Originally posted on Fox Sports Midwest  |  Last updated 10/31/11
ST. LOUIS Winning the World Series may have helped the St. Louis Cardinals in their efforts to bring back free-agent first baseman Albert Pujols. Having their future Hall of Fame manager retire may not. It's too early to tell how or if manager Tony La Russa's stunning retirement Monday will impact the Cardinals' courtship of their franchise player. But with Pujols set to hit the free agent market this week, the close relationship the two shared could be a factor. "I think that question is probably best for Albert, but when I think about it, he probably understood that Tony was not going to manager forever," Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said. "I know his relationship with Tony was very strong, but I think, ultimately, he's going to have to look at this independently." La Russa retired Monday after leading the Cardinals to seven division titles, three World Series appearances and two world championships in his 16 years at the helm. The future Hall of Famer is the only manager Pujols has played for since the first baseman broke into the big leagues in 2001. The two developed enough trust that La Russa allowed Pujols to put on his own plays, including the controversial failed hit-and-run attempt in Game 5 of the World Series. Many thought winning the World Series would make it harder for Pujols to leave St. Louis should their offer be competitive with the others. But with La Russa no longer in the picture, things could become more complicated. As Mozeliak referenced, working for the Cardinals is the fact that Pujols already knew La Russa likely wouldn't be around for the length of his potential eight- or nine-year contract. With the future of Pujols still up in the air, the Cardinals face the possibility of entering next season without the two recent faces of their franchise "I don't know about an identity crisis, but, no question, these will be referred to in my view as the La Russa years," Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt said. "And Albert has certainly been a big part of that. But his situation, hopefully, we'll have him back." The Cardinals have an exclusive window until midnight ET Wednesday night to negotiate with Pujols' agent, Dan Lozano, before he is free to speak with any club. But with both sides waiting this close to free agency to discuss a deal, it would appear almost a certainty that Pujols will reach the open market to gauge interest from other teams. "I'm sure Mo (Mozeliak) will make contact with his agent and just sort of see where their thinking is," DeWitt said. "I think it's really their call. They've gone to this point in free agency, and they probably don't want to try and negotiate something in however many days we have." A request for comment from Pujols was not immediately returned by his spokesman.
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