On the one hand, it is almost unthinkable. The idea of Albert playing anywhere other than St. Louis. However, if you look at contracts to Ryan Howard and, more recently, to Jayson Werth and Carl Crawford, the insanity out in the baseball market is making that Cardinals nightmare dangerously close to becoming reality.

I know they play different positions, but if Werth and Crawford can command 7-years, $100 million plus contracts, just what is the best hitter in baseball worth on the open market?

Well, for starters, take the Howard deal...please. The Phillies donated $125 million over five years, which comes to $25 million per year and that was not on the open market.

If the Cards fail in their current efforts to extend Pujols now, he will almost assuredly wait for free agency and test the market. He has said that he will not negotiate during the season.

If that happens, look out. Hell may freeze over, there could be peace in the Mideast, heck, the Cubs could win the World Series!

In other words, it would be unprecedented. Unless I missed it and Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and Stan the Man ever hit free agency, there is simply no comparison to a guy like Pujols hitting the street.

If his current value is $25-$28 million per year now, his value as a free agent could easily top $30 million annually and that is something that the Cards just can't afford, if they want to contend without breaking the bank.

If St, Louis harbors the real desire to have Albert long-term, he must be signed this winter. If he is allowed to go beyond that time frame, he is gone. Pure and simple.

What, you say, there are only a handful of teams that could afford him and also have an opening at first base? Well, that may be true on the surface, but I guarantee you that if a player like Pujols becomes available, and assuming he has a typical 2011 season, teams will make exceptions.

Remember, the Red Sox do not have a long-term deal in place with A-Gon, though that is certainly expected. And even the Yankees, who have Tex locked up forever, could make a play for Albert. Remember, he could play another position.

You think a team can't fit a .331/.426/.624/1.050 bat into their lineup? Hello, Washington Nationals, New York Mets. Hell, maybe even the aforementioned Cubbies might be willing to wade into that pool.

According to ESPN, "Bryan Burwell of the Post-Dispatch hints Wednesday that the Cardinals could bow out if Pujols is demanding $28 million to $30 million."

"The longer you listen to Cardinals officials who carefully broach the subject, the more it sounds like they are either trying to get you to start getting comfortable with the possible reality of life without Pujols in the not-so-distant future, or at the very least take the concept out for a little public stroll for their own prospective negotiating benefit," Burwell writes.

So while life without The Machine may seem impossible to fathom for Cardinals fans, perhaps they should be getting used to the idea. I still believe they will sign Albert to a long-term deal, but it had better happen in the next 10 weeks.

Or he could be wearing pinstripes in 2012.

By Bob Warja


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