An ESPN.com report on Sunday indicated that the Phillies had discussed within their own ranks a potential offer of Ryan Howard for Pujols. Both clubs dismissed the idea out of hand -- not that there was anything for the Cardinals even to dismiss, since the report didn't have Philadelphia actually approaching the Redbirds with any offer. Pujols said he barely paid it any mind, but that he had heard from a few friends about the story.
"You know, that's not the first time," Pujols said before the Cardinals' Monday afternoon Grapefruit League loss to the Mets. "It's probably the first time it was in the news, but two years ago, somebody said that I was going to get traded to the Cubs. And I was like, 'Pfft.' People always try to speculate and try to start something so they can say, 'I was the first guy.'"
Howard also brushed off the rumor.
"I don't really have anything to say about it, to be honest with you, really, truthfully," Howard said. "I can go back to all the stuff that happened when I was in Double-A and all the talk about trade rumors and that kind of stuff. To be honest, I don't know anything about anything. I'm not really focused on it. If that were the case, which I don't know if it is or not or whatever, it is what it is. Just keep going out there and just keep doing your thing. If you do get a call saying you're traded, just say you're traded. But until that happens, I'm still a Phillie, I'm still here. So let's ride it out."
It might not even be possible for Pujols to be dealt to Philadelphia. His current contract, which runs through this season with a club option for 2011, provides him limited no-trade protection. Each fall, he provides a list of teams to which he can be dealt, and on Monday he listed Florida, Houston and the two Los Angeles teams as among the destinations he would accept. He did not make clear whether the Phillies are on the list.
The weekend report was the biggest instance thus far of trade speculation around Pujols, but likely not the last. He has said that he will not engage in contract talks once the regular season begins, and he repeated that stance on Monday. Meanwhile, at the end of the 2010 season, he reaches 10 years of Major League service time, all of them with the Cardinals, a status that would allow him full no-trade protection.
Thus, if no deal gets done before Opening Day, Pujols' leverage increases greatly. Even so, he has no desire to discuss the matter, reiterating his comments from earlier in the spring that his contract is the most tiring of all possible topics for the three-time MVP.
"It comes to the point where it drives you crazy," he said. "Myself, if you would be in my situation, it's OK to write, but don't ask me. Because I've already told you what I told you before, and if you come with the same thing over and over, it gets to the point where it drives me crazy. I think people need to respect that."
Still, Pujols left open the possibility that a deal could get done before Opening Day. He didn't make it sound likely, but neither did he rule it out.
"When you start talking, all it takes is 24 hours and you can reach an agreement," he said. "So I don't think it takes a month or two months or a year. When you start talking, it takes two or three days and you get it done. So if they're pleased with their offer and I'm pleased with what they offer, then we get it done. But I don't want to talk about that."
The contract talk clearly agitated Pujols more than the trade "rumor." He did not bother to call general manager John Mozeliak about the story.
"I always tell you guys, that's not my business," Pujols said. "That's the organization's. The only thing I take care of is what's in the clubhouse. When it comes time to talk about bringing a guy here who's going to help us out, if they ask me a question, I'll state my opinion, but I'm never going to go to the front office or an owner and tell them, 'We need to do this.' Because that's not my job."
Manager Tony La Russa was far more irritated than his star player by the story.
"To the extent that anybody takes it seriously, it can distract the Phillies, it can distract here," La Russa said. "I'm pretty sure that none of that is happening, but why even [write it]? ... The person who came up with that one should be tracked down and then you would say, 'Hmmm. That credibility just took a big hit.' Ridiculous, actually. It's not really worth speculating on, except to try to figure out who started it."
For his part, Pujols wasn't nearly so worked up.
"I don't pay attention to that," he said. "My job is to play baseball and take care of this organization as much as I can, try to stay healthy. Stuff like that, if you go by that and what people think, that will drive you crazy."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.