No Way Albert Pujols Leaves St. Louis Despite Contract Extension Deadline

St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols reportedly has set a Spring Training deadline for contract extension negotiations, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Without an extension, Pujols will become a free agent after this season. In either case, Pujols has the chance to become one of the highest paid players in baseball history — right up there with Alex Rodriguez.

Even if a deal isn’t done by the time Spring Training starts and Pujols ends up becoming a free agent, it seems likely that he will stay in St. Louis after this year. The most obvious teams — those willing to spend that kind of money — already have talented, high-paid first baseman. The Yankees and Red Sox have Mark Teixeira and Adrian Gonzalez respectively; the Phillies have Ryan Howard, and the Tigers have Miguel Cabrera. Just a few years ago the Mets would have been a possibility, but their owners lost money in the Bernie Madoff scandal and have tried to cut spending as a result.

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Albert Pujols Personifies a Team Leader

There was major news over the weekend in St. Louis when it was reported that center fielder Colby Rasmus had requested a trade earlier in the year. Rasmus has been unhappy with his role in the organization for a few years now and wants to go somewhere he can play consistently.

When he was told about the trade request, Albert Pujols did not respond politely. In fact, the St. Louis first baseman and eventual Hall of Famer spoke sternly and more passionately about his team than almost any player I’ve ever heard. Even though it’s old news, you have to see Albert’s quotes in case you missed it. Here’s what he said:

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Can Albert Pujols Win the Triple Crown?

About a month ago, I was asked if I thought Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera win the Triple Crown. I placed his chances at 50/50 thinking he had RBIs in hand, a strong grasp on the batting title, and a decent shot at catching up to Jose Bautista in home runs. Well, Bautista has gorilla stomped his way to 40 home runs while Miggy is tied for second with 31, and it’s turned out that another slugger has an even better chance at winning the Triple Crown: Albert Pujols.

A recent surge in power and overall production this month (nine home runs and 20 RBIs in August) has propelled our number one franchise player in MLB to the top of most offensive categories in the National League. Entering Tuesday’s play, Pujols was leading the NL in home runs by two over Adam Dunn, RBIs by six over Joey Votto, and he was third in batting average, a mere four points behind Votto again.

You would think that Joey Votto might have a shot at winning the Triple Crown too, but he’s four home runs back and that’s difficult to make up. Because of the edge in home runs and RBIs, and how close he is in batting average, Albert Pujols has one of the best chances at winning the Triple Crown that we’ve seen in several years.

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Albert Pujols Moved to Cleanup Spot, Did Tony LaRussa Follow Writer’s Advice?

With baseball players changing teams and falling in and out of slumps, there have been very few constants regarding a player’s spot in the batting order the last several years. Matter of fact, only two come to mind: Ichiro leading off for the Mariners and Albert Pujols batting third for the Cardinals. The order to the St. Louis Cardinals universe as we know it was shifted on Monday night when Pujols slid to the cleanup spot for the first time since 2003 — a span of 1,043 straight games. The move was made to help jump start Matt Holliday who was batting .170 with runners on. When you hit behind Albert Pujols in the lineup, most of the time you’ll be batting with men on, so it makes sense to see what Holliday can do in the three spot. The crazy part of this story — aside from Pujols being moved for the first time in a bazillion games — is that Post-Dispatch writer Bernie Miklasz suggested the move on Monday, as I found out through Hardball Talk:

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Pujols Should Consider Hiring Bobby Cox as an Agent

You already know how I feel about Albert Pujols’ hitting abilities and all-around talent. Apparently my admiration for the St. Louis slugger can’t hold a candle to the way long-time Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox feels about him. When asked what Pujols’ next contract should be worth — after being asked to comment on the new extension Ryan Howard received from the Phillies — Cox had the following to say:

$50 million a year – at least. I’m sure the Cardinals will do everything they possibly can. He’s the best ballplayer in all of baseball. He does everything, too. He’s great defensively, he runs the bases great, he’s smart, and he’s the best hitter there is. I don’t know how you [put a price tag on it, compared to other players]. He’s the best, let’s put it that way.”

