Albert Pujols Has Earned Right to Be Baseball's Highest-Paid Player, Time for Cardinals to Pay Up So much for Midwestern hospitality.

A day after the Indianapolis Colts placed the franchise tag on Peyton Manning, the St. Louis Cardinals announced that they weren't going to agree on a contract extension with Albert Pujols before Wednesday's deadline.

The franchising of Manning kind of makes sense with the uncertainty of the NFL collective bargaining agreement. Pujols, on the other hand? That's a head-scratcher.

The Cardinals are playing this one in a very, very risky manner. Make no mistake about it, Albert Pujols is the best player in baseball right now. He has been for the last few years, will continue to be for the forseeable future, and when it's all said and done, he has a legitimate chance to be the game's best ever.

He should be paid that way, too.

Often times when there's a contract dispute, the fans seem to side with ownership for whatever reason. It probably stems from the fact that fans are informed on a day-to-day basis what kind of paychecks these guys are taking home, while owners conduct their businesses under a relative cloak of secrecy. There certainly are cases where that's fair game. This, however, is not one of them.

Anyone who thinks that Pujols should be taking a hometown discount can dream on. Players on different stratospheres than their peers don't take discounts. Furthermore, why should Pujols be the one making concessions?

The Cardinal family — the ownership, front office, coaching staff and fans — by all accounts have treated Pujols like a king in his time in St. Louis. So Pujols does owe something of a debt of gratitude to the city and organization. There's no doubting that. But don't they owe him just as much, if not more?

Pujols is the face of the franchise. He is the Cardinals. Without Pujols, the Cardinals, who already are a team bordering on irrelevant as far as the standings go, would be an also-ran at best in a steadily improving NL Central. The Reds won the division last year, and they should only get better. Not only that, the Brewers are hot on St. Louis' tail after a solid offseason. A Cardinals team without Pujols would be in trouble.

Perhaps that's why Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, who accused the union of pressuring Pujols to get the biggest contract he could get (go figure, right?), is so bent out of shape. Of course, La Russa, who is already an overrated manager in the minds of some, is going to say those type of things. He needs Pujols, and knows it. Now, La Russa needs the Cardinals to know it. And to show it.

Albert Pujols will make $16 million this season. To you, to me, to the average Joe Schmo working a 9-5, that's a helluva lot of money for five lifetimes, never mind one season of baseball. But when thinking about these type of things, you have to distance yourself from that way of thinking.

Instead, think of it this way. Do you know what Carlos Beltran, Carlos Zambrano, Alfonso Soriano, Vernon Wells, Torii Hunter and Barry Zito all have in common? That's right. They all made more money last year than Pujols did, and they'll all make more money than him this season, too.

When you look at it that way, $16 million isn't quite the same. Sports contracts, and baseball ones in particular, are cyclical. Every offseason it seems as if one or two players set the bar. Look at Jayson Werth. He's only going to make $10 million this season, but by the end of his new contract with the Nationals, he'll be making $21 million per season. His new deal earns him, on average, roughly $18 million. If Jayson Werth has the bar set there, then where does Pujols come in?

Pujols obviously compares favorably to guys like Werth, but why stop there? Baseball-Reference.com has various similarity scores that match up players throughout baseball history based on their stats at certain points of their careers.Through the age of 30, the list of players Pujols compares most favorably to reads like a list of baseball royalty. Jimmie Foxx, Frank Robinson, Lou Gehrig, Hank Aaron and Mickey Mantle. They're all on the list.

Unless something changes, Pujols will head to free agency following the 2011 season. The Cardinals would like to think that teams like the Red Sox and Yankees — armed with superstar first basemen already — won't be in the running for Pujols. But under what premise? The Yankees could surely find a way to make Pujols work (somewhere, anywhere), and there are already those shuffling numbers around to make Pujols in Boston work. Then, there's the ultimate doomsday scenario for the Cards. What if Pujols signs with the Cubs?

Maybe the Cardinals feel that, financially, they can't afford what Pujols wants. If that's not the case, they need to do everything they can in their power to fill bags and bags with money and hand it on over to "The Machine." It's his time, as the game's best player, to be the game's highest-paid player.

The Cardinals need Albert Pujols more than Albert Pujols needs the Cardinals. St. Louis has to re-sign him. They can't afford not to.

Do the Cardinals need to do everything they can to sign Albert Pujols? Share your thoughts below.