Albert Pujols is the best player in baseball. He’s the best player on a good team that’s currently leading its division.
So, why should the St. Louis Cardinals even consider trading away a no-doubt franchise player?
Because the economics of baseball say so, that’s why.
For better or worse, there are only a few teams in the game that can afford to pay a player the kind of money Pujols is going to be worth this offseason.
Now, I don’t mean afford in the sense that the Cardinals don’t actually have the money to keep him. They could match the kinds of offers Pujols will likely get from the powerbrokers in baseball like the Yankees and the Red Sox.
I mean that they can’t afford him like I can’t afford a new car. I could technically buy one, but it would take all my money, and the payments would leave me totally broke in the future.
So just like it would be stupid for me to max out my credit on a shiny new car and then have no money to go anywhere in it, it would be stupid for the Cardinals to blow all their budget on one player.
I know that St. Louis is hoping Pujols will take a hometown discount and stay with the Cardinals at a price that will allow them to remain competitive.
I think the evidence says this is some seriously wishful thinking.
Pujols gave the Cardinals an opportunity to make offers to him without competition from other teams before this season started. He rejected them all.
While we don’t know exactly what the offers were that St. Louis put in front of him, it’s highly unlikely they held much back.
The last thing that the Cardinals want is to have to go toe to toe with the other teams in the league. While they may not be the poorest team around, they certainly don’t have the kind of bank account balance that teams like Boston and New York do.
By declining the initial offers from St. Louis, Pujols is making it clear that he won’t sign for anything less than he feels like he can get on the open market.
This means that whoever is going to have him in their lineup next spring is going to have to pay a serious price.
Instead of giving away their entire payroll on one piece of the puzzle, I say the Cardinals should take the opportunity to trade him while they can.
Pujols may have something to say about the situation, however, as he has a no-trade clause in his current deal.
Although the no-trade does complicate matters, I don’t think he would be totally unwilling to listen to a deal if it were to the right team.
The teams that would likely trade for him would be the same teams that will be bidding on his services this offseason, so they would not likely be scared off by the prospect of losing him after just a few months of having him in their lineup.
A team like the Yankees or the Red Sox could use some of their young prospects to trade for Pujols. They would have the obvious advantage of using him in the second half of the 2011 season, when both are likely to be in contention for a World Series title.
They would also be able to use those months as an extended recruiting trip. Pujols would have a chance to really get to know the players and coaches in the clubhouse.
He would get a chance to see the city, find places he likes to eat and live and get a good sense of what it would be like to sign a long-term contract with that particular organization.
And if he doesn't like what he sees? Then he just does what he was going to do anyway and sells his services to the highest bidder after this season is over.
See what I’m saying? Everybody wins with a trade.
If the Cardinals remain stubborn and don’t deal him before the trade deadline, they’ll be looking at watching him walk away and getting a couple of measly draft picks in compensation.
Talk about getting nothing for something.
The Cardinals would be better off shopping his services in the coming weeks. The same teams that will be in the sweepstakes to sign him this winter will be banging down the Cardinals' door to offer them good, majors-ready prospects.
The kind of prospects that St. Louis can use to begin the process of building a winner without Albert Pujols.
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