Monday, February 16, 2009

Pressure's on, Cardinals

In 2010, LeBron James will become an unrestricted free agent. King James, who has developed into one of the best basketball players the world has ever seen and will undoubtedly demand a contract in excess of $120 million, the maximum allowed under the complicated CBA. The Cleveland Cavaliers, James's current team, have made every effort to make sure that James is happy with the club by adding talent in the hopes of winning a title before 2010. But the real goal is to keep James around for the long term.

In 2011, Albert Pujols will become a free agent. Pujols has been one of the best hitters of the past decade and could be in line for yet another huge contract. The two time MVP will probably command a contract around $20 million per season, if he chooses to maximize his earning potential. Remember, in 2011, Pujols will be just 31 and will probably still have a few more God-like seasons ahead of him. There will be many teams lining up to pursue Pujols if he chooses to leave St. Louis.

But would Pujols actually leave St. Louis? Before yesterday, I would have said not a chance. But just take a look at these quotes from Phat Albert (ESPN):

"It's not about the money all the time," the first baseman said Sunday in Jupiter, Fla. "It's about being in a place to win and being in a position to win.

"If the Cardinals are willing to do that and put a team [on the field] every year like they have, I'm going to try to work everything out to stay in this town. But if they're not bringing championship-caliber play every year, then it's time for me to go somewhere else that I can win."

The fascinating part is obviously the last sentence. It's pretty obvious to me that the Cardinals have NOT done enough this off season to bring a potential championship contender to St. Louis. Khalil Greene is a nice player, but is he really that big of a difference maker? Probably not. And Trevor Miller, good pitcher, but definitely not the difference maker the Cardinals need.

The free agent market has been so bad this off season and as a result, there have been many guys who signed deals well below what they should have received. This should have been a prime spot for the Cardinals to make a run at Orlando Hudson, Oliver Perez, Brian Fuentes, or even Trevor Hoffman. Unfortunately for Cardinals fans, the team refused to add any major free agents this off season.

And as a fan, you have to wonder how serious the front office is about putting a quality product around Pujols. There were so many options this off season for the Cardinals to improve their patchwork rotation or find a legitimate closer, but it did not happen. It'd be a shame to waste away another .350+ season from Pujols with a mediocre fourth place finish.

With all of this said, I think the odds are against Pujols leaving in 2011. This quote just about sums it up (National Post):

"Do I want to be in St. Louis forever? Of course, because that city has opened the door to me and my family like no other city is ever going to do," the first baseman said. "I don't want to go to any other city."

St. Louis is a wonderful baseball city and I can understand why a fabulous baseball player like Pujols would want to stay put. He's got a pretty good situation there with the fans and city.

But be warned Cardinals management, being complacent and on the sidelines while other top free agents go elsewhere will not gain you any points with Pujols. The Cardinals HAVE to win over the next three seasons and put a competitive product on the field, or else Pujols WILL have to seriously consider leaving. Take a note from the Cavaliers: do everything you can to make your star happy and let him know that there is nowhere else to be but here.

Spend, spend, spend!

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