Young Marlins star just getting started
The first six years of Pujols' career have been unique in the history of baseball. But when trying to foresee the Florida Marlins third baseman's future, the best point of reference is the St. Louis Cardinals' star first baseman.
Cabrera, who turned 24 on April 18, has been one of the most consistent hitters in baseball the last five years, and his fast start this season has sparked only more comparisons with Pujols.
Cabrera is hitting .372 and is tied for fifth in the National League in RBIs with 13.
"It's only been two and a half weeks -- that's nothing," say Cabrera, who has has a .311 average with 108 homers and 417 RBIs in his career. "The season is very long, and you can never start celebrating in April."
Last year, when he hit .339, Cabrera competed for the batting title until the last day of the season against Pittsburgh's Freddy Sanchez, who finished with a .344 average. The young Marlins star also had 26 homers, 50 doubles and 114 RBIs.
In February, the three-time All Star won his first salary arbitration case with the Marlins. After making $472,000 last season, Cabrera will earn $7.4 million this year.
In February, 2004, Pujols avoided salary arbitration and signed a seven-year, $100 million deal with St. Louis. That year, he was seeking to increase his $950,000 salary to $10.5 million.
Pujols, 27, hit .330 with 251 home runs and 760 RBIs in his first six seasons. He could become a free agent after the 2010 season, but St. Louis has a $16 million option for 2011.
Even though Cabrera can't file for free agency until after the 2009 season, the huge increase in his salary for the next two years could force the Marlins to trade him to a bigger market team.
Cabrera doesn't hide his admiration for Pujols and would love to play on the same team as Albert some day.
"Pujols is the best. He is my hero," says Cabrera. "If I were traded, I'd like to play with him in St. Louis, though I'd rather have Pujols playing for the Marlins.
"But I'd really like to play with him. He is a player who has consistently achieved exceptional production every year, and even won a Gold Glove."
Cabrera ruled out following Pujols' steps and moving from third base to first.
"I think I can keep improving at third base, although you never know what the future will bring," says Cabrera, who has played both corner outfield positions and the hot corner since he made his debut in Florida in 2003. "But I wouldn't like to change positions."
Would he be intrigued by the idea of playing for the New York Yankees?
"I wouldn't like to be on the Yankees," said Cabrera. "They have too many rules. That's what I think. It's not in my hands. But I don't think it will happen."
Enrique Rojas is a reporter and columnist for ESPNdeportes.com and ESPN.com.
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