So it went down. Wednesday came and went, and Albert Pujols did not extend his contract with the St. Louis Cardinals. Then Thursday showed up and, right on schedule, so did the media. Questions, questions, questions. And Pujols did what he always does. He shrugged it off and made for the locker room.
And so began the season-long waiting game for pretty much everybody with even a passing interest in baseball. Thanks to Tony LaRussa, we’ve already had our first case of foot-in-mouth disease. Pujols’ general demeanor could keep it from being a summer filled with fireworks, but there won’t be any shortage of interest or suspense once the season starts to wind down.
Where’s he going? Again I say, it’s anybody’s guess. There does seem to be one general consensus among the gurus of the sports world. The Chicago Cubs will be in the mix, if not major players. I don’t see it. Too much baggage, too many variables, etc, etc. So you can decide for yourself, here’s the breakdown of both sides:
-The Cards won’t sign him for 10 years – That’s fair. But their reasoning applies to the entire National League. Why lock in someone past his 40th birthday when the DH isn’t an option? Why would the Cubs do such a thing? Two words: Jim Hendry. The Cubs’ embattled GM has made a habit out of offering back-loaded contracts to riskier players (Alfonso Soriano, Koskuke Fukodome and Milton Bradley to name a few). The idea of a 42-year-old Albert Pujols trolling first base at the Friendly Confines won’t scare Hendry off.
-The Cubs have room at First Base – Derek Lee’s gone, new first-baseman Carlos Pena is only signed for one year and they have no definitive heir in the farm system who couldn’t be moved elsewhere should the need arise. Absolutely a factor.
-It’s clearance time for the Cubs payroll. The recent crop of Cub vets are all approaching contract years and most of them have underperformed. Fukodome is up this year and hasn’t lived up to expectations. Aramis Ramirez struggled last year and has some work to do for the club to re-sign him. Then there’s Carlos Zambrano, whose contract isn’t up, but he’ll get shipped off if he doesn’t behave. Any of these possibilities would make some room for Mr. Pujols.
-The Cardinals will wake up. They may not have met his deadline, but they’re not out of the game by a long-shot. He’s comfortable in the company of Stan Musial, Lou Brock and Ozzie Smith — and they’re not gonna just let him walk.
-Life begins at 40: for designated hitters, yeah it does. The Cardinals are balking at offering a 10-year deal but an A.L. team like the Rangers or the Angels won’t give the time frame a second thought. This will play a role in the thinking of any time in the N.L. because if he starts to fall off in the field at 39, what do you do with him?
-You can’t go home again – And believe me, he won’t want to. Not if he goes to the Cubs. You think LeBron’s homecoming was tough? That’ll look like “Holiday on Ice” compared to this one, and the Cubs go to St. Louis a whole lot more then the Heat go to Cleveland. Don’t think for a second this won’t cross his mind before he signs on the dotted line.
The truth is that Albert Pujols is not LeBron James. He’s made his intentions clear from the start. He wants to be in St. Louis. He may be glib with the media, but his teammates respect him and the fans adore him. He’ll be plenty conscious of his legacy before he makes a decision to bail.
On the other hand, taking Pujols away would be the biggest kiss-off in the history of the rivalry and the Cubs would eat it up. Pujols can be coy all he wants but he’s played his guts out for the Cards. Now he wants his cut and it’s hard to blame him. According to CBS Sports, Pujols’ current salary doesn’t even crack the top 25 from around the league. If their new offer is as weak as it’s been rumored, he’ll want some payback. And what better way to do it then to check out life on the North Side?