In case you’ve been hiding under a rock — or enjoying the winter’s break from hardball — you’re aware of the contract standoff between Albert Pujols and St. Louis Cardinals.

If you aren’t, here’s the skinny: Pujols wanted to be locked up long-term in St. Louis before hitters reported to Spring Training. The deadline to reach an agreement was set for Wednesday by the Pujols camp. That time came and went, Pujols vowed not to negotiate during the season, and now it looks like the league’s best player will hit free agency come 2012.

It’s been quite the show.

Now that the gauntlet has been thrown, the rumor mill has begun circulating rumors as to Pujols potential suitors — the Chicago Cubs being the early frontrunners.

While no large market National League club can skirt their incumbent first baseman to pursue the league’s hottest commodity, the Red Sox and a fair number of other American League teams may find themselves unlikely bidders next winter.

And who can blame them?

As long as Pujols would be willing to switch to part-time DH duties, any of the big-market AL organizations could be in on the slugger next winter.

So what if the Yankees have Mark Teixeira manning first? Does anyone think that would stop them from pursuing Prince Albert?

Should the Red Sox extend Adrian Gonzalez contract, is there any doubt they would rule out Pujols because he wouldn’t be able to man first base full time?

Given the alternatives, it would be foolish to consider any powerhouse American League team out of the running, whether they have a first baseman or not. It’s rare that a first-ballot Hall of Famer hits the free agent market, let alone one of the greatest hitters of the last 20 years.

But if the Sox do plan to explore that option, they may have to begin pinching their pennies in preparation. The Sox already have a tight 2012 budget facing them — the team has $100 million on the docket for just eight rostered players, while Clay Buchholz, Jed Lowrie, Daniel Bard will all hit arbitration for the first time. Factoring in a likely extension for Adrian Gonzalez, and the Sox could have $125 million committed to just nine players (all five current rotation members, Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, Bobby Jenks, and Gonzalez).

With Ryan Howard commanding a $21 million per annum extension in 2010 and Cliff Lee receiving $24 million per year in free agency, is it all that difficult to imagine Pujols’ value approaching — or even eclipsing — $30 million per year?

The Sox had better hope not. If he were, the club’s 2012 salaries would reach the $150 million range after just 10 rostered players. In that case, John Henry would have to open up the coiffures to an all-time high, exceeding their $168 million in payouts during 2010. With right field open, perhaps only the emergence of Ryan Kalish would be able to keep the team salary below the $190 million range.

That kind of spending will probably be a difficult sell to the Boston ownership, however. With ratings taking a big hit last season and revenue streams drying up, Henry may be wary of large player salaries.

For contracts such as the one Pujols would command, the upcoming season will have a lot to say about the direction of the franchise. If the Crawford and Gonzalez acquisitions become a financial success and reverse the club’s declining ratings, Henry and Lucchino may decide that free agent buzz is the way to sustain interest in the club. If no such rating increase occurs, expect Henry to pull back and refrain from signing Pujols.

So, in the end, it probably won’t be team needs that decides the fate of the Red Sox acquisitions. For the first time in recent memory, it will test the limit of the team’s once bottomless finances.