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Setting the Bar

by: Brian F. Logush

Remember the scene in The Rock when the team of SEALS is ambushed by the Marines in the Alcatraz showers? After the massacre, the officials back at base just stand there, stunned at what has just happened. I suspect that's how the St. Louis Cardinals front office and budget committee feel after what happened to Ryan Howard.

On April 26, the Philadelphia Phillies announced a contract extension with the Lafayette High grad, to the tune of 5-years and $125 million. Yep, Mr. Howard will earn an average of $25 million a year for hitting 45+ home runs and recording nearly 200 strikeouts a season. And while his glove has gotten better, he is not regarded as a top-tier defender. But ball clubs generally don't pay their position players millions of dollars to simply catch a ball. They must also be able to do some damage with the lumber, which Howard has shown he is capable of doing.

So, what now for John Mozeliak and company? Cardinal fans were already fretting about what would happen when the deadline for Pujols came around. Fans looked at the contract Joe Mauer received as a basis. 8-years, $184 million, or $23 million a year. Many fans, myself included, figured that if the Cardinals offered Pujols an 8-year, $200 million contract, that would be enough. He would be the second-highest paid player in baseball, behind only A-Rod. It would keep him in St. Louis for the rest of his playing career. It was the perfect plan.

But then Phillies GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. had to get in the way of our plans. There is no doubt that Pujols is the superior player to Howard. Howard has the raw power advantage, but is rather one-dimensional. Howard has an NL MVP because he hit 58 home runs. Pujols has three because he is a complete player, the most realistic chance at being the next Triple Crown winner. The Cardinals were going to try and sign him for around $25 million per year. Pujols would accept, and some dude in Cooperstown would begin molding the Hall-of-Fame plaque with the STL emblazoned on the hat. End of story, roll credits, everybody's happy.

But all that has been compromised. By signing Howard to his contract, there is no way the Cardinals can try and low-ball Pujols. Mozeliak knows this. Pujols knows this. His agents especially know this. Pujols' next contract has to eclipse Howard's. And it makes sense. He's the best player in the game. To pay him the same, or God forbid less, would be an insult.

Now, that contract is nothing to sneeze at. The Pujols family certainly doesn't need the money. It's about stature. The best player must be paid like it, when that time comes. It happened to A-Rod. It happened to Teixeira. And it will happen to Pujols. The silver lining I can see is that his next contract doesn't need to be obscenely larger than Howard's. Something along the lines of 8-years and $205 or $210 million would suffice. Pujols would be the paid more than his Philly counterpart, but it isn't a $30 million per year episode. It's enough.

With all that Pujols has done for St. Louis, including the various charities and centers he has established for people with Down Syndrome, I have to believe the money isn't that important. So much of his life is based right here. Give the man a contract that pays him more than Howard, let him continue his dominance, and let him retire as a Cardinal.

This is the man who helped bring the Cardinals back into the national spotlight. The player who left the shrouded secrets of Mark McGwire in the past and brought a new age of Cardinal baseball. The humanitarian who raises money for families affected by Down syndrome, not to mention the poor in his native Dominican Republic.

So there it is Mr. Mozeliak. The Phillies have just set the tone for Pujols' contract. It's up to you to find a way. The St. Louis Cardinals fan base demands it. Because if he walks, so will several thousand others.

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Cardinals Mix blog featured writers LS Murphy,Brian F. Logush
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