Only in a year that his team, the St. Louis Cardinals, won the ultimate prize, the World Championship, could the surprise departure of Albert Pujols not be named the top story of the year.
Yet in terms of long-term ramifications to both the player and his former club, the 31-year-old’s decision to sign a 20-year contract with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim will be felt long after the 2011 Cardinals become ex-champions.
Announced on December 8, the new deal is for the next 10 years followed by a personal services contract for the next decade and could yield the first baseman $260 million. This fall, Pujols had become a free agent for the first time after 11 record-breaking years with the Cardinals.
Up until almost the end, many baseball observers and therefore, many fans, felt that Pujols and the Cardinals would eventually come to a satisfactory agreement.
In the spring, Pujols had reportedly turned down an offer from St. Louis that was worth $198 million over nine years, instead preferring to test the open market. The club later also made a $26 million per year offer over five years that apparently insulted the native of the Dominican Republic, despite its annual amount being second-highest in baseball history. The club also extended its nine-year offer to a tenth year. That $210 million proposal reportedly included $30 million deferred without interest, however, falling far short of the Anaheim offer in cash.
While shocked the day finally come, many Cardinals observers were still prepared for the reality that St. Louis was not willing to top all offers. A majority of fans may have accepted both sides’ positions had Pujols and his wife not damaged their credibility by asserting their decision was not about the money. 82 percent of fans voting at this site attributed Pujols to be the primary reason for the split.
As compensation for the loss of Pujols, the Cardinals will receive a draft pick from the Angels, their frst-rounder, 19th overall, as well as a sandwich pick between the first and second rounds of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft. Of course, that is small consolation for losing arguably the best player in the game.
On the other side of the coin, had Pujols remained, there were worries that without a significant payroll increase over time, the Cardinals may have had trouble fielding a competitive team. Near-term concerns include re-signing Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright.
Rather than try to summarize Pujols’ many contributions here, I will simply assert that Pujols’ first ten years as a major leaguer may be the most dominant single decade registered by any player in the history of Major League Baseball. Sadly, Pujols will not be around to challenge Stan Musial as the greatest Cardinals player ever.
Where the next ten years will lead Pujols and the Cardinals remain to be seen, but one thing is clear. Their respective futures are no longer linked.
Footnote: Because I had finalized this top 20 before the signing of Carlos Beltran, that story is not included in the countdown. Since the move was in direct response to Pujols’ departure, it seems appropriate to acknowledge it here.