I'm finding it hard to believe, despite his claims that his contract status wouldn't interfere with his performance on the field, that it's not at least partially responsible for the incredibly slow start of Albert Pujols.
Sure, with such a small sample of at bats in a week and a half old season, it could simply be a case of bad luck. But, with five double play balls already to his credit, it seems to me that Albert doesn't have a problem with his swing and he isn't having physical troubles. He's just making a ton of unusual mental mistakes. In short, Pujols, who has made a career of making the most out of what the pitcher gives them, is trying to do too much. And opposing hurlers are capitalizing on his over-aggressiveness.
He's hit an alarming number of balls to the opposing third baseman and shortstop because he's getting way out front, trying to pull every ball he sees for a home run that will drive up his marketability. Meanwhile, the anemic Cardinals offense needs Pujols to shoot some balls into the outfield gaps to get the baseruners moving two or more bases at a time.
Some have suggested to me that they'd love to see Pujols have an uncharateristic year to drive down his price and increase the Cardinals chance of signing him. But I don't see anything Pujols does on the field this year giving St. Louis an increased chance of signing him. If he's great, it's going to drive up his price, if he's crummy, the Redbirds are going to be even more reluctant to open up the checkbook. The Yankees and Red Sox can afford to make huge financial mistakes. But the Cardinals can't.
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If Pujols hits .275 with 20 homers this season, I think it would give the Cardinals serious pause about passing out a longterm deal out of fear that baseball's best player was showing signs of fading. Then there's going to be an opportunity for other clubs to move in and make a gamble of an offer.
He's already an insanely rich guy. But the pressure of turning down $200 million over the off-season must be enormous. Pujols never had to consciously play to justify a contract before. He was great when he made the major league minimum and the Birds never forced him to go to arbitration or free agency before they gave him his current $100-million plus deal. He never had to wonder where he would play next year... Where his kids would go to school, because his future has always been guaranteed at least a couple of years down the line.
I just hope that the return of Matt Holliday and some production out of the rest of the order will take some pressure off the big guy and allow him to get back to concentrating on seeing the ball and hitting the ball.