You know the saying, "I wouldn't want to be in his shoes?" Did you ever think you might use that phrase when talking about Albert Pujols?
I think I might.
On the outside, this seems rather straightforward. Pujols can be a free agent after this season. The Cardinals are trying to work out an extension with him, but he doesn't want to negotiate after Feb. 16, so as not to be a distraction to himself or the team heading into the season. Will it still be a distraction if he doesn't sign. Probably more than ever, no matter how many "No comments" are uttered by him, manager Tony La Russa or the Cardinals executive staff.
Pujols is the MLB's best player, period, and you could hold a good argument he's one of the best players ever in the history of the game. He's coming off a contract that was just shy of $100 million. The reports are the demands are 10 years, at $30 million per year. That's $300 million, folks.
This is where it gets tricky. The Cardinals want him, and the Cardinals need him. Pujols likes St. Louis, and his charitable efforts in the city have been very generous. But for the Cardinals to pay that kind of money, they handicap themselves in what they can field for a 25-man roster – a team – that can compete against the other 29 teams. A $30 million price tag to one player is a lot of money for a team that has had a payroll around $93 million a season.
Could the Cardinals afford it. Probably – they are a baseball-rich city with very strong attendance from a loyal fan base. So why can't they hammer this out and be done with it? Well, La Russa added some fodder to the discussion.
La Russa contends the MLB player's union is the one making Pujols demand big dollars, be the highest-paid player in the game because he is the best player in the game. If he accepts less than "market" value, it will affect the salaries of other players going forward, which is bad for the union.
It's something I had not thought of. La Russa could be right. He could also be making a ploy for public sentiment to be against the player's association. Or, as a very pro-Pujols manager, La Russa could be trying to shine the light away from Pujol's salary demands and point the finger elsewhere.
In the meantime, Cardinals fans are close to fainting, as this has been on the horizon for years and now it's days away from deadline day. Pujols is twisting in the wind, seen by some as greedy and seen by others as a pawn between MLB big-wigs.
In the end, I think a deal will be worked out – even if the deadline has passed without a deal. The Cardinals can't let Pujols leave. He's like Stan Musial or Ozzie Smith - a city icon that would look silly in another uniform. Now let's just see if that holds true.