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01/18/10 7:03 PM EST

Pujols assesses future in St. Louis

Cards slugger opens up on looming contract issues

ST. LOUIS -- When Albert Pujols talks about his contract status, it's a bit like a Rorschach test. You can hear what you want to hear.

Speaking at the annual Cardinals Care Winter Warm-Up, Pujols answered a number of questions about when, whether and how his next deal with the Cardinals will take shape. And there was something to chew on for both optimists and pessimists.

Then again, that's appropriate. It's a complicated situation. Pujols deserves to be the best-paid player in the game, since he's the best player in the game. But he also has established deep roots in St. Louis, he loves the city and the organization, and he's been a part of a winning team. If it comes down to the last dollar, Pujols will likely head elsewhere. It likely won't come down to the last dollar, though, and so the question is where the happy medium can be found -- a point where Pujols gets a hefty contract commensurate with his status, but where the club doesn't bite off more than it wants to chew financially.

On one hand, Pujols said he'd at least entertain a "hometown discount" to stay in a situation where he's happy and he's been successful. That's a change from the last time he approached a new deal, when Pujols famously said "there are no breaks" at the 2004 Winter Warm-Up.

"When that time comes, if it's taking a discount to make this organization better, I want to have a great organization to be in the playoffs every year if we can," he said.

On the other hand, he flatly stated that he will not negotiate during the season, and that it won't bother him if he plays out his current deal and goes to free agency after 2011.

"Right now I still have a couple of years," he said. "That's something that I don't need to worry about right now. When my time comes, I'll deal with that. Right now, my job is to let my agent do the talking and I'll go and prepare for baseball. We're open. We're open to talk about it. I can tell you one thing, when the season starts we ain't talking anything about it. Because my focus is to help this organization to win, and that's it.

"If it comes to that [free agency], then that's fine. That's the decision that they decide to make, and that's it. Do I want to become a free agent? No, but if it happens, then I have to deal with it. I want to play baseball, so I have to deal with my free agency and go play either here or somewhere else."

Pujols is signed through 2010 with a club option for 2011 -- an option that it is all but certain will be exercised. He said that it is difficult to envision himself in another team's uniform, and repeated that he hopes to play in St. Louis for the rest of his career. Yet curiously for a player in his commanding position, he repeatedly said that the decision is in the club's hands.

"Would I want to be here for the rest of my career? Yes," Pujols said. "I can speak it. But that's a commitment the Cardinals organization has to make, and myself, coming to an agreement. Whenever they're ready to talk, me and my agent, we're going to be ready to talk. Why [don't I] want to bring that distraction into a season? Because my job in the season is to concentrate for six months and hopefully longer than that, get to the postseason for a seventh month. I don't want that distraction."

Pujols, who won his third MVP award in 2009, acknowledged that the recent signing of Matt Holliday to a seven-year deal will figure into his decision. He has repeatedly noted a commitment to winning as an important criterion in signing a long-term contract.

"This organization has made moves every year," he said. "But that [Holliday's deal] is a big commitment. Matt has a great contract, being here for seven years. We're really excited. Hopefully we can do something together, do some damage and help this organization to win. That's our goal. Hopefully I can be a part of that for the rest of my career here in St. Louis. But I don't control that. If it was for me, I would be here forever, but I don't control that. When my time comes, I'll deal with it and hopefully we can come both to sign an agreement and I'll finish my career here. I think everybody knows."

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.