a team, haven't gone over $100 million in payroll since El Hombre became a factor.

I have a feeling St. Louis will get real creative with this deal. Perhaps backload it heavily, making him part of the organization for life. Either way it will all be worked out. I am guessing sooner rather than later, though, so the stuff that has happened this week won't have a chance to fester throughout the year.

Just keep reminding yourselves that spring training is now less than a month away.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Chris Ruddick at cruddick@sportsnetwork.com.

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