Albert Pujols enters 2011 as the most-anticipated soon-to-be free agent since… LeBron James? Hard to come up with a comparison, to be honest. And yet, while everyone buzzes about future free agent first baseman like Prince Fielder and Adrian Gonzalez, you rarely hear a peep about Pujols, whose career dwarfs either of the others.
The reason is unsurprising: everyone assumes that Pujols – who loves playing for the Cardinals – isn’t going anywhere. The two sides have informally discussed an extension for what seems like years, and it is a foregone conclusion that Pujols will don Cardinal red for the rest of his career.
Or is it?
In an interview on 550 AM in St. Louis on Friday, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Joe Strauss speculated that the chances Pujols returns on an extension is less than 50%. While he’d previously thought the chances were upwards of 75% (which, even that seems newsworthily low), his opinion has shifted for unknown reasons.
Pujols, who will be just 31 (probably) next winter, could conceivably command $25 million a year on a six to eight-year deal on the open market, but resigning with the Cardinals almost certainly means something lower.
The Chicago Cubs – who could be looking for a first baseman in 2012 – would certainly consider making a run at Pujols, despite the terrible taste he’s left in Cubs fans’ collective mouth over the last decade. Whether they’d have the funds to make a move, however, remains to be seen. At least three big contracts will be off the books by then: Aramis Ramirez, Kosuke Fukudome, and Carlos Silva.