With reports coming out that the Cardinals and Albert Pujols will not reach a deal before their spring training deadline today, the Cardinals head into the season with uncertainty regarding the best player in baseball.

The Cardinals still have time to lock him up to a long-term deal despite missing this artificial deadline. They still have till after the World Series to do something with him, but this situation shouldn’t be where it’s at. Sometimes with special players, a team just needs to man up and pay the man what he wants.

Pujols is the best hitter in the game and has been for the past four to five years. I wrote about just how great he is last April. He’s shown zero evidence that he’s about to decline, quite the opposite actually as he continues to get better and put up ridiculous numbers year in and year out. Not to mention since his debut in 2001, he’s never missed any significant time with an injury, averaging 155.8 games played a year. He’s helped lead St. Louis to two World Series appearances in his 10-year career, including a championship in 2006. He’s already a future Hall of Famer and most likely on his way to being one of the greatest top 5 hitters in MLB history. Seriously. Those kinds of players do not come around every five years. The Cardinals need to bite the bullet and show him the money before they risk losing him to another bidder.

The situation got a little strange once Tony LaRussa decided to cast his opinion on the negotiations and state the Albert is feeling a lot of pressure from the players union to sign an enormous deal. Once again LaGenius should have just kept his mouth shut because he’s off base here with no proof of everything. The union has since denied that saying there have been no contract by them and Pujols during these talks, and I don’t believe that Pujols is even thinking about them at the moment. He should be thinking about himself, his family and where he wants to spend his future and the rest of his career. That’s it. He would be foolish to be thinking about anything else at this point.

Ken Rosenthal seems to think a trade is a real possibility that could see Pujols end up with the Yankees for Mark Teixeira or with the Phillies for Ryan Howard. He gives a disclaimer prior to his article that this is pure speculation on his part, and it really is because the Cards are not going to trade Pujols to anyone. Apparently Rosenthal was bored over the stalemate in these talks so he decided to make up some fun to get fans attention. The Cardinals would never get enough return that equals what Pujols means to their team. Second, the fallout from the fan base for not locking him out for 8-10 years and trading him away would not be very kind from a city that loves its baseball. Plus Albert has already stated that he would invoke his ten-and-five rights to veto any deal, so let’s debunk this idea right now.

In the end, I think the Cardinals will still lock Pujols up for years and try to make him the one team kind of player. I think this stalemate will last until after the season since Pujols has stated he won’t discuss a deal during the season, but eventually the Cards will wise up or break down and pay the man. Though letting the artificial deadline pass today and heading into a year of uncertainly should be a little worrisome for Cardinals nation because you just never know what can happen throughout a season of baseball especially if a player feels slighted by a franchise that he’s given everything to throughout his career.

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Caught Looking recaps the most memorable moments and accomplishments from the 2010 season. Here are moments six through ten.

10. Cliff Lee‘s blanking the Yankees in Game 3 of the ALCS
With the American League Championship Series tied at one game apiece, the Yankees were looking to get a leg up on the Rangers with the series shifting to Yankee Stadium. Cliff Lee had other ideas. Lee was on his own stratosphere when he took the mound for Texas in Game 3 as he fired 8.0 shutout innings with just two hits, one walk while striking out 13 Yankees on the night. The Yankees missed out on acquiring Lee mid-season, and they realized the consequences quickly in that Game 3. The Rangers won by the score of 8-0 to take a 2-games-1 lead, and the Yankees never recovered in the series and were promptly sent home in six games.

9. The National League finally wins an All-Star game.
It only took 14 years and a 12-game winning streak by the American League before the NL finally broke through with a victory in the All-Star game. The NL defeated the AL 3-1 on July 13 at Angel Stadium in Anaheim to break the amazing AL streak. Braves catcher Brian McCann ripped a three-run double in the seventh inning to give the NL all the runs needed in this one and was named the game’s MVP. The game would feature the AL’s only run as unearned along with some questionable managing by Joe Girardi in the ninth inning.

8. Ken Griffey Jr. announces his retirement
Following two months of the 2010 season, Ken Griffey Jr. announced his retirement in early June. The man who was destined to break Hank Aaron‘s home run record never reached that accomplishment due to various injuries that derailed Griffey’s career from the premier power hitter he was in the mid-90’s. If you grew up watching baseball in that decade, that’s the guy you wanted to be when you played baseball in the backyard. Despite the injuries, Griffey still played 22 seasons with a total of 630 home runs. He was a 13-time All-Star and 10-time Gold Glove winner and will soon be a Hall of Famer.

7. Trevor Hoffman opens the 600 save club
Thanks to some poor pitching to start the season and some poor decision-making by the Brewers coaching staff, it took Trevor Hoffman almost a full season to record nine saves in 2010 to total 600 saves for his career. But he eventually got there. On September 7 against the Cardinals, Hoffman finally had the opportunity to close the door again and tossed a scoreless ninth inning to become the first closer with 600 career saves. It’s a terrific accomplishment that was sort of overshadowed by the Brewers decision to not allow Hoffman to sniff a save chance for the majority of the season after some blown saves earlier in 2010 despite the Brewers being out of contention long before September. At any rate, Hoffman will be remembered for his stellar career and being the first to the 600-save club.

