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No deal at the deadline: where do Pujols and the Cardinals go from here?

Feb 16, 2011, 12:39 PM EDT

St. Louis Cardinals v Los Angeles Dodgers Getty Images

It’s now past the deadline that Albert Pujols set for the cutoff of negotiations with the Cardinals.  For all practical purposes spring training has begun for Pujols and El Hombre will not negotiate during spring training.  So now, aside from another of his usual Hall of Fame-caliber seasons,what does the future hold for Pujols and the Cardinals?

One thing that seems certain is that, unlike your typical big money free-agent-to-be, a trade is not a real possibility.  Oh sure, some people have speculated about one happening, but even they’re not doing it with a straight face.  Pujols has been in the bigs for more than ten years and with the same club for more than five and that gives him the famous “ten and five rights” which require his approval for any trade.  He is on record as saying that he will not, under any circumstances accept one.

And even if Pujols was amenable to a trade, the Cardinals would be fools to make one.  There’s no way they could get anything approaching fair value for him. He’s too close to free agency for it to make sense for any trade parter to empty the farm system for him.  The usual alternative to that — trading for another big contract — makes little sense if you’re the Cardinals given that paying Pujols seems to be an issue right now.  Why pay nearly as much for someone else’s expensive but-nowhere-near-as-good first baseman?  A first baseman who — like, say Mark Teixeira to use an example — likely also has his own no-trade clause and would be certifiably insane to go to St. Louis and attempt to fill Pujols’ shoes.

No, the season is going to play out with Albert Pujols in St. Louis.  A season during which he claims there will be no contract negotiations.

What about that claim?  Personally, I question it.  The parties have already discussed money. They’re nowhere close to a deal, but clearly the Cardinals know what Pujols wants.  Does it make any sense that if the Cardinals were to agree to meet Pujols’ demands his agent wouldn’t answer the call?  Of course not.  What if they were a million dollars short?  Heck, that’s nothing at those prices, so sure Pujols would still listen.  And he likely would if it was a $2 million gap too.  Yes, such small gaps seem unlikely, but the point here is that somewhere between  the current stalemate and a total capitulation by the Cardinals is an offer that Pujols would accept, and his agent would be silly not to hear the Cardinals out on it if the came calling with it.

All of which means that — in my opinion — this deadline that just passed is a soft one.  I believe that there will be, at some point between now and next October, real discussions between the Cardinals and Pujols.  They may not be highly publicized. They may not involve Pujols himself.  But they’ll happen in some way.

And I think a good reason they’ll happen is that Pujols knows that, for as amazing a player he is, the market doesn’t shape up wonderfully for him next fall and winter.  The usual high-bidders — the Yankees and Red Sox — already have first basemen in Mark Teixeira and Adrian Gonzalez. The Yankees also have to keep the DH slot open for Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter to occupy in their dotage.  They’re the only two teams who could write a $300 million check without gambling the franchise.  In short: if not the Cardinals, who else could possibly offer him the kind of money he’s seeking?

Maybe the Rangers would, but as we saw in December with the Cliff Lee stuff, there is a major split between the owner and the front office on how best to spend free agent dollars.  Some have mentioned the Cubs and, boy howdy would they love to steal their biggest rival’s superstar. But Chicago has some major salary commitments already and owner Tom Ricketts has suggested that the payroll will go down, not up, in the future.  The Angels? Heck, they wouldn’t pay Adrian Beltre.  The Dodgers and Mets are broke. The White Sox have Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko under contract.  The Nationals and Orioles are too far from contention to be likely to entice a player of Pujols’ stature. Against that entire backdrop is the fact that Prince Fielder will be a free agent too and, while he’s nothing close to the player Pujols is, he’s much younger and will come much cheaper.  There really isn’t any other obvious choice.

