Bernie: The price of paying Pujols just went up

2011-10-24T12:05:00Z 2011-11-13T01:44:53Z Bernie: The price of paying Pujols just went upBERNIE MIKLASZ •, 314-340-8192

ARLINGTON, Texas • After Albert Pujols put on a show of a lifetime Saturday night in World Series Game 3, the thrill of it all carried over to the next day. There was a buzz inside Rangers Ballpark, leaving exasperated Texas manager Ron Washington struggling to provide a satisfactory answer when pressed on how his team planned to pitch Pujols from now on.

In attempting to explain how Pujols pulverized pitches that lesser hitters may have missed, Washington said, "It so happened it was Albert Pujols. I wish it was John Doe."

Pujols' totals of three homers, five hits, six RBIs and 14 total bases represented the defining performance of a brilliant, Hall of Fame career. What he did Saturday night will never be forgotten.

If anything, the legend will grow as parents tell the story of Pujols' extraordinary game to their children, beginning the process of passing the memories, the fabulous tale, to subsequent generations.

Not that he had upcoming free agency in mind, but Pujols' timing couldn't have been better for his future. Pujols becomes a free agent soon after the World Series, and the epic nature of his Game 3 achievements will only increase the pressure on the Cardinals to re-sign him.

And Pujols' invasion of Texas will only enhance his free-agent appeal on the open market. Logically, one unbelievable game shouldn't move the needle on Pujols' contract negotiations.

Pujols has been making his case for his next contract over the last 11 years. He'll also be 32 at the start of next season, and with that in mind pragmatic team executives would ordinarily hesitate before offering a contract stretching longer than five, six years.

Yes, but how often does common sense prevail in baseball?

For all of the talk we hear each fall and winter about fiscal responsibility and metric-driven value evaluation, teams continue to go crazy by handing out laughably stupid player contracts. (Example: Washington giving Jayson Werth $136 million over seven years.) Owners and GMs are more like fans and media than they'd care to admit; they get caught up in the dramatic moments, and the emotion, and it makes them go dizzy and ditzy in the head.

When Pujols tore the Rangers apart in Game 3, he reminded everyone of his status in the game. And he created the kind of instant, over-the-top enthusiasm that can attract new impulse buyers in free agency.

Pujols' Game 3 was outstanding for his marketing campaign. It was like a highly effective television commercial that will entice viewers to buy the product. He provided happy scenes that will linger in everyone's mind for a while. Baseball writers and broadcasters will be talking and typing about it for weeks.

And if any owners and GMs were undecided about whether to make a big pitch for Pujols, Game 3's commercial could have swung the vote to his side.

Remember this: All it takes is one fired-up owner to decide that all he wants for Christmas is Albert Pujols. And the market for Pujols will change. If nothing else, a couple of runaway owners could jack up the price for Pujols and complicate the Cardinals' efforts to keep him.

Cardinals fans adore Pujols. And that was true before his Game 3 spree. But they'll love him even more now, especially if the Cardinals go on to capture the World Series. We live in a culture of short attention spans, and I don't think a lot of people will be much interested in sitting down, crunching the numbers and calmly analyzing the plusses and minuses of paying Pujols.

No, the reaction will be emotional and visceral. Albert Pujols just represented the franchise and the city on the biggest stage in his sport, and he had the greatest game by a hitter in World Series history. After all that he's done for the franchise - with Saturday night thrown in as a sweet bonus - how can you possibly let Pujols slip away? He should continue as a Cardinal, retire as a Cardinal, live happily ever after as a Cardinal.

If Cardinals Chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. lets Pujols walk now, weeks after the mythical Game 3, an angry uprising is inevitable. It may have been bubbling under the surface, anyway. But after team's wonderful and profitable run to the World Series, combined with Pujols' Game 3 baseball heroism, the thought of losing him will be unbearable to some and unacceptable to many.

Moreover, how do the Cardinals plan on maintaining the winning tradition without Pujols? Teammates Chris Carpenter and Lance Berkman cooperated by recently agreeing to short-term contracts that won't put future stress on the payroll.

If the goal is to make the playoffs each season and compete for a championship, how can you part ways with a player who's an established postseason force? Through Saturday night, Pujols had competed in 70 postseason games. He's tied for fourth in baseball history with 18 postseason homers, stands fifth all-time with 52 postseason RBIs, ranks fourth (minimum 100 at-bats) with a .343 postseason batting average. His career postseason on-base percentage (.444) and slugging percentage (.630) are among the best.

Saturday night was great for Albert Pujols. It was great for his agent, Dan Lozano. It was also great for DeWitt, who was undoubtedly pleased with Pujols' grand performance in a crucial World Series game. But in a few weeks DeWitt may not be smiling as much.

The price of paying Pujols to keep him in St. Louis just went up, lifted higher and higher by the three home runs and a performance of a lifetime. The paradigm has shifted. Pujols has more leverage now.

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