Stan Musial is the St. Louis Cardinals and these days, Albert Pujols is the St. Louis Cardinals too. That is why it is so shocking that the Cardinals seem to have little urgency in signing Pujols to a new contract.
Pujols is going to be a free agent after the 2011 season unless he signs a new contract. He has surely earned himself an enormous raise from the 7-year, $100 million deal he signed before the 2004 season. The deal included an already exercised club option for an eighth-year for the 2011 season at $16 million, which is a bargain when far lesser players are signing deals in the neighborhood of $20 million per season.
So where does this leave the Cardinals and Pujols? Rumor has it Pujols has told the Cardinals if a new contract is not signed by the beginning of spring training, he will test the free-agent market.
That leaves less than seven weeks to get a deal done or the Cardinals are going to have a huge distraction on their hands for the whole 2011 season.
Both parties say they will negotiate in private but that is going to be difficult with a player of Pujols' caliber. The media will be very aggressive in following this story going forward.
Just the thought of Pujols testing the free-agent market has to send every Cardinals fan into a panic attack. Pujols wearing another uniform would be like George Brett handing in his Royals jersey. It doesn’t just feel wrong; it feels unimaginable.
Pujols is unquestionably the preeminent hitter in the National League and became the first player in Major League history to have at least 30 home runs and 100 RBIs in his first 10 seasons.
Over the past 10 years, only Alex Rodriguez has a stat line that can come close to matching Pujols. So you would have to think Pujols being four-and-a-half years younger would command a salary in the range of Rodriguez, if not more.
Rodriguez signed his famous 10-year, $252 million deal with the Rangers in 2000. Rodriguez opted out of the 10-year deal after the 2007 season and signed a new 10-year deal with the Yankees for $275 million that could jump to $305 million if he reaches certain home run milestones. That makes the Rodriguez deal worth at least $27.5 million per season.
With that being said, what would Pujols command on the open market? Is he willing to offer the Cardinals a “hometown discount?”
My guess is Pujols will ask for a deal in the 10-year, $300 million range.
The Cardinals' payroll has been in the $90-$99 million range the past few years, so the $300 million question is how much are they willing to commit to Pujols?
Cardinal fans do not want to hear that there is no money to resign Pujols. They want a long-term deal done; it’s that simple.
If the Cardinals feel they can’t go forward with their current payroll structure, they will need to get creative.
One option is Chris Carpenter. He has a $15 million option with a $1 million buyout for 2012. Carpenter will turn 37 years old in April of 2012, so the Cardinals will be wise to think long and hard about picking up his option. The money saved on an aging Carpenter could be allocated to Pujols.
Unless the Cardinals want the Pujols story to be the lead story in the St. Louis media for the next nine months, they would be well served getting a deal done as soon as possible.