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Winter Meetings: Pujols talks simmers in the wee hours

2011-12-06T20:20:00Z 2011-12-07T11:44:13Z Winter Meetings: Pujols talks simmers in the wee hoursPOST-DISPATCH STAFF REPORTS stltoday.com
December 06, 2011 8:20 pm  • 

Post-Dispatch baseball writers Joe Strauss, Derrick Goold and Rick Hummel will provide updates throughout baseball's winter meetings:

DALLAS -- After a frenetic day that brought a fortified offer from the St. Louis Cardinals and at least two more face-to-face meetings with the persistent Miami Marlins, the Pujols talks hit a late-night pause.

Two of the sides said they did not expect resolution until morning at the earliest as three-time MVP Albert Pujols, his family and his agent Dan Lozano weigh record-setting offers from the Cardinals and Marlins.

The Marlins have set the pace for what became a frenzy Tuesday at the Hilton Anatole.

Pujols at one point, according to reports, had more than $600 million in offers on the table from three teams. It was an unprecedented amount of guaranteed money presented to one player. The Cardinals, for the first time since last January, made a formal offer to their All-Star first baseman. Post-Dispatch baseball writer Joe Strauss reported in today's paper that the deal is believed to be worth $220 million and could extend to 10 years. The Cardinals have discussed intricate bonus-related elements of that deal that would increase the value. According to ESPN.com, the Marlins' offer includes provisions for Pujols to remain with the organization beyond his playing days.

The Marlins have felt that momentum and urgency was on their side, and that any lag in pace could allow the Cardinals traction. The Marlins have sought to finalize a deal before leaving the winter meetings.

A source familiar with Pujols' thinking stressed that the first baseman does not feel a need to hurry up and make a decision.

While declining to discuss a pursuit of any one player, Marlins general manager Larry Beinfest agreed that the Marlins are experiencing a bounce in excitement and a bounce in coverage with the signings of Heath Bell and Jose Reyes and that they could capitalize on that wave by moving swiftly to lock up their other chief target.

He wouldn't say it, but Pujols is that target.

"When you get the baseball community to recognize you, you bring a Heath Bell, a top-notch closer, brand new ballpark, new manager, new uniforms, new energy," Beinfest said. "I think you want to build on all of that. And hopefully that will attract players to come. There could be a snowball effect. ... I think momentum can be helpful and snowball for you in a positive way. We'll see what happens."

The two teams in the lead for Pujols' services aren't just intertwined in their interest in the MVP. The two clubs share a spring training facility in Jupiter, Fla., meaning Pujols is choosing between two neighbors. The Cardinals and Marlins will also play a one-game series on April 4 of next season to open the 2012 regular season and the Marlins' new ballpark.

-- Derrick Goold

***

 

Marlins conclude second meeting with Pujols' agent

DALLAS -- Perhaps looking to increase the timetable on discussions with Albert Pujols' agent Dan Lozano, the front office and ownership of the Miami Marlins just concluded a second meeting today and a fourth in two days with the agent.

The Marlins and Cardinals have both tabled offers worth in excess of $200 million to the first baseman. The Marlins' offer is reportedly for 10 years.

USA Today reported this evening that a third team is also in the mix with an equally hefty offer. Bob Nightengale wrote that Pujols is "fueling the most lucrative bidding war in baseball history" with more than $600 million in offers spinning around the three-time MVP. A source with knowledge of the teams interested in Pujols described the unidentified third team as not a newcomer to the conversations. The third team's offer was presented within the past week, and that team has remained unidentified partially because of subsequent moves it would have to make to clear room for Pujols.

Reporters who saw the Marlins return from their meeting with Lozano described how members of the party had little to say about the meeting.

-- Derrick Goold

***

Marlins push pace, Cardinals make offer

DALLAS -- The St. Louis Cardinals presented three-time MVP Albert Pujols a contract offer this afternoon at the winter meetings, and when asked whose court the ball is now in general manager John Mozeliak replied succinctly:

"Theirs."

