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A Tale of Two Cities and Two Stars

Pitchers and catchers report! The best news you can imagine if youíre a baseball fan tired of slogging through the winter. These days thanks to MLB Network, ESPN, the Internet, etc. we have a lot more to talk about during the off-season than we used to, but still, there is no substitute for seeing teams arriving for their Grapefruit and Cactus League spring trainings.

Itís been an eventful off-season, with players changing teams and sometimes returning to teams; sometimes difficult, played-out-in-the-media negotiations, such as Derek Jeterís and the Yankees; and a series of negative stories about the status of the New York Mets ownership travails thanks to disgraced Ponzi schemer Bernard Madoff (I feel sorry for Mets fans. Photos of that Mets jacket with ďMadoffĒ on the back must be particularly irksome).

The drama leading up to the opening of the camps is, of course, what will happen to two iconic stars? I am talking about Albert Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals and Michael Young of the Texas Rangers.

Everyone knows who Phat Albert is; three Most Valuable Player awards; frequent post-season appearances; widely regarded, right now, as the best player in the game. Albert has informed the Cardinals that he wants to be paid as the best player in the game. The assumption is that he wants something better than the 10 year/$275 million contract between Alex Rodriguez and the New York Yankees. There are reports that the two sides are far apart, that the Cardinals donít want to offer more than seven years, that there is a real chance that 2011 will commence with the real chance that Albert Pujols will be on the market come the end of the season.

Frankly, Iím not buying it. Albertís current 7 year/$100 million contract has been one of the great bargains in MLB; there is no reason to suspect that his performance is going to suddenly decline in the next few years. The Cardinalsí ownership has massive amounts of equity in the team, a new ballpark, a passionate fan base that consistently shows up in the upper ranks of annual attendance. There will be a deal announced, because the Cardinals cannot afford not to do it.

The other iconic star is Michael Young of the Texas Rangers, who finally started receiving some notice from the national media this season as the Rangers went on their magic carpet ride to the first World Series in their history. This is a different story, and here I feel it will not end well for the Rangers or their newly-discovered, developing fan base.

The Rangers desperately wanted to retain the services of Cliff Lee, who helped guide them to their first-ever American League pennant; when that failed, they turned their attention to acquiring Adrian Beltre, who had a fabulous year with the Boston Red Sox and opted out of his contract. Now Michael Young is among the Rangersí career leaders in almost every category, a perennial all-star, a batting champion, a Gold Glove. He moved from second base to shortstop to third base. He has done everything the Rangers have asked him to do. When the Rangers signed Beltre, and later traded with Toronto Blue Jays for Mike Napoli, it left Young without a clear role. Designated Hitter? Super-utility man? Expensive roles for a guy with three years and $48 million on his contract!

Young has finally gone public with his discontent. He has put the Rangers on the spot. If they donít trade him now, he vests as a 10-and-5 man in May and can veto any trade. If you thought the Yankees were disrespectful of their captain during the Jeter negotiations, the Rangers have surely dissed the face of the franchise. It will not turn out well for them.

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