I’m a St. Louis Cardinals fan. All of my friends know this. I have been since the day my favorite player, Mark McGwire got traded to them in 1997. The next year Big Mac broke Roger Maris’ age old HR record. In 2001, a third baseman with a bright future made his debut with the Redbirds in McGwire’s last season: Albert Pujols. As we all know, since 2001 Pujols has undeniably become the best player in baseball. Even Cubs fans admit that (at least they’re right on something).
Last offseason, the Cardinals failed to sign Albert Pujols to a contract extension. And since the day spring training started, all I’ve heard from all of my friends is how next year Pujols is going to be wearing Yankees pinstripes, Dodger Blue, or god forbid, a Cubs uniform. Or that the Cardinals are going to trade him to a contender this season. I’ve got news for you haters. He’s not going anywhere. Yet. So until this season is over, let’s stop talking about where Albert Pujols is going to be next year.
Throughout his career, Albert has respected the game. Always. He has refused over the course of his career to consider contract negotiations while the season is going on. This means that from the first pitch of spring training until the last pitch of the Cardinals season, he doesn’t talk dollars and cents. He wants to focus on his game, and on the team. And in my opinion, that’s how sports should be. Let the GM’s talk trades and transactions, but don’t talk to the player about extensions. So I respect Albert for asking his agent not to negotiate during the season. But in no way has Albert EVER insinuated that his refusal to negotiate during the season is an indication that he will not be playing under the Arch next year in St. Louis.
I understand my friends. They love to see me writhe in pain as I consider Albert playing in a different uniform. I’ve said that if Pujols leaves, I’ll burn his jersey. To me, Albert means ALMOST just as much to St. Louis as Lebron James did to Cleveland. He played high school ball in Missouri (closer to Kansas City), was drafted by the Cardinals, and came up through their farm system. But just because he has opted to become a free agent at the end of this season doesn’t mean he wants to leave. Albert’s agent said that “The expiration of today's deadline does not eliminate the possibility of Albert returning to the Cardinals in 2012, but simply delays negotiations until the conclusion of the Cardinals' season." In no way does that imply that he wants to leave.
I’m telling you. There is no chance in hell that the Cardinals decide to trade Pujols this season. If it happens, I’ll buy you a beer. And after the season, the Cardinals have negotiating rights to Pujols for five days. The team and its star player on not at an impasse over whether Albert wants to remain a Redbird, they are at an impasse over money.
Albert means too much to this team. He is the iconic figure in the city. If the team loses Albert, they lose their identity. But I’m not ruling out the possibility that Albert could head elsewhere. He may think he’s worth more than what he is, or the Cardinals may think he’s not worth what the market dictates. But until Albert actually hits free agency five days after the World Series ends, let’s stop talking about it. Nothing’s going to happen until then, and I want to enjoy watching the man play in the Cardinals’ uniform. Because I’m going to have a heart attack if I think of him stepping to the plate in Busch Stadium for the Cubs one more time.