By Dave Wischnowsky–

So, Albertageddon is upon us.

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Or upon St. Louis, at least.

And with Albert Pujols’ contract deadline having now passed with no $300 million deal in sight, I imagine that right now down in the Gateway City the Arch is probably sagging, the beer’s gone stale and Laclede’s Landing has broken off into the Mississippi River.

Which no doubt is now flowing upstream.

“We are greatly disappointed at this outcome,” Cardinals chairman William DeWitt Jr. said this morning at a news conference after Pujols’ 11 a.m. springing training deadline had expired. “We will revisit it again following the 2011 season, at which time we will again make every effort to keep him as a Cardinal.”

Smart money – for the time being, at least – probably still has Pujols eventually re-upping with the Cardinals, even if he does reach free agency. But if you’re Tom Ricketts, your job this offseason is to make sure that, at the very least, the Cardinals spend dumb money to get him.

While luring Pujols to Chicago’s North Side would be the ultimate payback for Brock-for-Broglio and thrill the Wrigleyville masses, the truth is that the Cubs don’t need to steal Albert Pujols away from St. Louis in order to cripple the Cardinals for the future.

They merely need to make a serious – and seriously expensive – run at him.

Because, what Cardinals fans should be most fearful of this offseason – even more than seeing their beloved No. 5 don blue pinstripes – is the Cubs driving the asking price for Pujols so high that by signing him the Cardinals won’t be able to field a competitive team around their first baseman for a decade.

St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said Tuesday that he believes Pujols is feeling pressure from the MLB players union to “set the bar” with this contract and exceed the record-setting $275 million, 10-year deal that Alex Rodriguez inked with the New York Yankees. I don’t doubt that he is.

No one thinks that giving Pujols a 10-year, $300 million deal that will still be paying him $30 million when he’s 41 years old, is a particularly smart idea. But, once King Albert reaches the open market it could take a king’s ransom to reel him in – especially if the Cubs push the paycheck envelope into the stratosphere.

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Currently, St. Louis has about a $104 million payroll with Pujols making $16 million. That accounts for 15.3 percent of the total team salary. For the sake of argument, let’s say the Cards, pressured by the Cubs’ overtures, sign Pujols to a $30 million-per-year contract this offseason – nearly doubling his salary – and actually bump their payroll accordingly up to $119 million. Pujols would then be pulling down 25.2 percent of the team’s total salary.

If the Cardinals, however, sign him to that kind of deal and then pare their payroll back down to $104 million, Pujols would gobble up a whopping 28.8 percent of the team’s total cash.

Keep in mind that the Cardinals also have Matt Holliday signed at $17 million per year through 2016, meaning they could have $47 million – nearly half their payroll – locked up long-term in just two players, both of whom are in their 30s.

And when you consider that Chris Carpenter’s contract expires after 2012 and Adam Wainright’s after 2013, things start looking awfully dicey, awfully quickly for the future of St. Louis baseball and its financial situation.

The Cubs, on the other hand, have a current $130 million payroll that, in theory, could go considerably higher (it was $144 million in 2010). That means, of course, that the Cubs could more easily accommodate the kind of monster contract that Pujols is reportedly seeking – and still have the flexibility to put a number of other well-paid players around him.

And maybe even some good ones, too.

But, to land a haymaker to the future of the St. Louis Cardinals, the Cubs really don’t even need to sign Albert Pujols.

They simply need to try to.

Do you agree with Dave? Post your comments below.

Dave Wischnowsky

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If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at