Arguably the biggest free agent name on the market this winter will be Albert Pujols.
And while there are other superstars like Prince Fielder and Jose Reyes in the free-agent pool this offseason, the biggest name is still Pujols, because of the drama surrounding his potential move from St. Louis.
Jose Reyes, while a top-tier star in his own right, is no Albert Pujols.
But Pujols, 31, will have the chance to test the free-agent waters for the first time in his 11-season career, a career that even if ended today, would rank as one of the greatest of all-time and earn him a first-ballot election to the Hall of Fame.
When the slugging first baseman rejected a nine-year, $195 million contract extension offer from the Cards last winter, speculation grew that he may leave town for "greener" pastures come 2012.
Not only was the contract offer not to Pujols' liking, but Tony La Russa, Pujols' skipper from day one, and one of the greatest managers in MLB history, had his own decision to make on whether to return to a club that hadn't had much success following its World Series championship of 2006.
Things have drastically changed since then.
The Cardinals have returned to glory, with a late-season push to qualify for the postseason on the final day of the regular schedule, followed by victories over the mighty Philadelphia Phillies and slugging Milwaukee Brewers to clinch the National League Pennant.
Now in the World Series, the Cardinals have been reborn as a franchise in many respects, finally reaching a level of play that many expected them to maintain following their 2006 championship.
And not only this, but Tony La Russa has been hinting at a return in 2012.
All of these factors make it not only desirable, but absolutely essential that the front office in St. Louis does whatever it takes to keep Pujols in a Cardinals uniform through the rest of his career.
Not only will Pujols, barring significant injury, be chasing hallowed records such as the career home run mark (he already has 445 at age 31), but he is the heart and soul of this franchise; the hero that fans and teammates alike look to for leadership and confidence.
To lose Pujols would be a blow to a franchise that has had him as its face for the past decade, and would almost surely create a formidable obstacle to overcome in reaching this level of success again in the near future.
La Russa called Pujols "our pivot. He is our anchor."
Today, more than at anytime since the contract drama began with Pujols, Cardinal fans can feel confident that their slugger will be back in 2012, and indeed for the remainder of his brilliant career.
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