Albert Pujols is the most feared and respected hitter in all of baseball. Based on talent alone, he is one of the top 10 hitters of the past 50 years.
He is the heart and soul of the St. Louis Cardinals and one of the most important faces in baseball—and that's why he needs to re-sign with the Cards.
Look at baseball's power structure—strength on the coasts, weakness in the middle. The Cardinals were the last team from middle America to win the World Series, and that was back in 2006.
Baseball is dominated by teams like the Yankees and Red Sox, the Angels and Dodgers and the Giants and Phillies—teams that have money and like to spend it.
But baseball can't survive with only four or five teams dominating with teams in middle America being forced out. The St. Louis Cardinals—with their storied history and their consistent string of success—are the perfect foe to baseball's big boys. Watching Pujols leave will ruin that.
Pujols, unfairly or not, is the antithesis of Alex Rodriguez. It has been ingrained in our minds that Pujols is clean and has made his career off hard work and world-class talent, not designer pills and steroids. It has been our belief that he wouldn't chase money from another team and would be content as the franchise cornerstone for the Cards.
Thus, if he were to opt out for more money, it would be akin to when Ken Griffey Jr. demanded a trade to Cincinnati, which we all know was a genuine flop for both parties involved.
Imagine seeing Pujols in a different uniform. Imagine a team like the Dodgers, fed up with playing second fiddle to the Angels, throwing money at Pujols to lure him away. People forget that until Pujols helped lead the Cards to the World Series in 2006, they hadn't won a title since 1982—or that their last big first baseman was some guy named Mark McGwire.
Any way you compare it, Pujols is monumentally important to baseball. He has made St. Louis fans forget about McGwire (who, coincidentally, is now the Cardinals' hitting coach). Through thick and thin, Pujols is the player who kids have posters of in their rooms, who plays for the love of the game, not the love of the paycheck.
I can't get on Pujols for asking for more money—he's the best player in the game and one of the best teammates and most likable players. But as great as he is, the Cardinals need to take one look at the contract of Alex Rodriguez, who has seven years left on his contract and has already shown signs of physically breaking down.
Can the Cardinals, a team with a payroll about half the size of the Yankees, really afford to give Pujols over $30 million a year for the next decade? Or can they afford to lose him?
It's a tough call. I can't see Pujols playing for any other team, but I also can't see him getting anywhere near the deal he wants.
My suggestion? Eight years, $240 million. That cuts two years and nearly $70 million off Pujols' wishes but still pays him as much as A-Rod. I can see Pujols taking a discount to stay with St. Louis and to preserve his legacy. For the sake of baseball, let's hope he does.