Slugger Albert Pujols and the St. Louis Cardinals have set a deadline for 12 PM EST Wednesday to agree on a contract extension.
If the deadline passes, Pujols has declared that he will not discuss his contract situation or negotiate with the Cardinals until after the season, nor will his agent. Pujols also has a full no-trade clause in his contract and has said he will veto any and all trades.
According to ESPN.com's Buster Olney, Pujols rejected a contract proposal from the team two weeks ago and no progress has been made in the interim. Details of that proposal were not made public.
However, by not discussing his contract situation during the season if the two sides do not agree by this deadline, the only thing that will be discussed all season by the media and fans is Pujols's contract situation. Pujols has to be aware of this, and appears to be forcing the Cardinals to get something done.
If an agreement is not reached, Pujols appears set to go about his business and produce at the same level he has been producing for his career: that is, about on par with Ted Williams, judging by his FanGraphs projection for 2011.
Should Pujols end up testing free agency next offseason (assuming he maintains his no-trade clause) where could he end up?
He could re-sign with the Cardinals. He's been there his whole career and if it gets to that point, the Cardinals would probably offer Pujols the richest contract in sports.
The Chicago Cubs, New York Mets, and Los Angeles Angels would likely offer contracts to Pujols. The Chicago Cubs signed Carlos Pena to a one-year contract this offseason to keep first base open with an eye towards Pujols and the next offseason. The Mets have youngster Ike Davis at first, but would be open to moving him to the outfield or trading him to make room for Pujols. The Angels are always willing to spend money on big-time free agents and after losing Mark Teixeira to the Yankees after the 2008 season, getting Pujols would make them an elite team in the American League.
The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox would obviously be interested in adding Pujols. Both teams are deep-pockted enough to take him on while keeping the other high-priced first basemen on their rosters (Teixeira and Adrian Gonzalez, respectively), but would likely still move their lesser first basemen in the event of acquiring Pujols. Both teams have the money to do it, but whether or not they actually would is a different matter.
The most intriguing option for the where-will-he-go discussion though is the Kansas City Royals, as The St. Louis Dispatch's Jeff Gordon points out. The Royals have a very young team, and with a host of players signed to one-year deals this season or set to reach free agency next fall, they will have as much payroll flexibility as they need to offer Pujols an extremely rich contract. Pujols would instantly make the Royals legitimate contenders again and, should he continue to perform at his career levels, unseat George Brett as the franchise's greatest player. Furthermore, Pujols grew up near Kansas City and his family still lives there. Stranger things have happened.
Albert Pujols is one of the greatest baseball players of all-time. If this deadline passes, the talk and speculation surrounding him will only increase as the season progresses and lead to the biggest MLB free agency story in history. The numbers that will be tossed around will be like nothing that has ever been seen before.
The deadline doesn't mean he will be leaving the Cardinals, but if it passes and he decides to, it will change baseball forever and the Cardinals will be left wondering how they let a once-in-a-lifetime talent escape their grasp.