JUPITER, Fla. - The Cardinals wanted to make sure Albert Pujols didn’t get away.
One of the team’s few homegrown stars in recent years, Pujols would have been eligible for free agency after the 2006 season. To keep him, the Cardinals gave Pujols a $100 million, seven-year contract on Friday, a deal that would be worth $111 million if St. Louis exercises an option for 2011.
“One of the best moments of my life,” Pujols said. “It’s great to be here today and not in Arizona. Everything was nice and smooth, everybody agreed on it. I’m just happy.”
Pujols had been scheduled for an arbitration hearing Friday in Phoenix. Just 24, he hit a major league-best .359 last season with 43 homers and 124 RBIs. He topped the majors with 51 doubles and was second to San Francisco’s Barry Bonds in National League MVP voting.
All at the bargain price of $950,000.
“This deal not only recognizes Albert for his accomplishments over the past three seasons,” general manager Walt Jocketty said. “But all along, we felt that it was important to retain a player such as Albert who came up through our farm system, and see to it that he remained a part of the club’s nucleus well into the future.”
Since arriving in 2001 Pujols has hit 114 homers, matching Ralph Kiner’s record for most home runs by a player during his first three seasons. He is the only player in major league history to bat .300 or better with 30 homers, 100 RBIs and 100 runs scored in each of his first three seasons.
Pujols is just the ninth baseball player to receive a $100 million contract.
“The money will mean something in a small way with my family, but it won’t change the way I play baseball,” he said.
Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. said the signing of Pujols is important as the team prepares to move to a new ballpark in 2006.
“Albert’s accomplishments for the past three years are truly historic,” DeWitt said. “Albert has a great work ethic and it epitomizes winning.”
Pujols is expected to play first base, following the trade of Tino Martinez to Tampa Bay. Pujols spent most of last season in left field but has also played first base and third base.
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