Albert Pujols' 2011 free agency is quietly tunneling its way into the subconscious of every person in St. Louis, creating an anxiety for Cardinal fans that comes with the idea of losing their most coveted player.
To many St. Louisans, the term "Albert Pujols trade" would sound like nothing more than a stupid joke or poorly executed April Fools prank.
But to the Cardinals faithful , trading the nine-time All-Star seems logical.
After all, the 31-year-old slugger is having a horrible season.
At the season's midpoint, Pujols is hitting .308 (tenth in MLB) with 21 home runs (second in MLB) and 64 RBIs (fifth in MLB). "The Machine" is quite clearly a little rusty—last year, he finished .327.
Although his 2010 numbers are below average (by his own standards), Pujols' prestige as one of MLB's best is by no means fading.
So, the contract required to satisfy the celebrated first baseman after 2011 must be every bit as spectacular as the back of his baseball card.
To put simply, Pujols' contract must fulfill the following:
- It must be the highest St. Louis Cardinals salary to date.
- It must be more impressive than that of the Philadelphia Phillies' Ryan Howard.
- It must keep Pujols out of trade conversations until after 2011.
Satisfying the above requirements should not be terribly daunting for Cardinal General Manager John Mozeliak—the Cardinals have money, and for now, they have young talent.
Rookies Jaime Garcia and David Freese have been impressive this year, and sophomore center fielder Colby Rasmus is on track to be a long-term asset to the Cardinals.
Eventually, the Cards will have to pay these rising stars, and the budget will be tight when an overwhelmingly large Pujols contract surfaces after next year.
Regardless of where Pujols' numbers end up at the end of this year, the Cardinals number one priority will be keeping their slugger.
Hall of Fame outfielder Stan Musial spent his entire career with the Cardinals—so will Pujols.
St. Louis Cardinals fans are by no means fair-weather people: they will support Pujols whether he is having a "bad year" or a "Pujols year."
Whoever makes up the rest of the Cardinals' lineup the next ten years is a mystery—to most, it simply does not matter.