Friday, October 28, 2011

Pujols has no reason to leave

Because grass is greener at Busch Stadium: Pujols has no reason to leave
PUBLISHED 49 minutes and 51 seconds ago
Stan McNeal Sporting News

ST. LOUIS—Ask Albert Pujols about his 445 home runs or his .328 career batting average and he looks bored. More times than I can remember, I have heard him say, "You know I'm not about the numbers. I'm about helping my team win any way I can."

Pujols is about to have the chance to walk that walk. Baseball's best player over the past decade is days away from becoming a free agent, and he easily could double the $111 million he has made on his eight-year deal that is set to expire.

Albert Pujols has won two World Series titles with St. Louis.

Some club seeking to make a splash is sure to throw a monster offer at him. Perhaps Theo Epstein will want to start his era at Wrigley Field with a new first baseman, and taking Pujols from the rival St. Louis Cardinals would be an added bonus.

The Washington Nationals are expected to hand out another nine-figure contract as they shoot to contend in 2013.

The resource-rich Los Angeles Angels are changing general managers and, who knows, could decide to change their ways of never landing the big fish.

Even the just-defeated Texas Rangers could enter the bidding. They have a TV deal on the horizon that will pump $80 million a year or more into their revenue streams. Taking the player from the team that just beat them in the World Series would ease their pain at least a little.

Expect one of these or another team to make Pujols a more lucrative offer than the Cardinals. But if winning is more important than money in his decision, Pujols will not go anywhere. He would have no other reason to leave St. Louis. He repeatedly has said he loves the place, the fans and being a Cardinal.

If he is all about winning, the Cardinals make the most sense. They play in one of baseball's weakest divisions, affording Pujols an easier route to October than he would have in the NL East or AL East. The Cardinals have made the playoffs seven times in his 11 seasons. They have won two World Series and been to three. Pujols has played in 74 postseason games since his rookie season, 18 more than any other player in the National League during that time.

The Cardinals can afford Pujols other benefits he would not find elsewhere. He never will find another manager and club that would protect and coddle him more than Tony La Russa and the Cardinals.

When an opposing team throws up and in on Pujols, retaliation from the Cardinals is as certain as it is swift. When Pujols grumbled that he could play a better third base than whoever the team was putting there in David Freese's absence earlier this season, St. Louis let him play third. When Pujols ordered a hit and run that failed badly in the World Series, La Russa went out of his way to defend the call.

"It has everything to do with what Albert has earned as far as his understanding of the game," La Russa said. "I've said over and over again that for the 11 years that we've been together, Albert has proven every year, virtually every day of the season and postseason, he is a great player, not just a great producer. He's a very smart baseball player."

In St. Louis, Pujols does not have to deal with the media demands or fan pressure that come with playing in the Northeast corridor. When Pujols didn't talk after a World Series game, the Cardinals said no problem.

With so many factors in their favor, the only way the Cardinals should lose Pujols seemingly would be to offer him so much less than the competition that he feels insulted and walks away in a huff.

The Cardinals know better than that. According to USA Today, St. Louis offered Pujols a nine-year, $195 million deal early this year. The paper reported that Pujols wanted 10 years, $230 million to give him an average take equal to Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer (eight years, $184 million).

If these numbers are true, the Cardinals and Pujols already are in the same ballpark. Raising their offer when they were the only ones who could make an offer did not make business sense for the Cardinals. Once Pujols hits the market, St. Louis should have a chance to see what it is bidding against.

Then these will become the most interesting contract talks in baseball since Alex Rodriguez signed his 10-year, $252 million deal with the Rangers. Let's say, for example, the Chicago Cubs offer Pujols $250 million and the Cardinals refuse to go over $230 million.

Would Pujols really leave for a $20 million difference spread over eight to 10 years?

No way, unless he doesn't care as much about winning and wanting to be a Cardinal as he keeps saying.

To read about the 2011 World Series Champs - The St. Louis Cardinals, click here.

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