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12/08/11 10:00 PM EST

Not in the Cards: Pujols departs for Angels

Star opts for more lucrative 10-year deal in Southern California

DALLAS -- With the quickness and finality of one of his line-drive home runs, the era of Albert Pujols in St. Louis ended on Thursday morning.

Pujols, the second-greatest hitter in Cardinals history, decided Thursday that he would not return to the club for 2012. His agent, Dan Lozano, notified the club that he would accept a 10-year offer from the Angels, worth between $250-260 million.

"We are disappointed that we were unable to reach an agreement to keep Albert Pujols in St. Louis," Cardinals principal owner Bill DeWitt Jr. said in a team statement. "Albert is a great champion and we will always be thankful for his many achievements in a Cardinals uniform, as well as his contributions to the St. Louis community. I have the highest regard for Albert both personally and professionally, and appreciate his direct involvement in this process."

The Cardinals had an offer on the table that reportedly could have reached 10 years, but did not contain 10 guaranteed years for Pujols, who turns 32 next month. It was believed to be St. Louis' first offer since February, when talks broke off before Spring Training started. At that time, the Cards offered a nine-year pact worth approximately $200 million.

Albert Pujols
Angels sign Pujols, Wilson

That would have been the largest deal in franchise history by a long way. Matt Holliday has a seven-year contract worth a guaranteed $120 million, while Pujols' just-concluded pact paid him $111 million over eight seasons.

Still, it appears that Los Angeles significantly outbid St. Louis for Pujols. The Angels also have the benefit of being able to move Pujols to designated hitter at some point during the life of the contract.

"I would like our fans to know that we tried our best to make Albert a lifetime Cardinal, but unfortunately we were unable to make it happen," DeWitt said.

Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak departed the Hilton Anatole in Dallas, site of baseball's annual Winter Meetings, without speaking to reporters on Thursday morning. He had previously canceled his customary nightly press briefing on Wednesday night, as well. He addressed local media with a Thursday afternoon news conference at Busch Stadium.

"When you think back of our time with Albert Pujols, in the sense of being a part of our Draft, being someone that comes up through our system and then produces to the level of greatness that he did, you really form a bond with a player like this," Mozeliak said. "It's more than just a player-front office relationship. It's a friendship.

"He was really such an integral part of this community and this organization. It's a disappointing day, but it's a day that we knew was a possibility."

Pujols is a three-time National League Most Valuable Player and a 10-time All-Star. He's a lifetime .328 hitter with a .420 on-base percentage, a .617 slugging percentage, 445 home runs and 1,329 RBIs. He has won two Gold Glove Awards and six Silver Sluggers. He even won the Roberto Clemente Award in 2008.

He also became a part of the fabric of the community. Pujols has maintained a home in St. Louis. He has a restaurant just outside of town. And his Pujols Family Foundation works to benefit children in the area as well as in his native Dominican Republic.

There is no bigger star in baseball, and now he moves from the historic Cardinals to the seemingly ascendant Angels. Los Angeles also agreed to a deal with left-handed pitcher C.J. Wilson on Thursday morning, adding two valuable pieces in its attempt to overtake the two-time defending American League champion Rangers.

Pujols departs among the leaders in virtually every major offensive category in Cardinals franchise history. He's fourth all-time in hits, third in runs and second in total bases, doubles, home runs, RBIs and walks -- behind only Stan Musial in all five of those latter categories.

He's seventh in games played and could have climbed as high as third with two more seasons in a Cardinals uniform. Instead, he heads to the Angels, with whom he will be the centerpiece of an American League West contender.

"I think his 11 years here will always be seen as historic," Mozeliak said. "I don't think today is the day to look at it negative. ... That's a great run."

With Pujols gone, the Cardinals will likely move Lance Berkman to first base and have Allen Craig take over for Berkman in right field. Craig will be out for roughly the first month of the regular season due to recent knee surgery, though.

St. Louis now has more money to spend on other upgrades, but it's not entirely clear in which direction the club will move. The Cardinals have interest in bolstering their roster at shortstop, second base and in the bullpen.

Thursday, though, was about Pujols. A player who could have become the greatest in franchise history is now gone, and the club was left to reminisce and wonder.

"It's hard to quantify iconic value or superstar value," Mozeliak said. "We tried. When you think about the 11 years he had here as a player, that's what we were trying to encompass and allow to keep grow. We were hopeful that it would be something that at the end of this contract he would have been a Cardinal for life with a happy ending, but there was certainly some risk when you talk about those types of years."

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.