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Albert Pujols' Contract: 10 Biggest Questions Facing the St. Louis Cardinals

Jon GilbertCorrespondent IIJanuary 31, 2011

Albert Pujols' Contract: 10 Biggest Questions Facing the St. Louis Cardinals

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    Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    The quietest but maybe most important offseason story is the contract negotiations between Albert Pujols and the St. Louis Cardinals. The superhuman slugger will become a free agent at the end of 2011 unless the Cardinals sign him.

    Both sides have remained quiet. But there is some information to go from in predicting what may happen. Could the Cardinals end up without Pujols on their roster at the end of 2011? Could it happen sooner?

    Here are the 10 biggest questions facing the St. Louis Cardinals in regards to the Pujols.

Will The Cardinals Get Pujols Signed Before Spring Training?

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    Pujols has stated that he is cutting off negotiations once spring training starts. So if a deal is not done by Feb. 18 when Cardinals position players report to Jupiter, Fla., Pujols is supposedly going to remain unsigned through the season.

    It's hard to believe that the Cardinals will let that happen. He's their franchise player. He would be any team's franchise player.

    It's going to be costly, but Pujols has to ink up before spring training, doesn't he?

How Much Will Pujols Cost?

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    How much money would you need to not know how to spend it all?

    That's how much—and more—Pujols stands to make.

    There has never been a $300 million deal in baseball but that could change. Rumors were that initial talks involved a deal for 10 years and $300 mil, trumping Alex Rodriguez's 10-year $275 million deal signed in 2008.

    It could come slightly down from there but not much.

Could St. Louis Extend Discussions Beyond Spring Training?

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    If the Cardinals don't get a deal done by Feb. 18 they may regret it. Although Pujols and the Cardinals have always gotten along, word is that things may not be so behind closed doors during these negotiations.

    If Pujols says talks are over by Feb. 18, he means it. He doesn't want it to become a distraction.

    Chances look slim of the Cardinals extending talks beyond the start of spring training.

Is Trading Pujols The Best Option?

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    If a deal doesn't get done before the start of spring training, it might be wise for St. Louis to begin shopping Pujols to avoid not getting anything in return.

    The only problem is that Pujols holds a no trade clause and has made it clear that he would use it.

    But things change. Pujols' affinity for St. Louis could diminish if the Cardinals struggle and a serious title contender wants to pick him up. If he's going to be out at the end of the year anyway, he may as well get a championship ring.

What Could St. Louis Expect in Return If They Trade Pujols?

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    Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    As the season develops, there will be a handful of teams that will need to decide if they will make a move to legitimize their contention. Pujols could be on the table if relationships deteriorate quickly enough in St. Louis.

    Picking up Pujols and his $16 million salary for 2011 would be a lot cheaper than landing him for $300 million or more. But what could the Cardinals get in return?

    Likely, they would get one good bat and prospects. They would really be in a tough spot in a trade scenario since they have the most to lose by letting Pujols walk.

If St. Louis Does Sign Pujols, What Are The Repercussions?

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    If St. Louis management pounds a few Red Bulls, slaps itself in the face, screams "Let's Do It!" and then signs Pujols to a $300 million deal, it's going to have to make some changes.

    It could mortgage Busch Stadium. Seriously. Wouldn't it still make sense to keep Pujols for ten years?

    Matt Holiday is set to make $17 million in 2011 and is signed through 2016. I doubt he's going anywhere. But what about Chris Carpenter? The pitcher is signed through 2011 with a club option for 2012 and is a hot and expensive commodity. They could unload him now to make room for Pujols' new contract.

If Pujols Walks, How Crippled Will St. Louis Be?

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    It's easy to say that if Pujols walks then that leaves the Cardinals with money to lock up Chris Carpenter long term or Adam Wainwright or even Yadier Molina, all with contracts coming up in 2011 with options for 2012.

    But those players aren't the answer. After all, if this roster didn't win with Albert Pujols, it's not going to win without him.

    Unless St. Louis has the next Pujols in its farm system, it's looking at a serious drop off in success. If you're putting a win total on Pujols' contribution, start the bidding at 15 games.

Where Would St. Louis End Up In The NL Central Without Pujols?

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    Say Pujols walks and St. Louis is significantly less talented in 2012. That's not a good thing in the National League Central, one of baseball's tightest divisions.

    Cincinnati rose up to claim the crown this season. The Cubs have the money to remain competitive under new ownership. Milwaukee and Houston are traditionally not teams to scoff at.

    To make matter's worse, the Cubs could be in the market for Pujols in 2012. How the tables could turn with that one signing.

What Other Teams Would Be in The Market For Pujols?

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    Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    Don't count out the usual suspects—the Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies—just because they are set at first base. What's stopping anyone from asking the 31-year-old to move to the outfield? It might the be smart move to keep him healthy anyway.

    Beyond those three and the Cubs, there are the Rangers and the recently spend-friendly Nationals. If clubs such as the Mets and Dodgers can get their books figured out, they'll make bids as well.

    There are probably 20 teams in Major League Baseball that would take a serious look at trying to make it work.

What Happens to St. Louis Fans If Pujols Leaves?

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    In these cases, fans tend to clamor for a player to give a hometown discount. But it's as if Pujols already did so with his seven-year $100 million deal. Matt Holiday made more than him in 2010 and will again in 2011.

    We are talking about what could very soon be considered the greatest player in the history of baseball.

    If the Cardinals don't step up and sign Pujols to the money he wants, any anger that St. Louis fans have should be directed at the front office. Pujols has been a model citizen during his time in St. Louis and wants to stay there.

    But he also wants to get paid what the market says he deserves.

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