The details of the Cardinals offer are not yet known, and Mozeliak declined to disclose any specific. He did acknowledge that the Cardinals position had changed in regards to negotiating with Pujols' agent, Dan Lozano. Mozeliak also said it represented a new offer and not one that had its origins in the nine-year, $198-million deal offered Pujols in January.

Mozeliak said that he imagines the resolution will come "sooner rather than later."

He did not imply that the Cardinals' offer was rigid or final.

"I suspect (a response) is going to come quickly," Mozeliak said. "That would have to come from that camp. ... In this situation we're participants. I don't think we're dictating anything."

-- Derrick Goold

***

Marlins GM: Pujols is "trending to be one of the best ever"

DALLAS -- While declining to delve into details of his club's targets and any offers his club may have made today, Miami Marlins general manager Larry Beinfest did offer, in general terms of course, a glowing view of free agent first baseman Albert Pujols.

"Great player. He is definitely trending that way to be one of the (greatest)," Beinfest said in the hall outside the Marlins' suite tonight. "Look at his numbers. The three MVPs. The number of home runs that he's trending toward which could be historic. Two world championships. Proven winner. He's pretty much the whole package. Rookie of the year. He's kind of done it all. He's definitely one of the most celebrated players and I would have to say he's up there and trending that way to be one of the best ever."

Beinfest spoke with Marlins beat writers and one intruder about the team's status after the second day of winter meetings. He expressed concern that there was a perception out there that shortstop Hanley Ramirez has requested a trade because the team has acquired Jose Reyes to play short and will move Ramirez to third base.

Beinfest would not identify Reyes by name because the widely reported deal has not been finalized.

He did say that pitching remains a target for the team, but they have been presented with "an opportunity" to stack their lineup with All-Star bats. The Marlins met at length with the agent for Pujols, Dan Lozano, today. Beinfest would not confirm the meeting. The Marlins have upgraded their offer to a 10-year deal. Reports tonight from FOXSports.com and The New York Post indicated that the Marlins met with the commissioner's office tonight about their proposal to Pujols. The reason would be to make sure it's elements conform to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Other players have had to have provisions of their contracts approved by MLB before signing. Alex Rodriguez's contract contains clauses that allow the Yankees and him to form a business that would then share the profits generated by merchandising his home run milestones. That had to be approved by MLB. The Cardinals explored this past winter the possibility of presenting Pujols with an ownership stake in the organization as part of an extension. MLB would have had to approve that clause, too.

The Marlins do not allow no-trade clauses, per club policy.

Pujols is believed to be pursuing a no-trade clause, which is not unusual for a player of his caliber. A source familiar with the discussions said the Marlins and Pujols' reps have found a way to provide security within the framework of Miami's policy. Beinfest explained that the club would not "deviate" from that policy to complete any deal.

"We've had some poor experiences with it," Beinfest said. "It's just not something that we're comfortable with, including in contracts. We're more than happy to pay fairly and hopefully present a winning option for players as they sign with us. It really takes away the flexibility of the team in the event that you want to help better the team or adjust here or there, whatever it is. It's just not something we're comfortable doing. We have history with it. It's uncomfortable for us and we understand that there is some expectation, but we've worked through that obviously with (Heath Bell) already and some of our existing contracts which are pretty high level players, Hanley and Josh Johnson. There has been no deviation."

The Marlins have been aggressive with their pursuit of Pujols in the past two days. They are clearly trying to capitalize on an urgent approach.

Beinfest said moving at this pace allows for things to "snowball in a positive way."

-- Derrick Goold

***

Lohse, Westbrook surface in trade talks

DALLAS -- Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak acknowledged that other teams have approached him about deals for starting pitchers and that both Kyle Lohse and Jake Westbrook have been mentioned in those conversations. Mozeliak followed by saying both players would be difficult to move because of their no-trade clauses.

"We're exploring everything that is out there," Mozeliak said. "Our intent is not to move Lohse. We've had people ask about all of our starting pitchers except (Chris) Carpenter and (Adam) Wainwright."

