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Brian Walton's news and commentary on the St. Louis Cardinals (TM) and their minor league system

Where will the Pujols-Hendry bromance lead?

As the old saying goes, the only two sure things in life are death and taxes.

The 2011 Albert Pujols version of the phrase includes the certainties of hitting and money, lots of both.

In the compensation department, the St. Louis Cardinals first baseman and free agent-to be is anticipating the huge contract heading his way this fall – even if he doesn’t yet know who will be signing his checks for the next decade or so.

In the interim, the hits haven’t been coming at their typical rate as Pujols has gotten off to an uncharacteristically rough start with the bat.  Albert arrived in Chicago this week lugging a .248 batting average and just two doubles in his first 35 games.

Could it be that Pujols’ spirits were raised by his Tuesday batting-practice embrace with Cubs general manager Jim Hendry? Both sides are clearly motivated to create the appearance of a budding courtship.

Hendry, in his ninth year in the job, has every reason to want to create hope for uneasy Cubs fans to “wait until next year.” In his favor, the GM has a past record of being able to convince his owners to spend lavishly on free agents. The decisions haven’t often been proven to be wise, but somehow, Hendry has survived despite an ownership change and his clubs’ last playoff wins having been back in 2003, long-since departed manager Dusty Baker’s first season with the Cubs.

After dealing away incumbent first sacker Derrek Lee last summer, Hendry brought in a one-year replacement for 2011. Despite averages of .196 and .227 the previous two seasons with Tampa Bay, Scott Boras client Carlos Pena received a generous $10 million contract to don Cubbie blue. His .213 Chicago average isn’t building him any support to stick around beyond this season, however.

With the traditional big spenders in New York, Boston and Philadelphia apparently set at first base for years to come, Pujols needs deep-pocketed bidders to step forward and enter the fray for his next contract. The Cardinals’ National League Central rivals from the north side of Chicago are considered by some to be shaping up as their most formidable competitor for Pujols’ ongoing services.

All eyes were on Pujols Tuesday as he and the Cubs’ front-office leader fanned those embers for everyone to see.

No one knows exactly what Hendry whispered into Pujols’ ear. Even though $300 million surely wasn’t stated – after all, that would be tampering – it had to be in their collective thinking.

Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts, the man with the (TD Ameritrade-sourced) money, was also on hand but stuck to a more business-like handshake with the Cardinals superstar.

That Pujols went on to log his first four-hit game of the 2011 season on Tuesday night, raising his batting average 20 points in the process, was perhaps just coincidental – or maybe it wasn’t…

What is the chance that Pujols will be a Cub in 2012?

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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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