My suspicion: whether talks happen this summer or not, Albert Pujols stays in St. Louis.  He may not get his ten years and $300 million, but he’ll get something close to it.  Or at least something that can be characterized as close to it but which contains all manner of deferred money and other vesting options and incentives for both now and later to make it plausible to claim that he’s getting such a thing even if it’s less in present day dollars. But however the deal breaks down, I think it will be with the Cardinals.  No one else has the need for Pujols like the Cardinals do.  No one else has the money that Pujols wants.

Put differently: even if the passing of today’s deadline is something akin to a living hell, the Pujols-Cardinals match is one made in heaven.  And I have every bit of confidence that the relationship will continue for a long, long time.

  1. Jonny 5 - Feb 16, 2011 at 12:43 PM

    “where do Pujols and the Cardinals go from here?”

    2nd or third place with no shot at the wild card of course….

  2. Alex K - Feb 16, 2011 at 12:49 PM

    I wouldn’t dismiss the Cubs so quickly. They have the money to make it happen.

    • Alex K - Feb 16, 2011 at 12:50 PM

      That being said, I think he’s going to stay in STL. But he would look good in those blue pinstripes!

      • bigharold - Feb 16, 2011 at 4:46 PM

        I don’t see the Cubs unless Pujols is a lot more vindictive then he lets on. It’d be like Jeter going to the RS. Also, if he adamant about ten years I don’t see him going to the NL. Without the DH option ten years is just out of the question.

        “The usual high-bidders — the Yankees and Red Sox — already have first basemen …… Yankees also have to keep the DH slot open for Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter to occupy in their dotage.”

        I wouldn’t count the Yankees out on Pujols if he gets as far as free agency. The Yankees are likely the only team that can realistically give him ten years. Not that it would be a good idea but they could. The Yankees always factor in star power along with on field production when looking at free agents too. Besides, Jeter will likely only be around another two years so if the Yankees sign Pujols no conflict there. Sure with Teixeira people will say it’d be crazy for the Yankees to sign Pujols. The Yankees already have a top 1B in his prime with an expensive long term contract why would they sign another? Well, when the Yankees traded for A-Rod they already had a top SS, face of the franchise type player that they had just signed to an expensive log term contract who was also in his prime. It didn’t stop them then and if the right circumstances present themselves I doubt it would stop the Yankees with Pujols next off season too.

        It would be better for all concerned, the Cards, Pujols, St Louis fans, baseball in general and the Yankees too, (at least the last 4-5 years of the contract), if Pujols stay with the Cards. That’s where he belongs. But, things are never that simple. If in November Pujols is a free agent, the Yankees still haven’t landed the front of the rotation starter they are looking for and, (heaven forbid), they’ve failed to make the playoffs then I would expect the Yankees to go all in on Pujols. They will be looking for other way to improve the team AND make a big splash and Pujols would take care of both.

        And, he’ll look good in Pinstripes too. Just kidding, .. sort of.

  3. Utley's Hair - Feb 16, 2011 at 12:58 PM

    I say the Cards deal Pujols to the Royals straight up for Frenchie, so they can lock up Wainwright and Carpenter long-term. You know, since the whole thing’s been handled so well up till now.

    • Mr. Jason "El Bravo" Heyward - Feb 16, 2011 at 1:01 PM

      HAHAHAHAHA, I just read yours after posting mine…I guess we agree (except probably the pie part)

      • Utley's Hair - Feb 16, 2011 at 1:13 PM

        There have been player-managers before—most notably those who shot craps in the dugout (or something)—but have there ever been player-owners? (Mario Lemieux and the Flightless Figure Skating Birds notwithstanding.)

      • Utley's Hair - Feb 16, 2011 at 1:15 PM

        And cake…unless it’s a dinner-lunch type pie. Chicken pot, chicken pot, chicken pot pie.

  4. Mr. Jason "El Bravo" Heyward - Feb 16, 2011 at 1:00 PM

    I hope that Pujols sticks to his guns and doesn’t allow any negotiations to happen. The upcoming off season will be as close to the Lebron mania as we will ever see in the MLB. Unfortunately, for me at least, I think that if a reasonable offer is made to the Pujols then he’ll resign, no matter the timing during the season.

