Now that Albert Pujols has captured his third National League Most Valuable Player award and second in succession, the temptation is to turn to Pujols' contract status. But the 29-year-old slugger, signed for 2010 with a club option for 2011, says he's in no hurry to negotiate an extension.
"They don't need to deal with me right now," Pujols said. "They need to deal with their free agents (such as Matt Holliday). What do we need? Or what did we miss to get to the next level, which is the World Series? That's kind of where I am.
"This is my place. This is where I want to be. I don't hide that. I'm still going to be a Cardinal for two more years and hopefully 15 more years -- if I can play that long -- and retire as a Cardinal."
General manager John Mozeliak said he has received the same message from Pujols' representatives, the Beverly Hills Sports Council. There is no rush to push for an extension.
"I think our goals are all the same," Mozeliak told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "We're going to want him to be here.
"We want to do it when we think the time is right. Right now, he does not want the organization to feel that we need to be focusing on anything else but putting our club together."
Pujols, who tied Cardinals Hall of Famer Stan Musial at three MVP awards, won his first NL home run title this year with 47. He also hit .327 with 135 RBIs, and he led the league with a .443 on-base percentage and a .658 slugging percentage.
--C Jason LaRue, who had been a free agent, agreed to return to the Cardinals on a one-year, $950,000 deal. He batted .240 in 51 games last season.
--INF Ruben Gotay, who last
appeared in the majors with
--RHPs Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright, both close runners-up for the NL Cy Young Award won by San Francisco's Tim Lincecum, were gracious in defeat. "Tim had a great year, no question," Carpenter said. "Picking him is a solid choice."
Wainwright said, "It's nothing against (Lincecum). He's very deserving. But I was definitely hoping it was going to be me or Carp."
--RHP Kyle McClellan, who failed to protect a 6-1 lead for RHP Adam Wainwright when the starter was shooting for his 20th victory in the season's last weekend, said, "I can say that I didn't get the job done." But McClellan said of Wainwright failing to win the Cy Young Award, "One game should not have decided it when there was a whole season to look at. I hope not. He did everything to win that game. It would be sad if it came down to something that wasn't his fault."
--McClellan, a setup man the last two seasons, has been told to prepare to be a starter this spring, similar to last spring when he was stretched out to be in the rotation. At the beginning of last spring's camp, the Cardinals weren't entirely sure that Carpenter, who had missed most of the previous two seasons with injuries, would be ready for the start of the season. With the probable free agent defections of RHPs Joel Pineiro and Todd Wellemeyer, two spots remain in the rotation behind Carpenter, Wainwright and RHP Kyle Lohse.
--General manager John Mozeliak did not make any offers in the early going of free agency. "There's a level of patience right now," he said. "There's a sense. ... that the (market) might be slow to develop."
--Of their own free agents, the Cardinals would have the most interest, in order, in LF Matt Holliday, INF/OF Mark DeRosa and RHP John Smoltz. With David Freese likely to get a shot to be the regular at third base next spring, DeRosa would be perceived as either a utility player or a fall-back in left field if Holliday isn't re-signed.
BY THE NUMBERS: 1 -- Players (Barry Bonds) with more MVP awards than the three captured by 1B Albert Pujols.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I hope by the time that I'm done in this game, I can put up half of the numbers that Stan Musial put up in his career." -- 1B Albert Pujols, on the St. Louis Hall of Famer who also has three Most Valuable Player awards.
The Cardinals didn't have many needs as the season ended although they probably could use one more veteran starting pitcher to go with RHPs Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright and Kyle Lohse. RHPs Joel Pineiro and Todd Wellemeyer, who filled out the rotation, both likely will be gone as free agents.
BIGGEST NEEDS: When the Cardinals were dismissed early from the playoffs, they set the wheels in motion to try to re-sign free-agent LF Matt Holliday and also 3B Mark DeRosa. Holliday, however, seemed likely to go into the open market.
FREE AGENTS: RHP Joel Pineiro, RHP Todd Wellemeyer, RHP John Smoltz, INF Khalil Greene, INF Mark DeRosa, 3B Troy Glaus, OF Rick Ankiel, LF Matt Holliday, RHP Brad Thompson (released - signed with KC).
The Cardinals have large interest in keeping Holliday and DeRosa and some interest in Smoltz. The others probably are gone.
Schumaker will make more as a second baseman than an outfielder. Ludwick likely will get close to $7 million and might have to be traded for payroll relief if Holliday signs a multiyear deal.
IN LIMBO: OF Ryan Ludwick, a candidate to be traded last year, could be dealt this time. RHP Josh Kinney, a playoff hero in 2006, probably won't return.
3B Mark DeRosa (left wrist surgery in October 2009) should be ready for spring training.
1B Albert Pujols (arthroscopic right elbow surgery in October 2009) should be back at full strength for spring training.