Mozeliak called the no-trade clause a "major complication."

Lohse said via text earlier in the day that he had not been approached by Mozeliak about any deals. Mozeliak confirmed that he would probably reach out to both pitchers to explain how it is that their names surfaced and became public.

Mozeliak mentioned that any move the Cardinals made would be to re-allocate the payroll. He said the offer made to Pujols this afternoon would not be the motivation for that re-allocation. He added that when it comes to starting pitching the Cardinals are reluctant to enter into a long-term deal with a free agent and are more likely to fill the rotation spot from within -- either Lance Lynn or Marc Rzepczynski.

"Trying to sign somebody long-term is not in our best interest," Mozeliak said.

The reasons why were explored this morning in Bird Land.

-- Derrick Goold

***

Matheny on Pujols, shortstop, closer

DALLAS -- As a longtime friend and "confidant" of three-time MVP Albert Pujols, new Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said he has had to step outside of his existing relationship with Pujols to take a step back and respect the business aspect of the game.

"The dynamic is different," Matheny said.

Matheny attended Pujols' charity event in St. Louis on Saturday night, but the manager said that there wasn't time -- nor was it necessarily the place -- for him to give the first baseman a recruiting speech. Matheny was also in the Dominican Republic with Pujols in early November for a charity event, and Matheny described later how he had to keep news of his hiring as the Cardinals' manager private. He did not let Pujols know on the trip.

Matheny said he has purposefully stayed in the background of negotiations between the Cardinals and the free agent Pujols. He said he is there to offer an opinion, not meddle with the process.

"He's a friend, a confidant," Matheny said. "This is a business decision."

Matheny met with the national media for the first time Tuesday afternoon at the Hilton Anatole. He commented on a wide variety of subjects -- from reasserting his fondness for Tyler Greene to, yes, offering that Jason Motte is the Cardinals closer.

Matheny has been stationed in the Cardinals' suite here at the Anatole, talking with the front office, meeting scouts and offering his opinion when asked. He said naturally the team has to consider what life without Pujols will look like for the lineup and the offense.

"What the roster would be, could be -- it definitely has different faces," Matheny said. "It's cliche -- it's a business. There are going to be business decisions. It would change the whole face of what the offense looked like (to not have Pujols)."

Matheny also riffed on:

-- Chris Carpenter's hefty total innings last season and whether that is a concern coming into 2012: "He did have a heavy workload and kept answering the bell. That's one thing that differentiates him is nobody is going to out-work him. You do have only so many bullets. He's got a good feel for his arm and his body."

-- On Motte as the club's incumbent closer: "Going into spring training Jason has certainly positioned himself as the closer."

-- On Greene as the shortstop: "Yes, I believe he has been pressing. We're excited to see him and see how he competes."

-- On whether or not David Freese, who sought assistance after his second DUI several years ago, needed his support group more than ever as he ventured into the world of stardom, catapulted there by his NLCS and World Series MVP turns: "That is a complex question. Only he can answer that. But I think anybody that cares about people when they get put into a position like that, you've got to just speak the obvious truth of there's going to be more coming at you than you've ever dreamed right now, and these are all opportunities that could potentially be good. But it also, if not harnessed and really kept under wraps, could potentially lead you in a couple directions. One would be distracted, and distracted from what's ahead."

-- On new assistant coach John Mabry: "John Mabry to me is a game changer, and I think he's going to be a great extension of Mark McGwire and they're going to work hand in hand very well. They'll be there and be available with different personalities, which is nice. And I think you saw the same thing with Mike Aldrete who will continue to be a resource to these guys, as well, but in a different role. But John has a great knack for really individualizing swings and helping guys through the mental side of the game."

Matheny added later that the team is still in the process of interviewing candidates for the bullpen catcher position and trying to make the call on who to hire for the role.

-- Derrick Goold

***

Lohse hasn't been approached about trade

DALLAS -- An area of the team the Cardinals came to the winter meetings professing a wish to keep untouched was the rotation. But this time of year no place is safe from rumors and reports.

