Cheap Seats

Dear Cardinals, quit the posturing and pay Pujols

I wonder if the Cardinals have any idea what sort of backlash they might face if they can't get Albert Pujols under contract beyond 2011.

Judging from the slow poke negotiating style they're employing, I'd say not.

Often times teams try to paint players as greedy when extensions or free agent signings go off the rails. They say they wanted the guy back. But they just couldn't meet his outrageous demands. Pujols has an undisputed reputation as the best player in baseball. Couple that with the fact that he has been drastically underpaid by major league standards for the past several seasons and its hard to drum up sympathy for the front office. Even if Albert demands a contract similar to Alex Rodriguez's $275-million 10-year pact with the Yankees, how can the Redbirds claim the money is unjustified? I certainly don't think they can claim they can't afford it. At least not with a straight face.

If the Cardinals paid $27.5 million a year -- or about $9.5 million a year more than Pujols has made for the past couple of seasons under the terms of his expiring deal, that works out to about $169,753 a game. Sure, that's a lot of money. But that works out to about 4,244 tickets a game over the course of a season if tickets average $40 a seat.

If anybody draws 4,244 people per game, it's Pujols. And that doesn't count the $8 beers, $35 caps or the $150 jerseys those fans -- and the 40,000 others in the house -- buy thanks to number 5.

Let's face it, while we're Cardinals fans and we care about the name on the front of the jersey, the name on the back of the uniform counts, too. It's the players and their reputations and personalities that put fans in the stands. And no one draws like Pujols. It's just like in the movies. It doesn't matter how great the story is, Brad Pitt's name on the marquee is going to sell more tickets than if Joe Schmoe plays the lead.

This high stakes game of chicken isn't worth playing. It's not a matter of if the Cardinals are going to make money after Pujols is signed. It's just a matter of how much money he is going to make. Yeah, I can see where certain players don't justify their rich contracts. But Pujols is the face of the franchise. He's the face of the city of St. Louis. There is no amount of money south of $32 million a season that he could ask for that would be a bad investment for the Redbirds.

Even if Pujols starts to fade as he passes 35 years old, it still won't be a bad deal in the financial sense. A .275 hitting Pujols is still Pujols. Hopefully the Cardinals will have added some more talent to carry the burden by that point -- even better if it is homegrown. But Pujols would still be the draw much like Musial was in his declining years. Or Ozzie Smith and Willie McGee were in theirs.

Four more years at the rate he has gone thus far and Pujols will be nearing 600 homers at age 35. Fans will pay to watch someone not tainted by steroids take back Henry Aaron's home run record from Barry Bonds or possibly A-Rod...

The real risk is letting Pujols go do those things elsewhere. He's our guy. And if the business of St. Louis baseball is cold-hearted enough that the only guy who could ever be mentioned in the same breath as Stan Musial is allowed to walk as a free agent it's not going to be worth it for some fans to financially invest themselves in buying tickets and beers and caps and jerseys anymore.

Instead of talking about how much signing Pujols will cost, the Cardinals need to think about how much not signing him will cost. If those 4,244 fans and their wallets go away, that could be a $30 million-plus hole in the team's checkbook.

And could you imagine how hard it would be to sell tickets if Pujols signed with the Cubs? I know they aren't going to sell any more to me.

Basically, the fans are counting on the front office to get this one right. And, so far at least, it doesn't look like the owners or the GM is committed to doing just that.

For Pete's sake, pay the man and let's get this overwith.