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Cubs should ignore stop sign, go for Albert Pujols.

Albert Pujols had ‘‘down’’ year 2011 hitting .299 with 37 homers 99 RBI. | Doug Pensinger~Getty Images

Albert Pujols had a ‘‘down’’ year in 2011, hitting .299 with 37 homers and 99 RBI. | Doug Pensinger~Getty Images

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Updated: January 3, 2012 9:09AM

And all this time I thought Albert Pujols was a great player. What could I have been thinking?!

Apparently, he’s not worth whatever the Cubs might offer him, and therefore they should double-knot their purse strings before they do something rash. He’s old, decrepit and trending downward. Do I have that right?

The last person to be dismissed this quickly was Kris Humphries.

From what I’ve been reading and hearing, the Cubs would be foolish to enter into contract discussions with the superstar free agent. A lot of the writing and speaking comes from people who have spent the past month parsing everything Theo Epstein has uttered in news conferences.

One of the things the Cubs’ new president of baseball operations has said is that a player’s prime is generally from about 27-32.

Pujols turns 32 in January.

Assuming Epstein leaves open the possibility for exceptions to every rule, wouldn’t Pujols be The Exception? In his 11 seasons in the big leagues, he has averaged 155 games a year and has never played fewer than 143.

He is coming off his worst statistical year: .299 average, 37 home runs, 99 RBI and a .906 OPS. If that’s bad, what do you call Alfonso Soriano?

The numbers don’t lie

Pujols is the only player in baseball history to have at least 30 home runs, 100 RBI and a .300 batting average in 10 consecutive seasons. But because he dipped a bit in 2011 — while helping the Cardinals win a World Series — we’re supposed to believe the inevitable slide has begun. Me? I’ll go with those first 10 seasons rather than last season’s anomaly, which included a wrist injury. There are plenty of ballplayers who would sell their souls to have that anomaly of a season.

We’re in the honeymoon stage with Epstein, and people want him to know that they know that he knows all. But what if he wants Pujols, as reports suggest? Are we witnessing our first lovers’ spat in the Theo Lovefest?

One of the truths Epstein holds to be self-evident is that players should be rewarded for what they will accomplish in the future, not for what they already have accomplished. In my mind, a self-evident truth is that Pujols is great and will be great going forward. There is nothing that suggests he is on the verge of a major drop-off.

The thinking goes that giving him an eight-year contract doesn’t make sense, not when the Cubs are in need of so much more: pitching, a third baseman, an outfielder … we could go on.

But why is it ridiculous to expect chairman Tom Ricketts to run the Cubs like the big-market franchise they are? Why can’t the Ricketts family spend money on Pujols and other players, while also building the farm system?

As much as Epstein has been praised, deservedly, for developing a strong minor-league foundation in Boston, the Red Sox’s payroll was $161.7 million last season, the third highest in baseball and about $36 million more than the Cubs. Epstein might have been using Moneyball principles, but he wasn’t operating with a Moneyball budget.

If the Cubs offer Pujols an eight-year contract in the $30 million-a-year range he’s reportedly asking, it would get their payroll somewhere in Boston’s neighborhood.

Is that asking so much from a franchise whose last World Series title came four years before the Titanic sank?

If one thing can be said about Pujols, it’s that he has been consistently excellent. Prince Fielder, the other big name reportedly in the Cubs’ sights, is four years younger and cheaper. But he’s not as good.

The elephant in the room

There are, of course, the whispers to address. I have no idea whether Pujols uses performance-enhancing drugs, but given the climate we live in, everybody gets looked at with suspicion. Major League Baseball will begin testing for human growth hormone in spring training, and if that’s the secret to Pujols’ success, we’ll find out soon enough.

I’m guessing the details-oriented Epstein knows how many times Pujols brushes his teeth per day (and what it means to his on-base percentage), and for the same reason I’m guessing he has an idea of whether Pujols’ numbers are legit.

If the Cubs sign Pujols, it will be the biggest signing in club history. And the matter of falling attendance will disappear. But all of that is secondary to the main question: Can he help the Cubs win? Come on, you know the answer.

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