It's more than a little unsettling to see that the Cardinals were completely taken by surprise by superstar Albert Pujols' decision to put off signing a contract extension.
We can sit here and scratch our beards and say that it makes sense on many levels for the player and the team to wait until the last minute to re-up. But the inescapable fact is that we're seeing strong evidence of a disconnect between the franchise and the franchise player.
Why would Albert not want to at least talk about a contract if he trusts the Cardinals to continue to try to put the best and most competitive product possible on the field? If he means what he says about top dollar not being his top priority, then what is? What could make him consider keeping his options open if playing in front of adoring fans for a team that has made the playoffs seven times in the last 10 years isn't good enough for him?
Pujols is obviously well compensated at $16 million a year. But he's not the highest paid player in the game by a long shot. It is a time honored tradition in professional sports that teams show their respect to top performers by making them the highest paid performers. So what are the Cardinals supposed to do if Pujols won't let the club give him a raise?
Pujols said he wants the Cardinals to have a chance to make the playoffs every year and that he loves having a guy like Matt Holliday hitting behind him. But if the Birds want to keep Holliday in the fold, they are almost certainly going to have to pay him a higher annual salary that Pujols. Is Pujols going to be miffed when not only does he not crack the top 20 highest paid players in baseball, but he isn't even the highest paid player on his own team?
The Cardinals really need Albert to be on board with their future plans. Without a doubt, a mid-market team is going to have to get creative with contracts, backloading or deferring payments. So, by doing what Pujols said he wants to remain with St. Louis for life and signing marquee talent to support him, the Cardinals might just be painting themselves into a corner when it comes to meeting Pujols' future contract demands.
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