The St. Louis Cardinals and star first baseman Albert Pujols are running out of time to negotiate an extension beyond the 2011 season, if Pujols’ stated negotiating deadline is to be believed. If the two sides can’t agree to an extension by the start of Spring Training, Pujols says he won’t negotiate until after the season – meaning he’ll likely taste free agency.

If he does, he’ll be the best free agent to make it to market in over ten years, and will set every team that could use an upgrade at first base into a tizzy. Say, don’t we know a team that could use a first baseman in 2012?

Among the items making the rounds are that: A) Pujols has told the Cardinals he’ll use his 10/5 rights to veto any possible trade, and B) that the Cubs are in the best position to make a run at Pujols if he hits the free-agent market next fall. […] And the Cubs and Pujols?

That’s anybody’s guess, as the Tom Ricketts regime has not shown the potential to invest in such a blockbuster in their first two offseasons in charge. But Pujols obviously is a different case than anyone who has been on the market.

The Cubs clearly will be positioned to make a big move. They have about $116 million in guaranteed salaries for 2011, but only $70.6 million for ’12. They will clear up $35 million if they don’t retain Kosuke Fukudome, Carlos Silva, Carlos Pena and John Grabow, and almost $48 million if they also let Aramis Ramirez walk.

Even at $30 million a year, Pujols could fit, although not as easy as you’d think. A significant part of any salary surplus will be gone after unsigned guys like Matt Garza, Carlos Marmol and Geo Soto get their share — but ’12 is the last year that Carlos Zambrano is on the books at $19 million a year, so the Cubs could use a shoehorn in ’12 and then look at Pujols as a combination of Zambrano and Fukudome for future seasons.

Going in their favor is that they could have a very young, talented outfield (although Alfonso Soriano is signed through 2014), and shortstop Starlin Castro should remain a bargain for another three or four years.

No question, signing baseball’s best player away from your division rival would be a huge coup for a team and ownership group that could be dying for one next winter. But Pujols will be 32 on Opening Day, 2012. Doesn’t his performance have to start sliding in his mid- or late-30s?

Pujols has been a bargain for the Cardinals, and is looking for a deal that ends the club-friendly trend. The starting point in his St. Louis talks is believed to be 10 years, $300 million, and while it’s arguable if the Cardinals can put strong teams around a $30 million player — don’t forget we’re talking about one of baseball’s smallest markets — it wouldn’t be shocking if he got a deal somewhere close to that.

Normally, free agents get their maximum value on the open market. But for a guy who will be 32, I’m not sure that will be the case with Pujols. I could see the Cubs or another team signing off on $30 million-a-year, but it’s hard to imagine a National League team (other than the Cardinals) going more than seven or eight years. Chicago Breaking Sports.

An obvious concern with Pujols, who has yet to show any signs of decline or aging, is whether he will continue to be productive into his late 30s, as any contract he signs will take him to at least that age. And that’s without considering the persistent whispers that Pujols is actually a couple years older than we all believe him to be.

The good news here for Cubs fans is that the Cardinals can only lose: either they re-sign Pujols to an ungodly contract that forces them to make very difficult decisions regarding player retention in the future; or Pujols leaves.

Of course, the Cubs could lose, too: they could sign Pujols to an 8 year, $240 million contract only to find that, when he steps outside the enchanted sphere of St. Louis, he is merely mortal. And old. And really, really expensive.

  • Mike S

    If Pujols plays 82 games a season at Wrigley, his numbers would only get better

    • Cardfan

      I agree, however I am curious about your math. I can only postulate that you are assuming the Cubs make the playoffs, do not have home-field advantage, and lose three straight in a five game series. Quite detailed, I must say!

      • Mike S

        That is exactly what I meant! haha

      • pfk (Peter F. Kempf)

        Cardfan, please don’t postulate in public.

        • Ace

          At least use a towel.

  • miggy80

    I’m sorry but to see Pujols in a Cubs uniform would make me puke!

