At the start of this season, when it became clear that Albert Pujols and the Cardinals were not going to agree on a contract before the season, the thought of number 5 in a contract year was absolutely horrifying. The best player of his generation–and maybe of any generation–trying to put up numbers to show what his value might be? And if you were watching the World Series tonight, you saw that on full display.
Exactly how much will Albert Pujols be able to command on the open market this offseason? Do you think he settles for less to resign with the Cardinals, knowing how badly they have been underpaying him for a decade? That won’t happen, and it shouldn’t.
Think about it this way: Albert isn’t even the highest-paid player on his own team. That title goes to Matt Holliday, and has for a couple of seasons now. Albert and Chris Carpenter are on about the same pay scale, but Carpenter pitches every fifth day, while Albert plays every day at first base. Do you think that’s the way it should be? I sure don’t.
Let’s say that Albert is worth twice what he’s getting now. Can the Cardinals still afford Carpenter, or Holliday, or even Lance Berkman or Yadier Molina if they’re paying him that much? The answer is of course not. St. Louis can put other pieces around him, and they have, because he’s so dramatically underpaid. And now it’s time to pay the man what he’s worth.
The presence of Prince Fielder on the free agent market might complicate things a bit. Why pay Albert $25 million, when I can get Prince for $20 million and fill another roster spot with some good talent with the savings? I understand that thinking, and I think there will be a race to be the winner of the second-best first baseman derby. But there is no mistaking who the biggest prize of all will be, as soon as this World Series is over.