Cardinals to blame for this Pujols mess

Chris Ruddick,
MLB Editor

Rounding Third Logo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - It's not often that you can find fault with a team who offers a player close to $200 million, but the blame in this whole Albert Pujols mess lays squarely at the feet of the St. Louis Cardinals.

Unless you have been living under a rock, you know that Pujols' self-imposed deadline came and went without a new contract. And while he will still be the property of the Cardinals today, he very well may not be at some point in the future.

Reportedly, the Cardinals' last offer to Pujols would have placed the three-time National League MVP in baseball's top 10 in salary, but not in the top five in average annual salary.

Quite simply, the offer was a slap in the face to a player who has at least 32 home runs, reached the 100-RBI plateau and batted better than .300 in each of his 10 big league seasons, let alone the best player the Cardinals' franchise has produced since Stan Musial.

"While we are disappointed that we did not reach an agreement, we remain hopeful that Albert will finish his career in St. Louis," said Cardinals chairman William O. DeWitt Jr. in a statement released Wednesday. "Albert has been playing baseball at the highest level for the Cardinals these past 10 years, providing us with countless great memories. We look forward to many more in 2011 and hopefully beyond."

Albert Pujols batted better than .300 in each of his 10 big league seasons.
Now there is no way in the world I think, or should I say thought, the Cardinals were going to let Pujols walk. Now I am not so sure. If that is their best offer, and you would have to think a last-ditch effort to get something done was, I may have to reassess.

If the impossible happens and Pujols does hit free agency, the Cardinals may have to pony up at least $100 million more to retain his services if other teams get involved and this becomes a full-out bidding war. And why wouldn't it?.

While the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox would seemingly be out of the chase, you can never count them out. Nor can you count out St. Louis' hated rivals in Chicago. Can you imagine Pujols manning first at Wrigley?

Now the question is, will the fans in St. Louis turn on Pujols? Cardinals fans are known for not booing their own, though I am sure some people will call him greedy, but the ire of the large majority will likely be focused on the front office.

How could it not be?

Eight or nine years at $21 million is nothing to sneeze at and should keep Pujols and his family very secure for the rest of their lives. But the fact of the matter is, the offer is a slap in the face to the best player in the game today, especially when the Cards gave Matt Holliday seven years and $120 million last winter knowing full well that "Albertageddon" was approaching.

Then again, maybe the Cardinals thought they could get Pujols at a discount like the way Minnesota did with catcher Joe Mauer, who agreed to an eight- year, $184 million extension last offseason.

Pujols, though, apparently wants a deal that at least approaches Alex Rodriguez' 10-year, $275 million. I've always thought that the Rodriguez contract was not a fair comparison. Sure, Pujols is the better player, but A- Rod means more to the Yankees' brand than Pujols does to St. Louis'. To put it more simply: the Yankees generate a lot more money than the Cardinals, and Rodriguez is a huge part of that.

You don't believe me? Keep this in mind. The Yankees seem to set attendance records every year now, but they did not draw four million fans in a single season until A-Rod got there. And don't forget how much money will be made if Rodriguez begins to approach the home run record.

Pujols arrived at Cardinals camp on Thursday and said all the right things. He hopes to end his career in St. Louis. He is focused on winning another championship. He won't let his situation become a distraction.

I'm sorry Albert, if you don't think this is going to be a distraction, think again. The Cardinals had yet to do a meaningful drill on Tuesday and manager Tony La Russa had already let his emotions get the best of him, indicating that the Major League Baseball Players' Association was putting pressure on Pujols to accept the biggest deal out there.

Just wait until the Cards lose a few games in a row in late June or early July and the inevitable trade rumors start. Forget how distracting this is all going to be for Pujols, how about his teammates who will no doubt have to answer questions about the situation night in and night out?

By the way, Pujols has a full no-trade clause and has already said a trade is not even an issue at this point.

Everybody involved can put any kind of spin they want on this. It is going to be a distraction. I do think the deadline is fluid, though. I find it hard to believe that talks are shut down until after the season. Perhaps the agent will communicate with the Cardinals without getting Pujols involved.

Either way, I can't envision St. Louis going into next season with someone other than Pujols at first base. But then again, I didn't think it would even get this far.

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