Albert Pujols and the St. Louis Cardinals are currently negotiating a contract extension that could end up being worth more money, in both total dollars and annual salary, than any single player deal in baseball history. If they don’t come to an agreement, Pujols, unquestionably the best player in the game, will become a free agent at the conclusion of this season.  And he’s only 31 years old.

If Pujols were a character in a baseball meets Dungeons & Dragons type of role playing game, he would max out every category.  His success in the batter’s box is one thing, but he’s also so squeaky clean and successful off the baseball field that it wouldn’t surprise me if Danny DeVito is actually his twin brother, and he was created in a laboratory by a collection of affluent baseball owners.

Let’s take a quick look at the trajectory his career is currently on:

Whenever a player remotely close to Pujols’ stature approaches availability on the free agent market, it’s expected that the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox will end up bidding for his services.  This time, however, the Yankees and Red Sox will be locked in with their respective first basemen, Mark Teixeira and Adrian Gonzalez.  Several baseball insiders have suggested that the Cardinals will be able to use this to their advantage in negotiating.

I don’t buy it.  As good as Teixeira and Gonzalez are, Pujols is much better.  And the Yankees and Red Sox go into every offseason with the sole purpose of getting better.

Assuming that the Yankees or Red Sox aren’t interested also overlooks the fact that New York will be using 39 year old Jorge Posada as their DH this coming season, while the Boston Red Sox go with the rapidly aging beyond his 35 years, David Ortiz.

You’re kidding yourself if you think that the two Evil Empires won’t be involved in bidding for his services if Pujols gets to free agency.

But just how much are we talking about?

If the Cardinals had worked toward negotiating a contract prior to this offseason, they likely would’ve managed to get Pujols at more of a discount, but after the unexpected spending spree that several teams went on after the Giants won the World Series, I think negotiations start at the biggest contract in baseball history: Alex Rodriguez’s 10 year $275 million deal signed ahead of the 2008 season.  A-Rod was 32 at the time, and both players have an eerily similar career trajectory.

But not only will Pujols be a year younger than Rodriguez was when he signed his massive deal, A-Rod has had his up and down years, relatively speaking of course, while Pujols has consistently hovered around eight wins above replacement each season.

Pujols is also currently the better player, and taking less in annual salary than an inferior player seems unlikely.  Or as Ken Rosenthal put it:

Seven years might not be long enough; Pujols probably will not want to be a free agent again at 38. Alex Rodriguez’s average salary of $27.5 million will not be high enough; Pujols is a significantly better player.

There’s even a possibility that Pujols becomes the first baseball player to be paid a dollar a second.  Think about it like this:

  • $1 x 60 seconds = $60 a minute
  • $60 x 60 minutes = $3600 per hour
  • $3600 x 24 hrs = $86,400 per day
  • $86400 x 365 days a year = $31,536,000.00 per year

The next question has to do with whether or not the St. Louis Cardinals can afford to pay Pujols the money he’ll be seeking.  As Drew Silva from NBC’s Hardball Talk explains, St. Louis represents a larger market than you may think.

You’ll hear the Cardinals referred to as a mid-market team from time to time, but it’s completely false.  St. Louis is not a big town, but the fan base extends to all bordering states and beyond because of the strong radio signals that KMOX emitted when televisions weren’t in every home. You can find big pockets of folks wearing the “birds on the bat” in Arkansas, Tennessee, southern Illinois, Indiana, Oklahoma, Mississippi and Iowa.

The Cardinals are in the Top 5 of league-wide merchandise sales nearly every season and they pack three million fans into the new and somewhat publicly funded Busch Stadium on a yearly basis.

The money is flowing.

While that may be an optimistic answer to the question, it could also be rephrased to ask if the Cardinals can afford not to sign Pujols.

We’ve already gone over what makes Pujols such a valuable player and it should be noted that no one knows that better than the Cardinals.

Team Chairman Bill DeWitt:

Pujols is irreplaceable, both as a talent and as the face of the franchise. That’s all wrapped into one. He’s an iconic player because he’s such a great player. He’s proven year in and year out that he’s one of the greatest players to play the game. He’s never had a bad year and has lifetime totals that are incredible. You can’t go out and find an Albert Pujols.

In fact, finding an Albert Pujols could prove every bit as difficult as letting one go.