Pressure's On, Cardinals: Why Albert Pujols Is Leaving St. Louis
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News broke on Friday that Cardinals' slugger Albert Pujols will veto any trade proposal involving him.
The upcoming free agent stated earlier this offseason that he will not negotiate during the season, meaning the Cardinals ink him to an extension before he reports to Spring Training, or he will become a free agent after the 2011 season.
This announcement by itself isn't remarkably significant, but if you read between the lines, it's evident the Cardinals have substantial doubt that they can/will hold onto the three-time NL MVP.
Here's my prevailing thought: if the Cards were confident that they will re-sign Pujols, there would not even be a hint of discussion about a trade. If they feel the chances of a extending Albert are strong, then the possibility of a trade would be a complete afterthought. After this bit of news, though, it's clear that it is not an afterthought.
Until Pujols signs an extension or signs with another team, everything is speculation (we learned that from the NBA's free agent season last summer). Here's a break down of what we do know about Pujols and the reasons he might stay or leave.
1. Continuity and familiarity
Pujols has never suited up for another team in his 10 prolific seasons in MLB. Regardless of how favorable or unfavorable the situation has become, staying in the place you're familiar with is always more comfortable than making a change.
2. St. Louis is arguably the best baseball city in America
The Gateway to the West has long been among the best baseball cities. The tradition, the culture, the fan base. Since 2000, the Cardinals are second only to the Yankees in total home attendance, and boasts one of the most loyal and knowledgeably fan bases in baseball. Pujols' upright character mixed with the fans' adoration of him as their own creates a marriage that would not be easy to dissolve.
In Pujols' career, the Cards have won the third-most games in baseball, taken seven NL Central titles, won two NL pennants and one World Series in 2006. Pujols could leave, but there are a select few teams who could contend better than St. Louis for a World Series.
Here's a list: Rogers Hornsby, Stan Musial, Bob Gibson, Curt Flood, Lou Brock, and Ozzie Smith. If Pujols plays his entire career (or most of it) for St. Louis, he has a great chance of being remembered as the best Cardinal ever. That is no small feat considering the names in the preceding list.
Is Albert Pujols staying in St. Louis, or leaving?
Pujols could retire a career Cardinal as the all-time leader in every major hitting category, which will not be possible if he leaves now. There's a lot at stake for Albert Pujols' legacy as a St. Louis Cardinal.
1. Payroll flexibility
The number that Pujols is expected to command is $25 million a year for at least six years. Some estimates have it as high as $30 million per year. If the Cardinals add that to their current payroll, their flexibility and ability to improve in other places will plummet. Already 13th in payroll, the St. Louis would certainly rocket into the top seven or higher.
Pujols and his representatives will be aware of this. Their roster hasn't been good enough to win a championship the last few years, so how could the team improve if Pujols earns double his current salary of $13.8 million? Pujols could earn his money just the same with another team that is able to surround him with other players.
2. Hometown discount?
Given the strong relationship and mutual loyalty between Pujols and the Cardinals, the organization might assume or even ask for a hometown discount. Now, Pujols is not a selfish or greedy player by any means, and has been severely underpaid his entire career. Will he continue to be alright with that after 11 seasons of 30+ HR and 100+ RBI in his first ever free agent offseason? Only time will tell.
If you're Pujols, there are more positives to staying in St. Louis than negatives, which doesn't matter all that much. The only thing that matters is what Pujols thinks his options are. Maybe, for the first time in his career, he wants to be pursued and catered to. Maybe he wants to sit back and watch the offers roll in and the contract numbers pile up. Only Albert has those answers.
The news about Pujols voiding any trade is not earth-shaking, but it does reveal something about how negotiations are going and what each side is thinking in late January, just a few weeks before Pujols' contract ultimatum.
He very well could stay, but I think this news means he's leaning towards leaving. Now that would be earth-shaking news.
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