The Albert Pujols contract deadline is looming now, less than a month away. If the Cardinals and their star first baseman can reach an agreement, then one of the best hitters of all time will remain in St. Louis for at least much of the rest of his career. If they can't, then Pujols will almost certainly enter free agency next offseason as a 31-year-old with well more than 400 home runs already to his name.
Needless to say, this is an important situation, and everyone in baseball is following along. Jayson Stark went and talked to some of those people in baseball to see what they think is going to happen. The response?
"It's hard for me to believe he's going anywhere," said an official of one big-market team.
"C'mon, where's he going?" asked a veteran agent. "The only problem they're going to have is figuring out all the deferrals."
If there's somebody in baseball who thinks the Cardinals are going to let Pujols walk, we can't find that somebody. We've asked owners. We've asked executives. We've asked agents.
The consensus opinion seems to be that, while the Cardinals will have to give out an absolutely enormous contract, they'll get this done. And they'll get this done because they have to, because Pujols is the heart of the team. The Cardinals have seen this situation coming for a long, long time, and while some have wondered whether they can afford to get Pujols signed, the bigger concern is whether they can afford not to. The popular belief is that, no, they cannot.
If and when Pujols re-signs with the Cardinals, he's expected to set an all-time record for average annual salary. Where the Cardinals will try and be strict is on the length of the deal. Stark writes that a lot of people see this ending up as an eight-year, $240 million contract, and that sounds about right. Pujols is the best player in baseball, but he's also into his 30s.
In the event that Pujols doesn't re-sign, Stark names the Rangers, Nationals, Orioles, Blue Jays, Angels, Mets, and Dodgers as possible free agency suitors. He also cautions not to count the Red Sox and Yankees out, even though they have Adrian Gonzalez and Mark Teixeira, respectively. But none of these teams should get their hopes up just yet.