    Personally, I think the Royals should get him no matter the cost. Give him ownership rights and power over all personnel decisions. Give him the key to K.C. and all the pie he desires.

  5. BC - Feb 16, 2011 at 1:00 PM

    “where do Pujols and the Cardinals go from here?”

    Maybe Maui? Surf’s up!

  6. spudchukar - Feb 16, 2011 at 1:01 PM

    Craig, I concur with most of your analysis here, except for the time table. Albert is just stubbornly principled and confident. His thinking goes like this, I want to stay here, and the upcoming season and the offers, real and imagined, once the season ends will only fortify my stance. Pujols will compartmentalize. The negotiations are over, as I declared they would be, as of today. They will resume after the post-season when I have another MVP, and Championship Ring.

  7. BC - Feb 16, 2011 at 1:02 PM

    If Pujols goes anywhere other than back to the Cardinals, I’d bet on Texas. Just my gut feeling.

  8. spergler - Feb 16, 2011 at 1:05 PM

    Seattle.

  9. heyblueyoustink - Feb 16, 2011 at 1:06 PM

    hey, i’m thinking a Pujols for Howard and Blanton deal would be sweet….too bad such things only happen in fantasy leagues, video games, and Rueben Amaro’s dirty dreams

    • Utley's Hair - Feb 16, 2011 at 2:10 PM

      I believe Rube’s dreams also included Cliffy coming here…Doc coming here…Oswalt coming here…Cliffy coming back here…

  10. ngearhart1981 - Feb 16, 2011 at 1:24 PM

    What about the Giants? They surely have the money, and they’re dying for a huge boost in offense (like, Bonds-ian). I also second Seattle. And Detroit has been known to spend the money; maybe they make Cabrera the DH?
    This is all just seeing what sticks, of course. I think he stays in StL (though I’d love him to go to the Giants).

  11. davebrownspiral - Feb 16, 2011 at 1:45 PM

    I agree. Nobody has really mentioned the Giants. They certainly have the resources and there is certainly the obvious need for a big bat to supplement their great pitching. I still think he winds up signing in St. Louis, but if there is a falling out, I’m putting my money on Albert heading to San Francisco.

  12. evanpenn - Feb 16, 2011 at 2:17 PM

    Why not start a new team, call them The Pujolians, and make him owner/player/manager. Just pick a city without a professional sports franchise…say Seattle.

  13. bennoj - Feb 16, 2011 at 2:22 PM

    It always amazes me that baseball fans don’t know that MLB expressly prohibits players from having ownership shares. Craig had a post on the subject right here less than a year ago

    http://hardballtalk.nbcsports.com/2010/03/22/why-players-cant-own-a-piece-of-the-team/

    • ngearhart1981 - Feb 16, 2011 at 2:37 PM

      Heck, Murray Chass apparently doesn’t even know it:

      http://www.murraychass.com/?p=2958

      BTW his latest (One Win = $2 Million) is awful, awful dreck.

    • Mr. Jason "El Bravo" Heyward - Feb 16, 2011 at 3:50 PM

      No one was seriously considering that. It always amazes me that baseball fans don’t read sarcasm contained in snarky comments on a snarky blog. That said, I can’t speak for Murray Chass knowing anything at all.

      • Utley's Hair - Feb 16, 2011 at 4:07 PM

        You know…I’m not quite sure what it is about your comment, but something gives me the slightest inkling that you are being sarcastic. But I could be wrong.

  14. thejokewriter - Feb 16, 2011 at 2:30 PM

    hey editor, where did my comment go?

  15. nittanylion0 - Feb 16, 2011 at 2:37 PM

    The Mets are not “broke” and will certainly have the ability to give Albert a serious look if he hits the market. I doubt Pujols gets traded during the season, though.

  16. paintan8 - Feb 16, 2011 at 3:13 PM

    Angels. Bank on it. Artie will sell his soul to have the most recognized Hispanic player in Southern California.