    • Cardfan

      By mid-season you’d be sportin’ a number 5 jersey and the vomit would be a distant memory…

      • philoe beddoe

        mid-season?..opening day more like…I don’t understand why some fans hate other teams players just because of the rivalries…I loved Dennis Rodman as soon as he put on that Bulls 91 jersey…I like Aaron Rodgers….would take Pujols in a second…and Wainright and Carpenter and Rasmus(they can have The Riot)..

        as good as he is though I would try to go 3 years 75..with incentives up to 30 mill a won’t happen,…and I would like to see a birth certificate…when it comes to many Major Leaguers I am a “birther” and assume they are older then they are supposed to be…case in point our sorry-ass left-fielder who went from 40/40 to dog crap when he turned 33….I think players from the Dominican and other Latin American countries should have a multiplier factored in …like when figuring out dog years

        • Bric

          Good point about who cares what team a guy played for previously. GMs sign players for the future, not the past. The problem is Pujols’ signing with any other team is going to happen on the 15th of Never.

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  • CubsFanatic

    I would NEVER give a player 30M a year. You’d be crazy to! If we do sign him, We’d should sign him to a five-seven year deal worth about 90M (5 years) or 140M (seven years) and have incentives for added bonuses. And I’d make SURE to make the contract get smaller as the years pass instead of backload it.

    • BT

      Dandy. Very economically sound. But it won’t be near enough to sign Pujols.

      • jstraw

        No, that would certainly be outbid.

        • CubsFanatic

          If somebody is willing to pay one man 30M+, they are fools. You can get two guys that could equal or may even be better than what Pujols can do. 25M a year should be plenty. Don’t forget that incentives would be involved. So that wouldn’t be the max he would earn.

          • mike

            The Cubs role in this is to make sure Pujol’s contract financially cripples the Cardinals. The Cubs need to give Pujols the ammo to get 10/$300M from the Cardinals.

            I’d throw out two offers. One being a low number of years and high annual. Something like 5/$175M guaranteed with two mutual option years. The second being 10 year with a lower annual value something like 10/$200M. With these offers in hand, Pujols can go back to the Cardinals and say he has a 10 year offer and $35M/year offer on the table.

            I don’t think there is anyway the Cardinals let Pujols get away. The Cub’s job is to make sure this contact really hurts the Cardinals!!

            • Ace

              Absolutely brilliant. Love it.

            • CubSouth

              You mean a 7 yr/ $175 million contract with 2 year mutual option, right? He would snatch up the 5 year contract in a heartbeat, being paid $35 mil a year. I agree we should make the Cards over pay for Pujols and that no one player is worth $30 million a year. A-Rod had the perfect storm but Pujols is just too old for that lucrative of a contract. If he were around 23, I’d do it in a heartbeat but I have a feeling someone is going to over pay for his great talent and have an albatross on their hands.

          • BT

            It doesn’t make any difference what the offer “should” be. It’s what the market will bear.

  • greg

    But how old is he *really*?

    • marc

      I hear his real name is danny almonte… how bout that name drop

      • Bric

        Leave my father- in- law out of this.

  • Raymond Robert Koenig

    The Cardinals will never let Pujols leave.

  • Raymond Robert Koenig

    Pettitte’s retiring. The Yankees’ rotation after Sabathia sucks. Rothschild is their pitching coach. Time to trade Zambrano and his contract there.

    • mike

      I couldn’t agree more. But let’s get greedy, gamble a little bit and see if Z can start April off with a 4-0 sub 2 era. Combine this with a Yankee stumble out of the blocks and the Cubs might be able to get the Yankees to throw in a top prospect or even better yet, agree to take on Soriano.

    • Ace

      At this point, it wouldn’t just be about trading his contract – it would be about holding the Yanks’ feet to the fire, and actually getting a nice return. Otherwise, pass.

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  • KB

    The Cubs are a rich, rich team. MLB owners are making money hand-over-fist.
    If the small-market Cards can afford to pay Pujols, the Cubs SURE as hell can.
    If Vernon Wells can command $24 M a year, then Pujols certainly can command 30. And we should pay it, and not look back.

    • Ace

      “can” and “should” are distinct issues.

  • CJC

    If Pujols ends up with the Sox or Yankees, I will quit watching baseball, then we will know its all rigged

    • wax_eagle

      The Yankees already have a high dollar first base man. The Sox are probably an option.