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Friday, October 28, 2011

If the Cardinals Win Tonight, Pujols Stays

After 2 pretty impressive comebacks last night, the St. Louis Cardinals forced the first game 7 of a World Series since 2002. All in all, it has been a good series, and it's nice to see it go the full 7 games. Tonight in St. Louis, Albert Pujols may take his final at-bats as a Cardinal, which, to me, is a scary prospect for the game of baseball. Sure, the sun will still rise if Pujols is a Cub or Marlin or Yankee (actually the world might end if he were to sign with New York), but I have always appreciated 1-team players like Cal Ripken, Jr., and, to date, Joe Mauer. I hope that St. Louis finds a way to retain Pujols for the duration of his career. Certainly by making the playoffs this year, and now being 1 game away from a World Series title, one cannot really suggest that Pujols should go to a team where he has a "chance to win" every year. For Pete's sake, this is his third World Series since he came to the big league club in 2001, and his second in the past six seasons!!

If the Cardinals win tonight, I think it's going to be extremely difficult for the organization to let Pujols walk. Winning the World Series will bring several months worth of great PR into St. Louis, will revitalize the fan base (if they needed revitalizing), and certainly would put some extra money in the organization's coffers through World Series merchandise and increased ticket sales. If I was running things in St. Louis, and if the team wins tonight, there is NO WAY I'm letting Pujols get away. Pujols leaving St. Louis only months after a World Series victory would replace one of the best sporting moments in the city's recent history, with feelings of anger and rage that, regardless of what actually happened in the negotiations, would mostly be directed at the organization. Quite simply, the great press that should accompany a World Series winning team would quickly, and loudly, become negative press over the course of mere weeks. The onus, if the Cards win, is on the front office and ownership to make things work to keep Pujols around. From the PR standpoint, can you imagine more momentum going into 2012 than the following scenario: 1) win the World Series in 7 games in dramatic fashion; 2) soak up the glory for a few weeks; 3) announce some time around the holidays that you have signed the best player in baseball to essentially a lifetime contract. If that doesn't make you want to buy a season ticket package for your spouse as a Christmas present, I don't know what would!

Pujols, too, will have his share of pressure not to leave. What is his justifiable reason for leaving the city that has embraced him for the past decade?? An extra $2 million a year, maybe $3 million a year? 1 more year guaranteed?? We're talking about a guy who has played his entire career in one city, who is undoubtedly the modern face of the franchise (no disrespect intended to Mr. Stan Musial, who is the all-time best Cardinal), who could break the home run record without the taint of steroids, and who genuinely seems like a decent guy. His family has become deeply rooted in the St. Louis community, and he has done great charitable work there. If the Cardinals put together an offer that is 85-90 percent as good as the best offer Pujols receives on the open market, I think he would be a fool to leave. Though it wouldn't tarnish his numbers, it would, at least to me, tarnish his legacy to an extent.

I think the contract that ultimately keeps Pujols in St. Louis could be an interesting and unique document. When Derek Jeter was negotiating with the Yankees last year, some in the New York media floated the idea of a legacy contract -- a contract that would pay Jeter, say, $8 million a year for 5 years to play, and then would pay him $1-2 million annually for the next 20 or so years to stay with the Yankees in a leadership role within the organization. Now, of course, this never came to fruition, but if there is a possibility of exploring such an idea with Pujols, I at least think it's worth discussing with his agent. If he plays out the next 9-10 years in a Cardinals uniform and retires as a Cardinal, you know he's going to take some sort of "Executive Vice President" type of role, like Kirby Puckett did. St. Louis would be wise to never, ever let Pujols get away from the ballpark. Did you see the way the fans still embraced Musial last night? Why not put it in writing now, so that everyone knows Pujols will be a Cardinal for life, even after his playing days are done?

Even if the Cardinals lose in game 7 tonight, there will still be a positive baseball vibe in St. Louis this off-season, and it's still going to be difficult, both for Pujols and the organization, to sever their relationship. I don't pretend to know Pujols, but my best guess is that he wants to get paid, wants to play on a team that can compete for the playoffs every year, and wants to use his celebrity to do good things in his community. Sure, he can accomplish those things in many cities (even Minneapolis!), but, barring a horribly low offer from the Cardinals' brass, there's no good reason for him to leave Missouri.

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