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Do The St. Louis Cardinals Need Albert Pujols Like The New York Yankees Needed Derek Jeter?

Submitted by on February 18, 2011 – 12:32 pm4 Comments

Are the St. Louis Cardinals in serious danger of losing Albert Pujols? Now that the Cardinals and their All-Everything first baseman have allowed the Pujols-imposed February 16th deadline for contract negotiations between the two sides to expire, there’s a very simple answer to that question: Yes. A resounding YES, in fact.

Though the Cards are particularly strapped for cash like some of the other small-market Major League Baseball teams out there, they’re now running the real risk of losing Pujols to free agency next season when his current contracts with the team is up. They’re crossing their fingers and hoping that the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox or—hell—the Philadelphia Philles (yeah, they’ve got Ryan Howard in the bag, but after that Cliff Lee deal this offseason, who knows?!) don’t come a’ knockin’ on Pujols’ door and offer them more than they can pay. And, you know what? That’s not smart.

Right now, Pujols is to the Cardinals what Derek Jeter is to the Yankees. There are few other MLB players—make that, almost no other MLB players—that are as important to their team as Pujols. He may not get all of the press that someone like A-Rod gets. And he may not have the big personality that David “Big Papi” Ortiz has. But Pujols has been Mr. Consistency for the Cardinals and the reason that their franchise has a shot to go to the playoffs almost every year.

At this time, it sounds like he realizes that, too, and he’s commanding quite a fee for his services. If the reports coming out of the Cards’ camp are correct, Pujols—who is no spring chicken at 31—wants a contract that mirrors or even exceeds the 10-year, $275 million contract the Yankees gave A-Rod in 2008. That’s quite the price to pay if you’re Cards’ management. Considering his age and the fact that Pujols hasn’t always been healthy in recent years, there’s a certain amount of risk the team will have to take on if they want to ink him to a new deal.

But it’s a risk that they have to be willing to take. Because without Pujols, the Cardinals are a pretty good team without an identity. With him, the fans in St. Louis know exactly what they’re getting: A competitive team that can hang with anyone on the field and a superstar athlete that will continue to serve as the face of the franchise.

Pujols might not be on Derek Jeter’s level yet. And because he doesn’t play ball in the Big Apple, he might never get there. But he’s the closest thing to baseball royalty in St. Louis right now. And if the Cardinals want to keep him there, they better come up with a plan heading into next season. Otherwise, they could be in serious danger of losing him forever.

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