The clock is ticking on the St. Louis Cardinals to come to terms on a contract extension with the best player the Cardinals have had since Stan "The Man" Musial retired in 1963.
Albert Pujols has set a firm deadline to agree to an extension by the start of spring training.
Should Pujols not receive an extension by that time, he will become a free agent after the 2011 season.
With big spenders New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox locked into long contracts with current first basemen of Mark Teixeira and Adrian Gonzalez respectively, one has to wonder where the three-time National League MVP might end up.
Pujols could demand a deal close to the deal Alex Rodriguez signed for 10 years and $275 million.
So what teams could sign the free agent next off season?
Dustin Ackley and Pujols could form a dominating middle of the lineup for years to come.
The Seattle Mariners are desperate for offensive weapons.
In 2010 the Mariners were historically bad on offense ranking dead last in Major League Baseball in runs scored (513), batting average (.236), on base percentage (.298), and slugging percentage (.339).
Help is on the way in the form of the 2008 MLB Draft's number two overall pick Dustin Ackley.
Ackley and Pujols could help an offensive turnaround in Seattle which doesn't want to waste the prime years of AL Cy Young Winner, Felix Hernandez, and the remaining productive seasons of right fielder Ichiro Suzuki.
Pujols could take over first base for Justin Smoak, who in his first 100 games at the major league level has shown little to be excited about.
Jayson Werth and Pujols could help dethrone the Phillies in the NL East
The Washington Nationals have shown this offseason that they are serious about contending in a big way very soon.
The Nationals made a big splash early in free agency by signing 31 year old outfielder Jayson Werth to a 7 year, $126 million dollar deal.
The Nationals are clearly expecting to arrive on the scene in 2012. Along with Werth, young guns Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper should both be—in Strasburg's case a return, in the majors.
Washington signed Adam Laroche to a two year, $16 million dollar deal to take over first base, but the Nationals would be able to move that contract fairly easily if they were able to land Pujols.
A lineup with Pujols, Ryan Zimmerman, Werth, and Harper to go along with a rotation headlined by Strasburg could be a scary team to face.
Johan Santana (when healthy) is still among best starting pitchers in the NL.
The Mets have been on a slide the last few seasons, which featured an epic September collapse.
They have been looking for a first baseman since Carlos Delgado hit the injury bug.
Ike Davis has been inserted as the starter, but no one excited about his .260 average with limited power for the position with only 19 home runs in over 500 at bats.
Pujols could slide into the middle of a lineup that desperately needs him.
Jason Bay, Carlos Beltran, and Jose Reyes can all still play when healthy, and a bat like Pujols would only help their production at the dish.
Johan Santana can still be a top tier starter to go along with other solid options that includes Mike Pelfrey, Jon Niese, and last years big surprise R.A. Dickey.
Put those players around All-Star third baseman David Wright and Pujols, and you could be looking at a playoff team.
Matt Kemp remains one of the best young Outfielders in baseball.
After the circus that was the 2010 Dodgers, they need to turn the page to the future.
They have a solid foundation on which a contender can be built with Matt Kemp being the main piece. The 26 year old centerfielder had a down year in 2010, but still can lay claim to being the best center fielder in the National League.
With talented players like Andre Ethier, Rafael Furcal, and Kemp to build around, the future can still be bright for the Dodgers.
With a solid starting rotation being reinforced by bringing in Ted Lilly last season, and the bullpen being bolstered by signing Matt Guerrier this offseason, the pitching should be solid in 2011.
Albert Pujols could replace the steady, but unspectacular James Loney at first base in 2012 in a division that is wide open entering next season.
Pujols could make the Dodgers one of the favorites in the NL West, and as the Giants showed in 2010, anything can happen once you get into the playoffs.
Let's be honest. The Cardinals are always going to be the favorites in the Pujols lottery.
Like Joe Mauer in Minnesota, Pujols defines his team.
I would expect Pujols to resign with the Cardinals even if he does make it all the way to free agency.
The Cardinals ponied up $120 million for seven years of service for Matt Holliday. It's hard to believe they would do that deal if they didn't have enough coins in the piggy bank to resign Pujols.
So here's hoping that Pujols and the Cardinals can come to some sort of agreement. As a baseball fan, it wouldn't be right to see him in a different jersey.