Several national reporters have taken to Twitter to suggest that the Cardinals are shopping starter Kyle Lohse. This would be problematic for the Cardinals becuse the righty has a full no-trade clause. Lohse reiterated Tuesday that he has not been approached about a trade.

Moreover, he wrote in a text message that as of right now he would reject any trade opportunity brought to him.

That could change, obviously, depending on the interested party.

Lohse, who led the Cardinals in wins and the rotation in ERA last season, is entering the final year of a four-year, $41-million deal with the Cardinals. He is owed $11.875 million in 2012. Teammate Jake Westbrook is entering the final guaranteed year of his deal. Westbrook is due to make $8.5 million in 2012 and he has a mutual option for 2013.

-- Derrick Goold

***

Marlins accelerate pace on Pujols bidding

DALLAS -- Accelerating the pace of the market for Albert Pujols with an intent to complete a deal in the near future, the Miami Marlins just concluded an hourlong meeting with Pujols' agent, Dan Lozano, and his staff.

The Marlins' traveling party, headed by owner Jeffrey Loria (who has taken a leading role in this process) and featuring general manager Larry Beinfest, breezed through the lobby here at the Hilton Anatole without extensive comment about how their meeting went with Lozano. The Marlins have upped their offer to 10 years and more than $200 million.

The Marlins' team policy is not to include no-trade clauses in contracts. Marlins president David Samson just conveyed to The Miami Herald an unwillingness to break from the policy to sign a player.

A source with knowledge of the negotiations said that Team Pujols and the Marlins have found a way around that policy to bring some security to the three-time MVP.

This is the third known meeting between Lozano and the Marlins. The two met twice on Monday. Pujols has let it be known that he is available to travel to Dallas and engage in the process if a deal is near or his presence required.

-- Derrick Goold

***

Guillen imagines where Pujols will hit

DALLAS -- Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen held court with reporters in the lobby of the Hilton Anatole this afternoon and openly mused where he would hit Albert Pujols in the Marlins' lineup.

Guillen said he would hit cleanup behind Hanley Ramirez, the displaced shortstop who will now play third base.

The lineup imagined by Guillen has Jose Reyes at shortstop and leadoff, Emilio Bonifacio in center and batting second, Ramirez hitting third, Pujols fourth and then followed by Mike Stanton, Logan Morrison, Omar Infante, catcher John Buck and the pitcher. The Marlins are expected to announce the signing of Reyes to a $100-million contract on Wednesday.

Reports this morning at StlToday.com and elsewhere have the Marlins beefing up their offer to Pujols to 10 years and at least $200 million.

As Guillen spoke to reporters, team owner Jeffrey Loria walked by on his way to another meeting with Pujols' agent, Dan Lozano.

The Marlins appear to be pushing for a quick resolution.

Guillen described how the team would remain Ramirez's regardless of the additions the Marlins are aggressively putting around him.

"This ballclub is Hanley's," Guillen said. "Whoever we bring aboard is to help him. I don't care who is coming aboard, it's Hanley's club."

-- Derrick Goold

***

Aggressive Marlins up their offer to Pujols

DALLAS -- Driving the market for first baseman Albert Pujols, the aggressive Miami Marlins have upped their original offer to a 10-year deal, according to multiple reports stemming from the winter meetings here at the Hilton Anatole.

The Marlins met twice with Pujols' agent, Dan Lozano, on Monday, and one of the sessions lasted at least 90 minutes as the two sides discussed the framework of a revised offer from the Marlins.

In November, the Marlins offered a nine-year deal that had a total value less than the $198-million offer made by the Cardinals in January.

The Marlins look to avoid no-trade clauses, according to sources here at the winter meetings. While that apparently applies to Pujols, too, a source with knowledge of the team's thinking said that they've "found a way around" that team policy to offer Pujols some protection.

The lack of a no-trade clause was not perceived as a problem late Monday night. The Post-Dispatch reported this morning that the 10-year offer from the Marlins could exceed an annual average value of $20 million. The Cardinals' nine-year offer in January, which the team has elected to "reconfigure" before presenting to Pujols, averaged $22 million per year.

