Underpaid Pujols looking for major contract upgrade

Feb 1 2011 - 6:08pm

Albert Pujols has indicated he isn't inclined to negotiate a contract once he pulls on his uniform in spring training, so the Cardinals only have about three weeks to sign their slugging first baseman to a record-setting extension or face the nightmare of him reaching free agency next fall.

If anyone ever thought Pujols would give the Cardinals a big discount, they should lose that idea, as it's widely believed his asking price is $300 million over 10 years.

The Cardinals could have locked him up for less a year ago but let that window slide by. While the market was moving upward, Pujols apparently spent some time considering how one-sided his professional relationship has been.

He clearly has been baseball's best player since the super-charged Barry Bonds stopped casting shadows, but it was Alex Rodriguez who got a 10-year, $275 million deal from the Yankees.

Pujols has earned $90 million in his first decade with the Cardinals. That's less than what the Cardinals have paid pitching disappointment Kyle Lohse and, according to USA Today calculations, only once has Pujols been among the top 25 salaries in baseball.

Think about that for a minute. Is it any wonder he's swinging for the fences in this negotiation?

There's a theory going around that there won't be a huge market for Pujols if he reaches free agency. That's crazy.

Just because the Yankees and Red Sox have Mark Teixeira and Adrian Gonzalez, respectively, doesn't mean they won't be driven to add Pujols in the league of designated hitters. The Cubs certainly would have the flexibility (although Chairman Tom Ricketts' appetite remains untested). You can't rule out the Rangers, Dodgers, Angels, Mets or a group of sleeping-giant franchises such as the Orioles, Blue Jays and Nationals.

Moving contracts: Frank Francisco figures to become a key part of a deep Blue Jays bullpen (and maybe a valuable midseason trading chip), but the deal that sent Mike Napoli to the Rangers makes it appear that last week's Napoli-for-Vernon Wells trade mostly was a nicely disguised salary dump. The Jays turned over a four-year, $81 million commitment to the Angels. That should allow them to keep home run champ Juan Bautista long term.

But what about the Rangers? Napoli's acquisition follows the Rangers' signing of free-agent third baseman Adrian Beltre -- the guy who made most sense for the Angels -- and catcher Yorvit Torrealba. Napoli becomes essentially baseball's best 10th man, likely to get at-bats at catcher, first base and DH. It also puts an even tighter squeeze on Michael Young, whom Beltre displaced.

Young said last weekend he doesn't plan to be a DH forever, and the Napoli addition would make it easy to trade him or Ian Kinsler as scouts believe second base is Young's best fit. The Rockies are interested in Young and at one point this winter the Rangers were offering to pay half of the $48 million left on his contract. Dealing Kinsler, guaranteed only $13.5 million over the next two years, might be more palatable and bring a higher return.

Either Young or Kinsler would upgrade two spots for the Cubs -- second base and leadoff. The Rangers' need is a starting pitcher to replace Cliff Lee. Nolan Ryan loves Andrew Cashner, but it's hard to imagine the Cubs trading a second pitching prospect after putting Chris Archer in the Matt Garza trade.

The last word: "I don't think I'm in a position to comment at the moment. He's a member of the organization. He's signed. Our stand right now is that he's going to come in and compete for a starting position." -- Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik on outfielder Milton Bradley, who faces a Feb. 8 hearing on felony charges for allegedly threatening a woman.

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THE WHISPERS

Gordon Beckham could have a huge season hitting second in the White Sox lineup, between Juan Pierre and Alex Rios, Adam Dunn, Paul Konerko and Carlos Quentin. He really seemed to grow in the second half of 2010. ... Because they are highly competitive division rivals, it's hard to imagine the Angels sending Mike Napoli to the Rangers directly, just as it was unlikely the Cubs would have wanted Mark DeRosa to wind up with the Cardinals less than a year after they traded him to the Indians. Give the Red Sox credit for taking no chances. Their $142 million deal with Carl Crawford includes a clause that prohibits any team he's traded to from then trading him to the Yankees. They rarely give no-trade clauses, and in Crawford's case allowed him to block trades to only two teams. ... Angels owner Arte Moreno is steaming at agent Scott Boras over the Adrian Beltre negotiations, among other issues. The irony is that Boras leases the best luxury suite at Angel Stadium, immediately behind home plate and clearly visible from the center-field camera. ... One very interesting White Sox player to watch in spring training -- Anthony Carter. A closer in Double-A last season, he looks ready to help Ozzie Guillen's unsettled bullpen. ... It has to be a bad sign that the Twins ordered Justin Morneau to stay away from the Twins' offseason event. He and Joe Nathan (surgery) are huge question marks heading toward spring training. ... The Yankees' signing of Mark Prior and Bartolo Colon smacks more of desperation than the Angels' trade for Vernon Wells. For what it's worth, the Angels are more than capable of winning the AL West, with a starting rotation that compares favorably to those for the Rangers and A's. Jered Weaver, Ervin Santana, Dan Haren and Joel Pineiro will be backed by the top defensive outfield in the majors in Peter Bourjos, Torii Hunter and Wells. ... Either Royals first baseman Billy Butler has quietly emerged as a top-tier hitter or the Royals are making a big mistake giving him a four-year, $30 million extension with the much-hyped Eric Hosmer knocking on the big-league door. ... Don't be surprised if Milwaukee's Prince Fielder is the talk of Arizona. He's motivated to have a career year as he plays for a new contract.

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