Why the Cardinals may not offer Pujols an A-Rod-type deal
St. Louis Cardinals star Albert Pujols will be a free agent after the 2011 season
Pujols, a three-time NL MVP, is widely considered the game's best player
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Albert Pujols' decision, via agent Dan Lozano, to set a deadline of spring training for a new multiyear deal with the Cardinals, could be a sign things aren't going all that well in the negotiations. But it could also be an attempt to force a deal.
It's hard to tell, as both sides have kept discussions private. Cardinals GM John Mozeliak told SI.com at the winter meetings last month that they were henceforth going on "radio silence'' regarding the talks. And Pujols recently told MLB.com, "We don't need to talk about contracts, dude. That's it. That's all I can tell you," though he did acknowledge the sides were negotiating.
The baseball people who are closely following the talks see this situation as difficult to predict and say the early signs are that the sides aren't all that close to a deal at present. Despite a quick deadline and a lack of proof that there's serious progress to date, a majority of baseball people still figure the sides will work it out, partly because of the belief that Pujols is worth more to St. Louis than anyone else, and the lack of an obvious outside suitor for an Alex Rodriguez-type deal (see below).
While neither side is talking publicly, early word is that Pujols has used A-Rod's contract, the richest in baseball and one that guarantees him least $275 million over 10 years (and could be worth as much as $305 million if he hits all his landmark home-run numbers), as the only comp. That comes as no surprise as Pujols is widely considered the best player in the game.
The Cardinals, meanwhile, are said to have initially suggested a contract that would guarantee Pujols at least a bit less than $200 million. The exact particulars of their offer or offers aren't known, but there is a belief around the game that the Cardinals are hoping to keep the deal to seven years or less. In an interview with SI.com at the winter meetings, Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt strongly suggested he had no intention of making a 10-year offer and opined that the Yankees had to "regret'' such a deal.
One person with some knowledge of the talks said he believed the Cardinals might get to $28 million a year for seven years, if they aren't there already, which would put the deal at $196 million. That's still about a third less than the A-Rod deal. Yet another person with some peripheral knowledge said he believed St. Louis's first try was actually a bit lower than that, though it wasn't explained whether that person believed the offer was for a lower salary or one less year (it's hard to imagine any offer of less than six years being taken seriously by Pujols' camp). Other people who have some peripheral knowledge of the situation suggest they could see the Cardinals agreeing to either the $30-million annual salary or the 10-year deal, but assuredly not both, and if it's the 10 years (which is less likely), the deal would have to be for a lot lower than $30 million, maybe $20 million a year or only slightly more than that. Word is, the Cardinals want to guard against paying Pujols into his 40s, which would limit the deal to seven years.
Either way, that seems to be a team-friendly deal, particularly in light of the fact that Rodriguez has signed two contracts for more than $250 million. Pujols, meanwhile, took a team-friendly eight-year, $111-million deal before the 2004 season. One competing agent opined that Pujols' new deal absolutely needs to "begin with a 2'' (meaning $200 million) so he doesn't single-handedly set a precedent for something lower than the A-Rod deal for top players in the game. While most baseball folks believe Pujols won't top either of Rodriguez's contracts, there is a minimum salary standard Pujols should accept because he is close to A-Rod in skill and accomplishments (both are three-time league MVPs) and it shouldn't be more than a third less than Rodriguez's deal.
Executives consulted for this story said Pujols has a strong case to say he is as good or better than Rodriguez. But for a variety of reasons, the Cardinals don't feel they have to pay him like A-Rod. Those are:
Rodriguez was a free agent when he signed his deal, whereas Pujols still has a year to go;
The Yankees and Red Sox are not likely to participate in the bidding. Both clubs have superb defensive first basemen under contract for years to come in Mark Teixeira for New York and Adrian Gonzalez for Boston (assuming Gonzalez's deal with the Red Sox is finalized shortly after the season begins), which would likely allow them to only offer a DH spot to Pujols. One competing executive opined that their probable lack of participation could mean Pujols would get "20 percent less" than if those two mega-revenue teams were involved;
The Cardinals got the better of the first deal. That could cause Pujols to dig in even harder and get a deal closer to his market value this time or it could be an indication of just how much he loves the team and the city.
Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt is one of the sharpest businessmen in baseball, and has a history of getting great deals. He purchased the shining franchise for only $150 million, then selling the adjacent parking structure for $90 million, bringing the outlay for the team down to a paltry $60 million for a team that is likely worth at least $700-to-800 million. He isn't likely to mind matching wits with Lozano.
The Cardinals can't match the Yankees' revenues. St. Louis isn't New York. While the Cardinals are wildly successful, and are said by people who have actually seen the revenues list to be either in the "top ten'' in baseball or "about "10th,'' they aren't the Yankees, whose revenues, while unknown, have increased substantially thanks to the YES Network and the new Yankee Stadium.
While the Yankees and Red Sox don't look like potential players here, the other teams that could potentially afford to pay Pujols all have questions attached to them before making such a pursuit.
Here are some early probabilities:
Dodgers. They've been underwhelmed lately by first baseman James Loney's power totals but it's still hard to see them playing here when current owner Frank McCourt is so cash-strapped he needs to go to FOX to provide an advance on their TV monies. McCourt signed 10 players this winter but none for more than Ted Lilly's $33-million three-year contract so a Pujols deal could be quite a stretch.
Giants. Their rich ownership, improved team and relatively quiet 2010-11 winter would seem to allow for the possibility of a big-ticket item. But Aubrey Huff got a two-year deal to play first base, and the Giants seem to be starting to realize that their strength is in drafting and developing players and have gone away from big free-agent expenditures since wildly overpaying for Barry Zito (who got $126 million after the 2006 season) and Aaron Rowand (who got a $60 million deal one year later).
Cubs. They just signed Carlos Peņa to a one-year deal, making it possible they could raid their greatest rival of its greatest player. But Prince Fielder, who's just 90 miles up the road in Milwaukee, would be less expensive and is presumed to be a more logical fit, partly since it's hard to imagine Pujols jumping to the enemy Cubs. Nonetheless, the Cubs are an appealing Midwestern team with the resources to make a run.
Orioles. They have Derrek Lee on a one-year deal, and that marriage is seen as one of convenience, with Lee almost surely there to try to repeat the Adrian Beltre route of using one big season to jump elsewhere. The Orioles and owner Peter Angelos have a good financial situation, despite flagging attendance, due to a favorable deal with MLB to allow the Nationals to impede on their geographic space.