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What if Pujols leaves? So what?

I've been hearing comments from a lot of people lately, likely fueled by the emotion of the prospect of the greatest player in baseball potentially leaving the Cardinals more than the facts of the situation.

They say "So what if Pujols leaves? It's not the end of the world. The Cardinals will go on without him."

It would make me laugh if the prospect wasn't so sad.

Sure the sun will come up in the morning and the games will go on at Busch Stadium. But let's not pretend Pujols' departure wouldn't be devastating.

First, you don't just go out and replace the best player in the game. Words mean things, and when someone is the consensus "best" at what he does, not only can you not find anyone better. You're not going to find anyone who is their equal, either. If Pujols would accept a trade, who would you trade him for. No one comes close to what he offers. There is no fair deal.

Second -- and this is the big one -- let's just drop the whole idea some people covet of spending $10 million each on three players or $15 million on two players instead of giving Pujols $30 million. The Cardinals aren't going to add $30 million to the payroll if Pujols leaves. Because if they were willing to spend that kind of money, they would spend it on the best player in the game... Who just happens to be the biggest draw in baseball. If Pujols leaves, I expect that attendance will go down significantly, taking money out of the team's coffers. That's less tickets sold, less $8 beers sold, less parking... Have you ever looked at what percentage of Cardinals fans wear Pujols merchandise compared to the other players? It's about 75 percent. That's a lot of merchandising revenue to lose.

But suppose the Cardinals were willing to take a leap of faith and sign a couple of guys despite the dent in their income. Who are they going to get? First, the free agent class of 2012 -- minus Pujols -- stinks. Are the Redbirds going to pay Prince Fielder $22 million a yaer for seven years to play first base if they wouldn't pay Pujols? And who would want them to if they would?

A measly $10 million bucks doesn't get you what it used to. $10 million wouldn't even get you a year of Kyle Lohse these days...

If there was anybody to buy on the market, would anybody good want to play here? I wouldn't want to be the guy who is announced on opening day 2012 at Busch Stadium as Pujols' replacement at first base. If I was a free agent, I would steer clear of the Cardinals for that reason alone.

If the end of the world isn't Albert Pujols playing first for the Cubs and Carlos Pena playing there for the Cardinals, I don't know what is.

Some think if the Redbirds can't sign a first baseman, there's always the trade route... Oh wait, since the Cardinals announced a new emphasis on producing their own prospects five years ago they still have one of the worst farm systems in baseball. They have no one besides Shelby Millier that other clubs are even interested in. So it doesn't look like the trade route is the way to go.

In my book, signing Pujols is a must-win situation for the Cardinals. And, as much as I hope he'd be reasonable and accept less years, I still believe it would be better for the longterm health of the club to pay Pujols when he's 41 than it would be to lose him for the next five years.