Friday, February 18, 2011

The Pujols Problem

When naming off the biggest stars in Major League Baseball you can use just one name.  Jeter, A-Rod, Rivera, Lee, Halladay, and perhaps biggest of all Pujols.

He's the face of the St. Louis Cardinals, the foremost thought of the franchise.  Adding to the list of Hall of Famers to don the red bird on their crest, he's vaulted over the likes of Ozzie Smith and Lou Brock and is perhaps only second to Stan Musial in terms of all time franchise notoriety.  And yet the face of the franchise might be leaving town.

With his contract up at the end of the year and re-negotiations ceased for the season, Albert Pujols' future in St. Louis is up in the air.  Where the two camps seemed to have stalled was the amount.  Both want Pujols to finish his career there but with numbers as high as $300 million over ten years being bandied about the two sides were not able to come to a conclusion.

Skipping the hyperbolic argument of "Is anyone really worth that much?" and looking over the salaries from the past, $30 million is not unreasonable.  With the likes of Alex Rodriguez, Cliff Lee, and Ryan Howard making $20 million or more a year and looking at production, Pujols is arguably the $30 million man.  The issue becomes economics.

The Cardinals face the issue of exactly what $30 million is.  On one hand $30 million is your franchise guy.  On the other hand, $30 million is almost a third of their opening day roster's salary.  An Albert Pujols cannot be replaced, but can the Cardinals realistically field a competitive team in the future if they double Pujols salary?  It's a lose/lose situation for the Cardinals.

Looking at Albert Pujols, the options are not much better.  Either you take the money a run to a Chicago Cubs, New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Angels and become the most hated man since LeBron James.  Or the Cardinals offer you what you want, you stay, and you may never get to hoist this lovely trophy again.

In the end I'm sure a deal will get done.  Pujols means far too much to the city of St. Louis and St. Louis needs Pujols.  The issue remains baseball's economics.  The only sport without a salary cap and player salaries have reached enormous and extravagant proportions that could set back a hall mark franchise for almost a dozen years unless severe concessions are made by the player which the MLBPA will absolutely love.

No matter where Albert Pujols goes he will be a star.  He will win the MVP award for which ever league he turns to.  The question is what else will he get?  Will he get to be the lone weight bearer of a franchise that isn't able to surround him with much more talent than is enough to reach the playoffs, or will he add to his World Series collection with a logo other than two birds on a bat on his chest?  It's an unfortunate position to be in and it could be avoided if Major League Baseball does the right thing.  It's time for a salary cap.
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