It came and went rather quietly earlier this postseason. The St. Louis Cardinals picked up their $16 million option on superstar first baseman Albert Pujols. The decision was a no-brainer for management. What the organization does next will take a little more thinking and could have major implications throughout major league baseball, especially here in Boston.
If and when Pujols becomes a free agent after the 2011 season there will be 29 other teams waiting to pounce. The Red Sox, based solely on the circumstances within their organization, could be the No. 1 contender.
Not only does Boston have the cash, but it also has a fluid situation at first base in the sense that Kevin Youkilis can move across the diamond with ease. That's something even the New York Yankees cannot claim, rendering them relative non-factors in a bidding war. Red Sox minor leaguers Anthony Rizzo and Lars Andersen provide possible future options at first base in Boston, but also remain trade bait if the path in front of them is blocked.
And if you have a chance to block that path with a guy like Pujols, even if he will be 32 in 2012, you do it. Heck, the Sox came close to importing another big-time first baseman just two years ago before being outbid on Mark Teixeira. In addition, they've shown willingness to bring in the white whale when in 2004 they nearly acquired Alex Rodriguez, whose annual salary is akin to what Pujols will receive.
Red Sox fans have freely pined for guys like Adrian Gonzalez and Prince Fielder when dreaming of the future at first base. Rarely do we hear the name of Pujols, simply for the fact that it would seem asinine for St. Louis to ever let him go.
But consider the circumstances surrounding Pujols.
The Cardinals already have $17 million invested in outfielder Matt Holliday each year through 2016. Based on what Ryan Howard received in Philadelphia (five years, $125 million), Pujols will need at least $25 million per to stick around. That means well over $40 million tied into two players. While the Holliday signing was made in order to provide a partner in crime and protection for Pujols, there are expiring deals approaching at several other positions on the St. Louis roster. Perhaps other needs will become more pressing than keeping those two together.
Also, if Pujols desires to finish his career with a perennial winner, perhaps leaving St. Louis is necessary. After reaching the postseason in five of his first six seasons, Pujols has reached it just once in the last four and it resulted in a first-round sweep at the hands of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2009. The Cards haven't won a postseason game since clinching the 2006 World Series and have averaged just over 84 wins in the past five seasons.
Not bad, but far removed from the 95- and 100-win seasons that were commonplace in Pujols' youth. Manager Tony LaRussa is signed through next season, at which point he will turn 67. There will be change at the top soon enough.
Put it all together and one can imagine a parting of the ways. That's not to say it will happen, but the arguments could be made on the part of Pujols to leave. Others have already been made on the part of the Cardinals.
A divorce would still be rather shocking. Pujols is beloved in St. Louis and seems to adore the city himself. As mentioned, the Holliday signing was made in order to give Pujols a partner in the heart of the lineup. And although Cardinals fans have always had a reputation for supporting their team no matter what, there's no denying that the city would be up in arms if Pujols were to walk, or rather be allowed to walk.
So, too, would Boston if it misses out on a possible chance to land the best offensive player of this generation. Keep an eye on the happenings in St. Louis. That chance could emerge in roughly 12 months.
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