Legendary slugger Albert Pujols turned 31 years old on Sunday. And in news that may be a little less festive, over the same weekend, he and his agent set a spring training deadline for contract extension negotiations with the Cardinals.
In February 2004, Pujols signed a seven-year, $100 million contract with the Cardinals that included a $16 million 2011 option. That contract is now entering its final year, and Pujols is staring November free agency in the face. The Cardinals and Pujols have been talking about a deal to keep the first baseman around into the foreseeable future, but the deadline has been put in place because Pujols doesn't want contract negotiations to become a distraction during the season.
Pujols has said all along that he'd like to spend his career as a Cardinal. However, it obviously isn't that easy; Pujols is also said to be seeking "A-Rod money," referring to the ten-year, $275 million contract Alex Rodriguez signed with the Yankees in 2007. As a free agent, it's possible that Pujols could receive the largest contract in baseball history, which makes an extension difficult to hammer out. The Cardinals will try, but there's no guarantee that they'll be willing to meet Pujols' demands.
Even if no extension is reached by the start of spring training, it's still possible that the Cardinals could work to re-sign Pujols after the season and before the free agency market opens. So this isn't a now-or-never situation. That said, this is clearly St. Louis' best opportunity to get their icon locked up, and it would be nice for them to keep this from being a story all year long.
Pujols is a career .331 hitter with a 1.050 OPS. He is a player without flaws, as he draws walks, doesn't strike out, runs well, plays terrific defense, and hits the snot out of the ball when he connects. Last season he mashed 42 home runs while stealing 16 bases and winning a Gold Glove. He's won three MVPs, finished as the runner-up for four more, and he's already hit more career homers than Al Kaline and Johnny Bench. He ranks 30th all-time in batting average, 12th all-time in on-base percentage, and fourth all-time in slugging percentage. There's a reason why he's talking about the kind of money that he is.
To follow along with the negotiations, stay tuned to this StoryStream, and keep an eye on Viva El Birdos.