Albert Pujols could have been a wealthy Cardinal for life, planning for the day his statue would be erected outside Busch Stadium next to those of Stan Musial, Bob Gibson and the other St. Louis greats.
Instead, exactly six weeks after leading the Cardinals to a second title in one of the most thrilling World Series ever, he decided to accept the second-highest contract in baseball history for a new future in southern California with the Los Angeles Angels.
The three-time NL MVP agreed Thursday to a $254 million, 10-year contract with the Angels, leaving behind a heartbroken fan base in St. Louis.
As his deal fell into place on the final day of the winter meetings, the Angels struck another big agreement, a $77.5 million, five-year contract with left-hander C.J. Wilson, the ace whose Texas Rangers lost to the Cardinals in the seven-game World Series.
"This is obviously the moment where we have thrown our hat in the ring," new Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto said.
St. Louis offered the slugger a 10-year deal that chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. said was in excess of $200 million.
"I would like our fans to know that we tried our best to make Albert a lifetime Cardinal," he said in a statement, adding later in a telephone interview: "They were substantially higher than our bid."
Pujols' contract is only the third to break the $200 million barrier, following Alex Rodriguez's $252 million, 10-year deal with Texas before the 2001 season and A-Rod's $275 million, 10-year agreement with the Yankees before the 2008 season.
"This is a monumental day for Angel fans and I could not be more excited," said owner Arte Moreno, who bought the team for $184 million from The Walt Disney Co. in 2003, a year after its only title.
Despite a top-four payroll last season, the Angels languished to a second-place finish behind Texas in the AL West. They spent $331.5 million on just two players.
Pujols is the first player to hit 30 home runs in his first 11 seasons and the second after Al Simmons (1924-34) to reach 100 RBI in his first 10. He has a .338 average with 445 home runs and 1,329 RBI to become a Cardinals icon second only to Musial, and is fourth in career slugging percentage at .617, trailing only Hall of Famers Babe Ruth (.690), Ted Williams (.634) and Lou Gehrig (.632).
But Pujols' numbers in nearly every major offensive category are on a three-year decline. He had his poorest season in 2011 with a .299 average, 37 homers and 99 RBI. He batted just .240 in the Series but had a night for the ages in Game 3, joining Ruth and Reggie Jackson as only the third player to hit three home runs in a Series game.
Wilson, 31, was 16-7 with a 2.94 ERA with Texas last season.
Japanese star plans to play in major leagues
Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish ended months of speculation Thursday by saying he intends to make a move to Major League Baseball. The 25-year-old right-hander, considered the best pitcher in the Japanese professional leagues, wrote on his blog that he had decided to use the posting system, which allows MLB teams to bid for the negotiating rights to Japanese players who have yet to become free agents.
The 6-foot-5 Darvish went 18-6 with a 1.44 ERA this season for the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters. He had 276 strikeouts.
Around the majors
Brewers: Milwaukee agreed to terms with free-agent shortstop Alex Gonzalez, filling one of its biggest off-season needs. Agent Eric Goldschmidt confirmed that the Gonzalez deal is for one year with a vesting option.
The 34-year-old Gonzalez played 149 games for the Atlanta Braves last season, hitting .241 with 15 home runs and 56 RBI.
Dodgers: Pitcher Aaron Harang agreed to a $12 million, two-year contract with Los Angeles, filling out the Dodgers' projected starting rotation for next season.
The 33-year-old right-hander was 14-7 with a career-low 3.64 ERA in 28 starts for his hometown San Diego Padres last season. He joins a rotation that includes NL Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Ted Lilly and fellow newcomer Chris Capuano.