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Why are some surprised by the Pujols no-trade rumor?

Starved for baseball news of any kind and especially frantically searching for any smoke signals from the continuing contract negotiations between superstar Albert Pujols and the St. Louis Cardinals, a segment of the fans and media went nuts Saturday when ESPN’s Buster Olney reported a rumor that the first baseman would veto any trades presented him.

National media like Sporting News and even amplified the report. In every rehashed version I read, the fact it was an unsubstantiated rumor was conveniently left out, instead representing this as bonafide news from the Pujols camp.

Doesn’t anyone out there have a common sense filter? Someone needs to bring a group of Cardinals fans down from the ledge. I am going to try to do my best here to talk some reason into them.

Of course, Pujols does not want to be traded. The whole thing is one big hypothetical exercise.

From a business perspective, as a player with ten years as a major leaguer, the last five with one team, Pujols enjoys full no-trade protection. Sure, the club could try to buy him out of it, but why would they even risk trying? Consider the potential negative ramifications of going down that path.

First and foremost, why would Pujols want to give up the built-in contract leverage he enjoys by being the face of the Cardinals franchise? If he wants to remain a career-long Cardinal as he has stated many times, he would be motivated to remain with the team and try to work out a deal, even if negotiations stretch into the fall and winter.

From a personal perspective, why would Pujols want to turn himself into a baseball vagabond, playing one uncertain season with a new club leading up to free agency and likely moving to a third team next winter?

For a player who intensely focuses on preparation for every game and does not want in-season contract distractions, a trade to a new city would increase his 2011 year-long distraction level many fold. Perhaps Pujols could block it all out and have a typical MVP-level season, but what if not?

Pujols’ only reasons for considering the above would be a desire to chase the largest contract possible via free agency. That is a position he has yet to take, at least publicly.

Then we have the fact that the Cardinals have never even hinted to anyone that they would consider dealing Pujols away, in the past or present.

Could the idea have been floated as a negotiating tactic? Could it have been leaked by one camp to send a message to the other? Perhaps, but we have no way of knowing one way or another. Even if was mentioned in their talks, it doesn’t mean there is any substance behind it.

Should the Cardinals have discussed the subject internally? One would hope they have long considered all alternatives, but any realistic Pujols trade scenarios evaporated at last year’s July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.

Until Pujols reached his ten-year MLB anniversary last season, the Cardinals could have dealt him without his consent. His contract did have a short list of teams with whom he would not play, but surely one of the many others would have wanted up to two years of his services had he been made available.

The Cardinals did not pursue that avenue in 2010 and prior, surely because they expected to re-sign their first baseman. At this point, they should be given the time to try to do just that. There are no indications that the team is anywhere near frustrated enough with negotiations to have reached the point of no return – a trade.

At the current time, Pujols’ relative market value would be depressed, anyway. While the take could be more than the two draft picks the club would receive if Pujols walks next fall, it might not be substantially greater. Reference this analysis of a comparable situation with Mark Teixeira to appreciate the decline in trade value of a top player as free agency approaches.

Folks should hold the over-reaction until there is actual substance to react to, something that is actually news. Olney’s common sense rumor clearly isn’t it.

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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