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We're but minutes away from Albert Pujols's self-imposed deadline for signing a contract extension. This means that if the Cardinals don't come back with a whopper of a last-minute offer, it's all but inevitable that he'll sign with the Cubs in the offseason for eight years, $250 million, shatter his kneecap next May, and never be the same player again. No one wants this to happen.

At noon, the negotiating window closes, and Pujols will be a free agent come November. Who's to blame for this totally unnecessary agita? Tony La Russa (and a lot of Cardinals fans who can't yet bring themselves to criticize Pujols) put it on the union. Pujols would take less money to come back, goes the thinking, but the union is pressuring him to hold out for the biggest deal possible. While likely not so overt as some large shadowy union reps hovering over his shoulder, Pujols clearly understands that setting a new ceiling is good for every player at future bargaining tables.

But don't the Cardinals shoulder a lot of the blame for even letting it get this far? Clubs in Colorado and Minnesota, clubs that aren't prepared to get into a bidding war for their homegrown talent make sure to lock them up years before they go on the market. In some cases it might mean overpaying for as-yet unproven commodities, but this is Albert Pujols. Three years ago it was clear that he would be one of the greatest players in baseball history. What was stopping them from sitting down last winter, or the winter before, or the winter before, and hammering out an extension?

Of course it takes two to cut a deal, and today's deadline is Pujols's (or his agent's) doing. The company line is that Pujols doesn't want discussions about his future to be a distraction during the season. Either he's a liar, or really has no idea what he's talking about. By guaranteeing his own free agency, he's going to cause more distractions — 8 months of postgame questions, 8 months of speculative columns, 8 months of fans bringing signs begging him to say — than he ever would have if negotiations could continue, even at a snail's pace, behind closed doors at Busch Stadium.

It'll be LeBron's last season in Cleveland all over again. Fans cheering their little hearts out for their franchise player, sphincters clenched with the idea that it might just be a long goodbye.