Disrespecting Albert no more

When it comes to Albert Pujols and his willingness to leave St. Louis, it turns out I was right. I’m not always right, but on this one I was dead on. There really wasn’t any chance that Albert was going to sign with the Cardinals again, World Series or no World Series. After all those years in St. Louis, now he’s off to the American League.

As a Cubs fan, I loved the idea of seeing Albert playing half of his games at Wrigley Field next year. He would be in the 55-65 home runs and 15o-175 RBI range every year, with even a serviceable back-up hitter behind him (which, admittedly, the Cubs don’t have right now). The Pujols jersey would have been an immediate success in Wrigleyville, as I’m sure the sports stores in LA are selling them at a brisk pace as I type this.

The big market teams were the only ones that really had a shot to land him in the first place, and I took the view that the Cubs’ status as the one big market team in the Cardinals’ division meant something. But perhaps the idea of playing so many games in St. Louis over the years didn’t appeal to him too much. Or, more likely, the Cubs didn’t put enough money on the table.

But the American League angle is important. Take a look at somebody like Jim Thome, who stopped playing first base regularly at age 33, but has been able to extend his career many more seasons by DH’ing. Pujols is now 31, so he may have a season or two as a first baseman still in him, but he’s going to take the Thome route before too long.

And I’m also thrilled that he’s out of the National League. There will be an interleague game with the Angels here and there, and those could become a big deal as far as getting a ticket, but Albert has hurt the Cubs regularly over the years (two certain games in St. Louis last summer spring immediately to mind), and so I’m happy to be rid of him. Perhaps we’ll see him in the World Series at some point, but his role in my baseball universe has just dropped tremendously.

At Thanksgiving, I went to my parents’ house in Cardinals country. There seemed to be a feeling that the Cardinals’ latest championship had somehow pushed Albert toward staying with the team. This was delusional, in my mind, for the simple fact that the Cardinals were paying Matt Holliday more money than Albert Pujols. That’s a clear sign of disrespect, in my eyes.

The prevailing view that I encountered was a feeling that Albert’s made enough money already, and St. Louis is a great organization with great fans and great history, and it wouldn’t make sense for him to leave. I tried to bring the others around to my way of thinking, which is that if you’re the best–in anything–your pay should reflect this. Was Matt Holliday the best player on the Cardinals? Most people would say no to this, and yet he somehow made more money than Albert Pujols did last year. It doesn’t matter if he makes $100 or $100 million, I promise you he knows what the score was on that front.

If I’m the Angels’ owner, I give Albert my word that no player on my team will ever make more money than him while he’s on my roster. If Albert makes $25 million and I have another player coming in with huge credentials, I tell him that I can go no higher than $23 or $24 million, lest I offend my franchise player and future Hall of Famer. I hate that the numbers are that big, but the impact would be the same, regardless of the amount.

So the Cardinals, fresh off a remarkable October triumph, now have to fill a hole that they haven’t had in a long time.The money that they saved by not getting Pujols will help to restock their club with other players, but Opening Day 2012 is going to seem very strange to Cardinals’ fans, with LaRussa and Pujols now out of the picture. It surely presents an opening for the Cubs, so long as Theo and his wise men are smart about which players to add (or subtract, as the case may be). Spring training can’t get here soon enough for me.

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