6. A-Rod hits home run No. 600, Ichiro’s and Pujols milestone
Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez went into a little home run drought (12 games) between number 599 and 600, but he eventually joined the 600-home run club with a blast off of Blue Jays pitcher Shaun Marcum on August 4 in Yankee Stadium.

The hit machine Ichiro Suzuki continued to pile up his list of accomplishments as he became the first player to record 10 consecutive 200-hit seasons in 2010. Like A-Rod, Ichiro’s milestone also came against Toronto with a single on September 23.

A-Rod hit home run number 600, but one day he will be joined in that club by Albert Pujols. Pujols hit his 30th home run of the season on August 15 against the Cubs to become the first player to record 10 straight seasons of 30 or more home runs to start a career. Yep, that’s more than Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Joe DiMaggio, Ralph Kiner, Barry Bonds…OK, you get the picture—Pujols stands alone in this category. He later hit his 400th career home run in the season.

Evan Longoria is obviously a great, young ballplayer, but sometimes with the accomplishments and milestones happening these days, for some reason I tend to forget how young and productive he’s actually been in just under three seasons. On Sunday, Evan Longoria joined a group of elite company in the history of major league baseball.

The third overall pick of the 2006 draft blasted a two-run homer off Chris Tillman for his 20th home run of the season. OK, 20 home runs isn’t that special these days. Well, with that home run Longoria became just the fifth player in history to record at least 20 home runs and 30 doubles in their first three big league seasons.

So who else is in that club? Oh, only Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Orlando Cepeda and Albert Pujols. Now, that’s some elite company. Think about that for a minute. That’s three Hall of Famers, including two of the greatest hitters to ever grace the diamond and a guy that’s a lock for the Hall. Not too shabby.Longoria’s power numbers are a bit off with 21 homers to his 33 last year, but he’s made up for it in the double category as he’s one two-bagger shy of his career high (44) with 26 games left in the season. Also, he’s already been to one World Series and looks to be on his way for a second postseason appearance as the Rays currently lead the wildcard.

I’m not sitting here saying that Longoria is a guaranteed future Hall of Famer, but the sky’s the limit since you pretty much can’t start a career any better.

Albert Pujols is good. OK, I know, duh. Unless you’ve been living in a cave the past decade, you know that Pujols is a pretty good hitter. But I actually think he doesn’t get the proper credit for what he’s currently doing and where his career numbers are heading. Not only is he the best active hitter in the league, but he has a legitimate chance to go down as the greatest hitter in the game, period. Of course he has to remain healthy, but if he does look out. He’s already on a path that leads directly to Cooperstown and who knows what else. Let’s try to put his career numbers into perspective.

In nine seasons, King Albert has never hit below .300 (hell, he hasn’t hit below .314),had only one year below a .400 OBP, never hit under 30 home runs, never drove in fewer than 100 runs and has won three National League MVPs. He would have won more MVPs had he played in a league other than Barry Bonds. Coming into this season, Pujols owns a .334 career average and has averaged 43 homers throughout his career. He’s also walked more than he struck out in every year but his rookie season.

Plus, there hasn’t been any drop off. As rare as it was, Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams even had down years (keep in mind that both of those players lost four years in their prime due to WWII). When you search most home runs for the first nine years of a career, Pujols is first with 366, 15 dingers ahead of Ralph Kiner. That’s also ahead of other greats like Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle, Ernie Banks, A-Rod, Williams and DiMaggio. There’s just no doubt about it—the numbers Pujols continues to produce are truly incredible. And he’s already off to a killer start to 2010 with five homers to lead the majors and a .407 average. I’m amazed teams continue to pitch to him consistently. It’s also worth noting that Pujols name has never been mentioned with the steroid scandal like other sluggers were.

Time will tell if he can stay healthy (lowest games played was 143 in 2006) and avoid the down year that even the greats have suffered. There’s no evidence that shows a decline could come anytime soon.

Leave it to ESPN to release an erroneous report that has no leg to stand on (remember the whole Les Miles signed with Michigan story). ESPN credited “unnamed sources” that the Phillies were talking internally about an Albert Pujols/Ryan Howard trade.

Where’s the accountability for this absurd report? Since I have a blog, maybe I should enter fantasy land too and say a source close with the team told me the Pirates are shopping Ronny Cedeno for Roy Halladay, and even though it’s completely false, it’s OK because I have an unnamed source. It must have been a slow news day for ESPN to release this so-called “story.”

Even if ESPN heard that the Phillies were discussing this trade, who would believe it? I’m sure a lot of trades get talked about internally that never even get past the brainstorming stage, but ESPN takes it and runs with it like a deal could be imminent. Who in their right mind with the Cardinals would actually consider this deal? Ryan Howard is a great hitter, but Pujols is the best hitter in the game today and is on his way to going down as one of the great hitters in the game ever, period. Both players are 30 years old (Howard is actually a couple months older than Albert). I wouldn’t even make this deal in fantasy baseball.

This made up report, along with their lack of hockey coverage, is just another reason why I tend to turn to MLB Network, NHL Network and NFL Network instead of ESPN lately to get the latest and accurate news on each sport.