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.

  • Butcher

    I can’t see the Cardinals letting Pujols go anywhere.

  • 1060Ivy

    I can’t see the Cardinals signing Pujols and being able to sign another free agent pitcher who isn’t coming off the DL for the remainder of Albert’s contract.

  • J Dub

    I gotta say, I don’t think I’d mind that so much. I mean, I want to hate him, but he’s really a class act. I can’t help but respect the guy.

  • Dave

    I’d love to see the cardinals lock a 30+ year old up to a $200mil deal. With Holliday and Carpenter signed to big deals, they will have a ton of money dedicated to a few players and will have to fill in with a weak farm system. It could be worse than what the Cubs face now. At least we bring I’m enough to cover a bad deal or 3 and have a few decent prospects.

    • Ace

      The difference is the Cardinal voodoo magic – when the Cubs sign an aging vet to a huge deal, he craters. When the Cards do it, they win the World Series.

      • Dave

        If Pujols were a pitcher, yeah. But their track record with veteran position players isn’t so great.

        Besides, they’re not going to be putting a $130 million dollar team out there anytime soon, so with Pujols and Holliday, we’re talking about 2 players in their 30s taking up 40% of the payroll.

  • Bric

    Pujols is a class guy but his ball playing days are numbered. He’ll finish like Sosa (also probably 2 or 3 years older than records indicate) …bouncing from one team to another as his body slowly filters out the steroids but continues to break down. I really hate to put a dark cloud on his career, but it is what is. Too bad Hendry didn’t see it in Soriano. At least the media in St. Lo see LaRussa’s players for what they really are- even if they won’t come straight out and say it.

    • Cardfan

      Ya gotta let go, Bric! He’s clean. Surrounded by alot of dirt, but he is clean. Nobody in the StL media questions that.

      As for him going anywhere else – also wishful thinking. He will sign the biggest, longest deal in baseball that will pay him 8 figures into his fifties. It will keep him around and keep the payroll manageable. Hear me know, believe me later…

      • Bric

        Cardfan! What’s up? I agree that they’ll somehow make a deal that will keep him there for probably another six or seven years. But you have to admit that whether he juiced in the past or not, he’s not Cal Ripken. All that future money’s gonna reallly squeeze their payroll. Do you think it’s worth it?

        • Ace

          Worth it or not, I don’t think the Cards have a choice.

  • art

    6-8 years at $25 mil, no way. you could get 2 very good younger players for that money and a lot less years. no one man is worth that much. you could get 2 Crawford’s for that money.

    who was the best hitter on the WS winning giants?

    now if it was up to Hank, lol, thank god for the business Ricky. I agree with Ricky on that, raise your own, if you need a part in July, trade for one. he’s looking for a long term winning team, not short term, like Hank’s been doing. so the fans get on him cause they want to win now. I do doubt his confidence in Hank.

  • CubsFanatic

    I’d like to see what would happen if he signed with us. But then again, that would eat up the payroll and we NEED pitching. We have okay guys, but okay guys don’t win. I don’t need the WS rings or anything to watch my favorite team play, but it would be nice to see them make it past the first round of the playoffs.

  • KB

    I hate to say it, but player’s of Pujols’ ilk tend to age well. By that, I mean, look at the 20 greatest players of all-time, and see how they performed deep into their thirties. They won’t put up the numbers they did at their peak level, but usually just a notch below, which in their cases, is still MVP-level.

    I don’t know if he’s juicing or not, but i do know that he’s one of the twenty best players who ever played. Sucks, but there it is.