Cards want Pujols long-term, L.A. sweetens deal for Manny and more
Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt: "We'd love to have [Pujols] as a lifetime Cardinal"
Pujols says he'll stay put if the Cards are willing to make a commitment to winning
The latest on free agents Orlando Cabrera and Pudge Rodriguez
JUPITER, Fla. -- Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt liked what superstar Albert Pujols said upon arriving at camp about winning being more important than money to him when it comes to his next contract.
"I'm not going to lie to you: It's not about the money all the time," Pujols said when he got to spring training. "It's about being in a place to win and being in a position to win. If the Cardinals are willing to do that and put a team together every year like they have, I'm going to try to work everything out to stay in this town."
And so DeWitt has responded to Pujols' pronouncement, saying he'd love to make Pujols a Cardinal forever.
"We'd love to have him as a lifetime Cardinal," DeWitt told SI.com.
While both sides are tossing bouquets toward each other, the type of money it would take to execute a Pujols extension -- word is, he'd seek $25 million a year for 10 years -- would be almost unprecedented territory for a team outside one of the very major markets. So while extending Pujols is a possibility, it's certainly no sure thing. Considering Pujols' true market value and the Cardinals' prudent spending past, it's probably going to take some serious compromising on both sides to get it done.
"If there's a way to keep Albert a lifetime Cardinal, that makes a lot of sense for everyone," GM John Mozeliak said, seconding DeWitt's desire. "He's very much an iconic player there, and if he wants to stay, we're going to try to find a way to make that happen."
However, it's not necessarily going to be easy.
There have been no serious talks to date, possibly indicating neither side senses it'll be easy to find common ground, at least not now. Pujols, still only 28, would hope to increase his pay by at least 50 percent from his current annual salary of $16 million, and while it's hard to say he shouldn't get what's due him as one of the two best players in the majors, that's a steep price for a team outside New York, Boston or Los Angeles. DeWitt said to pay any player that sort of money a team would need to have a stash of young (read as: inexpensive) productive players.
Pujols suggested upon arriving at camp that a key factor in his decision will be the Cardinals' commitment to winning, which could be interpreted as a positive sign -- though not necessarily. While the team has the fourth-best record in baseball since DeWitt took over in 1996, it doesn't exactly spend wildly; the $100 million payroll from a year ago should go down slightly this year. And the team never seriously considered Pujols' suggestion to make a play for Manny Ramirez, who received an upgraded offer from the Dodgers on Wednesday that would allow him to opt out after making $25 million in 2009.
"If they're not on the same page of bringing championship caliber [players] to play every year, then it's time to go somewhere else where I can win," Pujols said.
Pujols, who hit .357 with 37 home runs and 116 RBIs in winning his second MVP in 2008, has two years and a team option remaining on his current deal. But he'll be only 31 after that third year, a year younger than Alex Rodriguez was when he signed his 10-year, $275 million Yankees extension after opting out. With the exception of A-Rod's first deal, all the players who've hit the $20 million mark on a per-year basis so far play in major markets (A-Rod, Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia and Roger Clemens with the Yankees, Johan Santana with the Mets, Ramirez with Boston/L.A.). Though, Detroit's Miguel Cabrera and Philadelphia's Ryan Howard will both surpass the $20 million mark early in multiyear deals. Pujols' current seven-year deal guarantees him $100 million and pays him $16 million annually this year and next. The team option for 2011 is also for $16 million.
"We have three years left, and at some point I'm sure we'll get into a conversation," said DeWitt, who explained that he considers it three years because they'll surely exercise the 2011 team option. "We've had casual mentions, but nothing in depth or serious."
Pujols showed that he didn't press to pursue every last dollar last time, so his remarks about the importance of winning upon arriving in camp didn't surprise DeWitt.
"That's typical Albert," DeWitt said. "[Money] isn't what drives him."
At least DeWitt hopes money isn't what drives him.
Manny happily returns?
The Dodgers' new offer to Ramirez is a clear move in the right direction, as the opt-out clause came at Manny's suggestion. The new deal would pay Ramirez $25 million for 2009 and give him the option to return for 2010 for another $20 million should he get hurt or have a rare off year. The money isn't exactly what Ramirez was looking for, but the opt-out would give him a chance to show that he can stay on good behavior for a full year while once again dominating NL pitchers, then retest the free-agent market.
The Giants are believed to still be in the bidding, though the Dodgers' very public offer appears to be an attempt to scare their rivals off. The Dodgers haven't locked Manny up quite yet, but the new offer is a fairly serious improvement over previous ones, which Ramirez easily dismissed.