    • bigharold - Feb 16, 2011 at 4:59 PM

      I could absolutely see Pujols as an Angel.

      I think if he gets as far as FA and insist on ten years then he goes to the AL because of the DH option. But, for reasons stated above, I think the Yankees are the most probable. The Angels would be second in line because I think the owner is a little PO’d about losing out on FA the last few years and might go all in on Pujols.

  17. WhenMattStairsIsKing - Feb 16, 2011 at 5:35 PM

    He’ll get signed in the next month and this will all be moot.

  18. bluesoxbaseball - Feb 16, 2011 at 8:01 PM

    The Red Sox have about $50 million coming off the books next year, including Papi’s deal. Surely they could find room for Pujols at 1B or DH.

  19. monsieurbear - Feb 16, 2011 at 10:26 PM

    So you’re accusing Pujols of lying when he said that he would not engage in negotiations once he reports to training camp?

    • Craig Calcaterra - Feb 16, 2011 at 10:32 PM

      Nope. I’m saying that even the best plans one makes are likely to be altered by circumstance.

      • evanpenn - Feb 16, 2011 at 11:31 PM

        I agree with Mr.Calcaterra on this. I don’t know the exact wording of Pujols’ statement, but if he said he wouldn’t negotiate once the season starts, that doesn’t preclude him from taking a look at any offer the Cards might make during the season. A negotiation is two sides sitting down and making offers and counteroffers. The Cards can make ten different offers during the season(that number is an exaggeration), and if Albert makes no counteroffers, no negotiation will have taken place, and he won’t have gone back on his word.

  20. 1historian - Feb 17, 2011 at 7:09 AM

    FYI – I am an old coot who remembers way back when.

    These guys are entitled to make all the money they can, but in cases like this it has gone way past obscene to the extent that old farts like me feel a total disconnect with the game, which I used to love.

    How many of them know who Lou Brock is? How many of you do?

    • ngearhart1981 - Feb 17, 2011 at 11:37 AM

      What about Brock?

    • bigharold - Feb 17, 2011 at 2:58 PM

      “How many of them know who Lou Brock is? How many of you do?”

      You mean the St Louis Cardinal that didn’t want to be traded to the Phillies and then sued, which eventually went to the Supreme Court and he in fact lost but with all the publicity the owners feared losing their antitrust exemption from Congress so they eventually caved and gave the players free agency? Never heard of him. I kid, .. I’m a kidder. I’m not an old coot, .. just an aging one.

      You have a point in general about the money being so crazy that it’s just hard to believe players wouldn’t be grateful for the tens of millions in not the hundreds of millions that is being thrown at them to merely play baseball. But, what happens on the field and in the clubhouse is baseball, .. the rest is business.

      In this case there are several different layers. First; Pujols signed a contract that, in hind sight, clearly underpaid him, by a lot, relative to his production versus other players. Yet, he acted like a complete professional and a grown up and just went out and played hard and never said a word. So, if at this point he insistent upon getting a contract that he deems appropriate I’m fine with him negotiating his way because I think he’s earned the right to ask for whatever he sees fit. Second; while he was out there doing his best and being underpaid the Cardinals were well aware that they were getting the better part of the deal. They could have headed this off and come to him a few years ago with an extension that might have avoided these current prickly negotiations but they chose to play out their string so they are as responsible as Pujols for the current situation. Finally; if every player took a 50% cut in pay tomorrow it would have negligible if any impact on prices for ticket, concessions or merchandising. The owners would just make more than they already do. The fans would continue to pay for everything. Player’s salaries are not the driving force in the cost of going to, watching or buying MLB stuff. Supply and demand is the driving force.

      I see your point to a degree but if you think about it and take away the emotion wrapped up in supporting your team or the nostalgia for the old days you might agree that today’s state with regard to players salaries was inevitable. And, if we are going to pay these ridiculous prices for tickets and “stuff” I just as well see the players get “their” cut rather than owners just getting richer. I don’t think I would ever pay to see an owner do anything.

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