The word on the street is that the negotiations between the Cardinals and superstar slugger Albert Pujols will turn serious beginning next week.
So we should likely know in the next couple of weeks if anything can be done to prevent baseball's best player from hitting the free agent market at the end of the 2011 season.
My gut feeling, and if you've seen my gut you'll know that it does pretty well for itself, is that the Cardinals will keep Pujols -- IF they are truly committed to doing so. I don't believe that Pujols will hold out for every last dollar. But I do believe that he wants to be payed something that is relatively in line with his status and market value. It's probably been something of a bitter pill for him to swallow that he's been baseball's fifth-best-paid first baseman for the last several years while there is general consensus that he is the game's best player, regardless of position.
I'm guessing that it's going to take something in the vicinity of $230 million over eight years to ink the big guy. That's a hair better than $27 million a year. And at least that is in the ballpark of the $27.5 million per season before incentives that Alex Rodriguez got from the Yankees in 2007. I suspect the deal might also include a couple of option years that could stretch it out to 10 seasons and make Pujols the highest paid player in baseball history should he make it all the way to the end.
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The funny thing about being the highest paid is that it's a record that is certainly going to be broken. So is it really that important to temporarily hold the crown?
Anyway, back to the original point, if the Cardinals come into the room in a genuine manner with the attitude that they want to get something done, I think it's going to get worked out. If they come into the room and tell Pujols that they love him and all. But they can only afford to pay him $20 million a year for six years, he's going to walk.
As I have said many times before, I realize that baseball salaries are beyond ridiculous. But if anyone justifies his paycheck, it's Pujols. Why? Because he puts people in the seats. He sells jerseys and tee shirts and bobbleheads. He IS the show that people fork over money to see. I believe if the Cardinals let Pujols walk that they could potentially be throwing away more than a quarter of their current revenue stream in the form of lost ticket and merchandise sales. And, if the Birds did take the $25-30 million in is expected to take to sign Pujols and spend it on other players, there is no combination of signings they could make to create the interest in the club that Pujols creates.
The Cardinals need to get Albert signed. And they need to do it now. As we have learned from the last two years, his cost does nothing but go up as time passes. And, while I am optimistic that Pujols can be signed if the Redbirds are serious, my level of enthusiasm for the outcome will drop precipitously if he hits the open market.
If the Yankees, Cubs, Angels and Mets are able to make stupid money bids on Albert, he's going to end up in a different uniform in 2012.