In pursuit of Pujols

Updated: February 17, 2011, 10:46 AM ET
By Buster Olney

A year ago, before the Philadelphia Phillies signed Ryan Howard to a five-year, $125 million extension, they had an internal conversation about pursuing the idea of a swap of Howard for Albert Pujols.

And the context is very important.

Because it was a year ago that the Phillies were into their negotiations with the first baseman and knew how expensive it would be to retain Howard. And as they considered the best ways to get bang for their buck, they kicked around this scenario: What if the Cardinals have a tough time re-signing Pujols? What if it ever looks like Pujols might leave St. Louis? What if his salary demands are just too high for the Cardinals' comfort level?

The conversation was appropriate. The best front offices think outside of the box, and think boldly. It was prescient. Because a year later, the Cardinals are now faced with an extraordinary gap between what they are willing to pay Pujols and what he is looking for. I don't know exactly what the last St. Louis offer was, in total dollars. But given that the two sides basically agreed on the length of the deal but not on the annual salary, the guess here is that the Cardinals were willing to pay Pujols about $20 million a year over 10 years.

Which means that if Pujols is looking for Alex Rodriguez money, St. Louis is about $75 million to $100 million short of the asking price.

That has opened the door now for Pujols to go into free agency, and for other teams to start thinking about what signing Pujols would mean to their franchise.