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MLB Trade Rumors: Has Albert Pujols Played His Last Game in St. Louis?

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ST. LOUIS, MO - SEPTEMBER 23: Albert Pujols #5 of the St. Louis Cardinals hits a double against the Chicago Cubs at Busch Stadium on September 23, 2011 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Jeff Curry/Getty Images)
ST. LOUIS, MO - SEPTEMBER 23: Albert Pujols #5 of the St. Louis Cardinals hits a double against the Chicago Cubs at Busch Stadium on September 23, 2011 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Jeff Curry/Getty Images)
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Future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols may have played his last home game in St. Louis yesterday, as he becomes a free agent after the World Series. In a season where he got off to a slow start at the plate, where some questioned his real age, where I was early in calling this a down year for Pujols, and where he broke his wrist and came back 3-4 weeks sooner than most predicted, Pujols proved all of his critics that he is still the best hitter in baseball. With 3 games left in the season, Pujols is hitting .300-.369-.547 with 37 HRs, 102 runs and 98 RBI.

The Cardinals were rumored to have made Pujols an offer last offseason somewhere in the vicinity of 9 years and $22-23 million per season. Heading into this season, many felt his next contract would surpass Alex Rodriguez's 10 year, $275 million deal that goes through the 2017 season. And it is exactly that contract that may actually hurt Pujols' chances of getting a contract anywhere near $275 million. The reason is, more than likely, ARod's contract will be considered the worst contract in baseball, as injuries and age are taking a toll on ARod's production at the plate, and Pujols has played with injuries for the last few years, and he isn't getting any younger. So any team has to weigh a huge contract offer vs the possibility that Pujols' production will drop as he gets older.

More on Pujols after the jump:

Joe Strauss discussed Pujols becoming a free agent in his weekend column over at the St. Louis Post Dispatch where he includes quotes from Cardinals GM John Mozeliak and Chairman Bill Dewitt Jr. Here is one of the quotes from GM Mozeliak:

"When you reflect on his career, it's been a historic run for he and the St. Louis Cardinals,'' Mozeliak said. "As far as our mindset, we still believe there is a chance that Albert will be wearing a Cardinal uniform in 2012."

Does that sound like a GM who is confident that he can re-sign Pujols this offseason? Not to me. He sounds like has has already come to grips with the fact that he can't meet Pujols asking price. If he was confident that he would do what he has to to sign Pujols, he would not be saying " we still believe there is a chance that Albert will be wearing a Cardinals uniform in 2012."

Strauss goes on to write that the team does not want to bid against themselves.

The club is currently inclined to remain within that framework, even tightening its length while remaining around the same average annual value. Such a tactic assumes at least one of two realities: Last winter's bid would stretch payroll to its limit, or they believe Pujols' market overstated until further notice.

The Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Angels, Texas Rangers, Florida Marlins and Washington Nationals are frequently cited as potential bidders for Pujols. The Cards, wary of bidding against themselves, are not inclined to offer another bid until they know their competition.

I have a hard time believing that the Cardinals will be bidding against themselves or that the market for Pujols was overstated last offseason. I can see the Rangers, the Angels, and possibly the Dodgers, if they can get their ownership situation straightened out, as three teams that will be involved in the bidding. Dodgers GM Ned Colletti was quoted last week saying he will be focusing on an impact bat this offseason, without naming names.

Strauss goes on to say in the article that Pujols has been quoted recently that the contract talks are "out of my control", speculating that he won't take a discount to re-sign with the Cardinals. He even ends the article with this, as if the Cardinals are already resigned to the fact that Pujols will sign elsewhere this offseason:

Retaining Pujols still represents Plan A in organizational parlance. Plan B probably would include Berkman at first base, Allen Craig in right field and the intention of trading for offensive help. Money otherwise dedicated to Pujols might go for a veteran closer and/or a middle infielder.

I know Strauss is close to the Cardinals as he is one of their beat writers, but it sounds like the Cardinals might prefer to sign a free agent closer-Heath Bell?- and a middle infielder-Jimmy Rollins?-to fill some big holes on their roster than signing one of the greatest players to wear a Cardinals uniform. Resigning Lance Berkman last week gives them leverage in case Pujols leaves.

I have gone back and forth on whether Pujols will be a Cardinal in 2012, and its more than likely that he will, but I think they will have to increase their offer from the 9 year, $22-23 million per year offer they made last offseason. This offseason is certain to have a plethora of Pujols rumors articles published because there aren't many bigger names in baseball than Albert Pujols.