Monday, February 14, 2011

Cardinals Would Be Fools to Allow Albert Pujols To Test the Market

The time is ultimately dwindling for the St. Louis Cardinals, a ball club overwhelmed by a ruckus as the calendar almost approaches spring, battered by contract negotiations with the most dangerous slugger in baseball.

This would clearly be a devastating and crestfallen loss, the worst faux pas in franchise history if the Cardinals fail to eventually finalize a deal with Albert Pujols, arguably the cleanest hitter in baseball if not the best hitter in baseball. Never to this day has he tested positive for the usage of banned substances, never to this day has he disappointed a cult of Redbird fans that deems that he's the main attraction for baseball.

For all we know, he could be the valuable star in St. Louis, a city where the Gateway Arch overlooks the community and Busch Stadium, where the Mississippi River flows through and where Prince Albert has defined a storied career. Even if he holds the leverage with his swings at nearly every at-bat this season, the Cardinals could be smart and liberal to negotiate a contract extension with Pujols.

If the Cardinals are interested in retaining their slugger, it's momentous that the ball club satisfies and offers Pujols a contract extension, one of the richest deals in baseball. It does, in retrospect, seem preposterous to hear one player request for $300 million—an unprecedented attribute in baseball and it has become, for what it seems at least, a player's birthright to seek an outrageous price.

This, however, doesn't illuminate that he's a mercenary, but a useful fixture if he opts to test the market next winter and be the next biggest free agent after this season. No matter how much money he desires as one of the elite hitters in baseball, a potential Triple Crown winner in the future, his employers willingly acknowledge that Pujols is the best player in the game. It's utterly fascinating that the Cardinals somehow aren't financially stabled to pay him, an excuse the organization adopts, ashamed to admit how cheap they are in paying a franchise player.

During his tenure, he has served the Cardinals well, stood as an idol in postseason conquests and has promoted the sport, given his presence to captivate fans with his unbelievable swings at the bat. Even when the Cardinals refuse to reach a mutual agreement with Pujols, he is expected to arrive at St. Louis' spring headquarters in Jupiter, Florida on Wednesday. With an unusual event for the Cardinals, now on the possible brink of a drastic implosion, it has increasingly built a disturbance and has presented very little details.

The story here is very vague, a chaotic rhetoric that taunts the Cardinals in spring training, and sadly blinds the more important news. Much of St Louis' vernacular focuses on, not the Cards progress en route to a 162-game regular season, not their odds in winning a divisional title, but turns its attention towards Pujols. The latest offer he turned down paints a hapless picture for the Cardinals—really after reports surfaced that he'll not entertain another contract offer before his self-imposed deadline, which means St. Louis won't retain Pujols unless they are aggressive and proactive to settle a palatable deal.

A tale that begins with a debate when Pujols is seeking a 10-year deal, it's very absurd for a middle-aged slugger close to the after years of his remarkable career to be granted a promising wish. While he asks for a berserk contract when he is almost passed his prime and closer to his exit, the Cardinals aren't fools after all, unwilling to desperately hold on to Pujols.

Why?? What is there to lose?

No player at the age of 31 in baseball has attained as much as Pujols. So clearly, he's already received accolades from his worshippers, treasured for crushing homers into the stands, a cure for a sport in tatters by the heinous Steroid Era that has fizzled out slowly, partly with his ability to look at every fastball and belt a home run naturally. In reality, he deserves all the credit in the world as the epicenter to rid the drug crisis.

Generally speaking, for all we know, he's probably one of the purest sluggers in baseball with the art of naturally hitting the ball the distance, gifted by natural powers. It's always nice, although we'll never know if he used any banned substances to help his performance level, when supporters can embrace Pujols and wish for a positive outcome in his successful career, a superlative decade spent with the Cardinals.

I like to believe that he's clean. I like to believe that he's never injected or swallowed any performance enhancers. I like to believe he's a spotless luminary with exceptional kindness, principles and grace. In fairness of his phenomenal achievements, by the time this is over, Pujols may demand $30 million or more a year, a longer term, an opt-out clause in his final season and, above all, plenty of cash to definitely shrink half of the Cardinals payroll.

For now, however, the devoted fans cannot breathe, fearful and uneasy because he might leave if the Cardinals refuse to pledge in providing so much money to Pujols. Because he's approaching the final point of his career and some day will reminisce about the era he once ruled in baseball when he won three Most Valuable Player and two Gold Glove awards, all in one decade with one team, the Cardinals fear to appease Pujols worried about future plans.

Beneath the madness, the Cardinals aren't stupid enough to allow the slugger to test the market, right? Most of all, hopefully, the Cardinals aren't so indifferent or oblivious, right? We'll like to think so, at least I would like to think otherwise of an organization that has depended on Pujols' power bat. His swings alone have bailed out St. Louis in previous seasons, whenever the lineup slumped to produce RBI or score a number of runs for a commanding lead.

So the Cardinals must be willing to salvage the first baseman and cannot allow him to take off for another franchise that offers him the riches he is seeking of late, a wealthy contract that will automatically make him the richest player in the game today. If he does test the market next winter, given that both sides in the Pujols negotiations have chosen to react foolishly and persist in the public drama, you can only imagine the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Cubs or even the Mets bidding in the Pujols sweepstakes, meeting with him at the negotiation table to convince him of building a foundation elsewhere.

The clock is ticking and still no deal has been finalized. Meanwhile, with only a day left before he reports to spring training, the uncertainty is so horrifying that he'll likely be thrust on the open market, available to solidify someone's lineup in the majors. If there's one person tired of hearing about Pujols and the contract dispute, it's Cardinals manager Tony La Russa irritated with the anonymity of the contract insanity.

As of Sunday, he admitted that the situation possibly is a "spectacular distraction." But only a fool loses Pujols, a powerful slugger in this generation—an age when many players have disappointed and betrayed us. If the Cardinals handle it poorly, they can wave goodbye to Pujols. This is outlandish in many ways and unfair since the club pampered one of his teammates.

It was only two years ago when the Cardinals gave Matt Holliday $120 million for seven years, or even a year ago when they allowed Mark McGwire to return as the club's hitting coach after his staggering confession and admission for using steroids. In one twisted incident, La Russa was arrested near the Cardinals' spring facility in Florida in 2007 and charged with driving under the influence of alcohol, but after all, his job was salvaged by the front office.

And now, the Cards refuse to give Pujols what he wants. A long time ago, owner Bill DeWitt Jr. lost me when he couldn't find a solution to donate more than $200 million of his payroll to Pujols. If he leaves, the Cardinals may drop drastically and become below average.

That would be unbelievably agonizing for the fans, the community and the organization, operated by general manager John Mozeliak. The maddening tumult must come to an end, but the only way it will cease is when Mozeliak overcomes his weariness and proactively settles a deal.

The Cardinals lost me.

Give him what he wants. It's time this deal gets done as the clock ticks hastily.