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Rogers on Baseball: Clock ticking for Pujols payday

Albert Pujols has indicated he isn't inclined to negotiate a contract once he puts on his uniform in spring training, so the Cardinals have about three weeks to sign their slugging first baseman to a record-setting extension or face the nightmare of him reaching free agency next fall.

If anyone ever thought Pujols would give the Cardinals a big discount, they should lose that idea, as it's widely believed his asking price is $300 million over 10 years.

The Cardinals could have locked him up for less a year ago but let that window close. While the market was moving upward, Pujols apparently spent some time considering how one-sided his professional relationship has been.

He clearly has been baseball's best player since the super-charged Barry Bonds stopped casting shadows, but it was Alex Rodriguez who got a 10-year, $275 million deal from the Yankees.

Pujols has earned $90 million in his first decade with the Cardinals. That's less than what the Cardinals have paid pitching disappointment Kyle Lohse and, according to USA Today calculations, only once has Pujols been among the top 25 salaries in baseball.

Think about that for a minute. Is it any wonder he's swinging for the fences in this negotiation?

There's a theory going around that there won't be a huge market for Pujols if he reaches free agency. That's crazy.

Just because the Yankees and Red Sox have Mark Teixeira and Adrian Gonzalez, respectively, doesn't mean they won't be driven to add Pujols in the league of designated hitters. The Cubs certainly would have the flexibility (although Chairman Tom Ricketts' appetite remains untested). You can't rule out the Rangers, Dodgers, Angels or Mets.

Moving contracts: Frank Francisco figures to become a key part of a deep Blue Jays bullpen (and maybe a valuable midseason trading chip), but the deal that sent Mike Napoli to the Rangers makes it appear that last week's Napoli-for-Vernon Wells trade mostly was a nicely disguised salary dump. The Jays turned over a four-year, $81 million commitment to the Angels. That should allow them to keep home run champ Jose Bautista long term.

But what about the Rangers? Napoli's acquisition follows their signing of free-agent third baseman Adrian Beltre — the guy who made most sense for the Angels — and catcher Yorvit Torrealba. Napoli becomes essentially baseball's best 10th man, likely to get at-bats at catcher, first base and DH. It also puts an even tighter squeeze on Michael Young, whom Beltre displaced.

Young said last weekend he doesn't plan to be a DH forever, and the Napoli addition would make it easy to trade him or Ian Kinsler as scouts believe second base is Young's best fit.

The Rockies are interested in Young and at one point this winter the Rangers were offering to pay half of the $48 million left on his contract.

Dealing Kinsler, guaranteed only $13.5 million over the next two years, might be more palatable and bring a higher return.

Either Young or Kinsler would upgrade two spots for the Cubs — second base and leadoff. The Rangers' need is a starting pitcher to replace Cliff Lee. Nolan Ryan loves Andrew Cashner, but it's hard to imagine the Cubs trading a second pitching prospect after putting Chris Archer in the Matt Garza trade.

The last word: "I don't think I'm in a position to comment at the moment. He's a member of the organization. He's signed. Our stand right now is that he's going to come in and compete for a starting position." — Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik on outfielder Milton Bradley, who faces a Feb. 8 hearing on felony charges for allegedly threatening a woman.

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