It’s safe to say Pujols won’t be getting $50 million a season from the Cardinals or any other team, but when a four-time manager of the year who has been managing the same team for twenty years gives you a compliment like that, it’s significant. Albert should absolutely be the highest paid player in baseball when his new deal is up, which will be at the end of next season (assuming the Cardinals pick up his $16 million option). There’s no other player in baseball right now who is a better all-around player — and it’s really not even close. Sorry, A-Rod.

Cox: Pujols worth $50 million [AP via Yahoo! Sports]
If Howard’s worth $25 million per, what about Pujols? [Atlanta Journal Constitution]

Here’s Hoping Pujols is Unlike the Others

Albert Pujols is at it again.  The one hitter in the MLB who seems unaffected by the Steroid Era year after year already had five home runs in his first seven games and is hitting .400 through the first nine.  Actually, Pujols just broke a Major League record for the most home runs by a hitter through his first 10 seasons in the league when he belted his 371st career homer. Not bad for a guy who has 153 games remaining in his 10th season to shatter that record. That’s not to say Pujols has not had his fair share of naysayers and accusers – he’s had plenty.  That goes with the territory, and if you read Sports Illustrated’s cover story before last season kicked off, you’d get a sense that Albert understands that.  Pujols’ career numbers are absolutely mind-boggling.  He’s yet to finish a season hitting under .314, with less than 32 homers, or under 103 RBI.  Yes, that includes his rookie year, when he batted a modest .329 with 130 RBIs.  Even Derek Jeter, one of the most pure hitters in the history of Major League Baseball, failed to reach an average of .300 four times in his astonishing career.

At a time in the game where it seems most stats have been enhanced by steroids, the closest link for Pujols to PEDs came with the release of the Mitchell Report, when an erroneous report said Albert was on the list.  Shortly thereafter, Pujols’ name was cleared from the smoke.  The unfortunate reality for Pujols is that playing in this era of baseball means he’s guilty by association and it leaves us open to question his accomplishments. For instance, MLB’s current drug testing system does not detect human growth hormone, which would certainly help a hitter reach the levels that Pujols has already ascended to at the age of 30.  As for the argument that he’s never tested positive for steroids, that’s questionable because there are plenty of ways around those so “tests” they issue professional athletes.  People are entitled to their opinions, and if you want to take the cynical view in analyzing Pujols’ career, that’s certainly your prerogative, but it’s not how I choose to view things.

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When Will Pujols Get it Going?

I was discussing this yesterday with my Dad as he was playing consultant to a friend who wisely drafted Albert Pujols with the first pick in a fantasy baseball draft. No, I’m not bringing this up for the purpose of a fantasy discussion. Instead, I would like to have a real-life discussion. When will Albert Pujols — the man who’s enjoyed a finer start to a career than any other hitter in history — get it going?

My Dad seemed to think he was hurt, possibly headed for the DL. I’m not so sure about that. I think Albert’s just in a month long slump — which is long for him — but considering he’s still OPSing a respectable .755, it’s not too bad. Albert showed some signs of himself going 2 for 5 against the Dodgers on Tuesday night, with a double and two RBIs. But damn, it’s May 16th already, and John Buck has more home runs than Prince Albert. I think a hot streak is coming soon for Pujols, and a winning streak is nearing for the Cardinals.

Moreover, anyone else notice the preponderance of slumping first baseman in baseball? Prince Fielder, Adrian Gonzalez, Justin Morneau, Todd Helton, and Derek Lee are like the only ones swinging it. Studs like Berkman, Teixeira, Howard, Delgado, Konerko, and Sexson are all hitting like chumps. In fact, none of those guys are batting higher than .279, and none of them have more than six home runs. Pathetic.