In approximately 48 hours, the best player in the game will hit the open market. But who’s counting? The upcoming Albert Pujols free agency situation is about to become very real for everyone in St. Louis if it isn’t already.
Once the clock strikes midnight on Wednesday, Pujols will officially become an unrestricted free agent. The Cardinals have exclusive rights to their franchise player until that time, but it is unlikely that any significant progress will be made during that span.
It is certainly critical that the Cards at least reopen the contract discussions that were put on hold back in February because dialogue between the two parties is the first step toward getting a deal done. With that said, considering Albert has waited this long, it only makes sense for him to test the market in the coming weeks.
Club chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. and general manager John Mozeliak have recently indicated that they hope to maintain the current payroll, which is about $110 million. This would leave room to pay Pujols somewhere in the neighborhood of $22 million per year, which likely won’t be the highest offer he receives.
It really comes down to where winning, money, legacy, and principles fall on Albert’s priority list. Right now, the majority of St. Louis fans seem confident that their slugger will be back next year, but anything can happen from Thursday on.
I am not of the opinion that Tony La Russa’s retirement will effect this decision, but it certainly gives Pujols something to consider. Other Cardinal free agents include Edwin Jackson, Nick Punto, Gerald Laird, and Arthur Rhodes.