The only no-trade clause-related question for Pujols would be the security of the first five years of a new deal. As a 10-year veteran, he would immediately earn no-trade protection after five years with a new team.

The Cardinals are set to meet with Pujols' reps today.

-- Derrick Goold

***

Pursuit of Pujols picks up

DALLAS -- The St. Louis Cardinals are expected to circle back and meet with the agent for three-time MVP Albert Pujols this morning during the second day of the winter meetings at the Hilton Anatole.

The Cardinals on Monday night did not have a second conversation as planned with the agent, Dan Lozano. Mozeliak and chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. did meet with Lozano earlier in the day. There are plans to meet today and further explore the parameters and expectations that form an offer.

There remains a possibility that Pujols will join the discussions with interested teams in person, though nothing has been scheduled.

The Miami Marlins remain the most aggressive team in the hunt for Pujols. After meeting twice Monday, Marlins execs are expected to reconnect again today with Pujols' representative. The Marlins improved their original nine-year offer to Pujols during a meeting on Monday.

UPDATE: ESPN's Buster Olney reports this morning that the Marlins have offered Pujols a 10-year deal.

Some noteworthy snips from the coverage in South Florida:

Dave Hyde, The South Florida Sun-Sentinel: "Look at that lineup with Pujols. Power. Average. Speed. Experience. Youth. Everything is there to have the best lineup in the game.

How can the Marlins afford this? The simple answer is they have a new ballpark. Of course, there's a federal investigation into the ballpark's funding. No idea where this goes. Is there a smoking-gun document that reveals impropriety -- say, bribery -- between the Marlins and public officials? At the very least, it looks like the Marlins financial records are going to go public. As they should have before the ballpark was approved."

Clark Spencer, The Miami Herald: "The Marlins used to be largely invisible at baseball's annual winter meetings, a relative pauper that left the big free agent signings to the fat cats -- the Yankees, the Red Sox, the Cubs and the like.

"Usually we sit in a room, watching the ticker on the bottom of the TV, watching the big names going here and signing there," said Jeff Conine, a Marlins front office assistant. "Now we look at the ticker and it's our name we're seeing."

One day after the Marlins agreed to terms on a franchise-record $106 million contract with shortstop Jose Reyes, and shortly before introducing Heath Bell ($27 million) as the team's new closer, owner Jeffrey Loria and other team officials flew into Dallas, quickly changed into suits and hurried through the lobby of the Hilton Anatole with purpose in their steps.

As writers gave pursuit, they brushed aside questions, hopped on an elevator and rode up to the 19th floor where, for 45 minutes they made their pitch for the biggest prize in this year's free agent class: Albert Pujols.

Don't discount their chances."

Joe Capozzi, The Palm Beach Post: "The historically frugal Marlins dominated the first day of the meetings Monday like a free-spending, big-market team. Led by owner Jeffrey Loria, they introduced new closer Heath Bell, spent 45 minutes with the agent for Albert Pujols and scheduled a physical for their new shortstop, Jose Reyes.

The Marlins still think they can afford Pujols -- the top free agent on the market -- even though they are giving Reyes a six-year, $106 million deal.

And just like baseball's highest-profile teams, the Marlins might be creating some soap opera, too, given that shortstop Hanley Ramirez is upset about moving to third base to accommodate Reyes."

The Chicago Cubs also met with Lozano on Monday to, in part, discuss Pujols. It is believed that Pujols has as least two offers on the table.

While Team Pujols does not appear to be in a rush to pick between suitors, it is possible that a deal could be struck during the winter meetings because of the nature of the offers already made. The Cardinals are not under the impression that they will get an opportunity to match or beat an offer before Pujols' accepts it, and a source with knowledge of Pujols' thinking on the subject said that he does not feel obligated to give the Cardinals a last crack at signing him before he selects another team.

-- Derrick Goold

***

BBWAA takes their awards to the TV

DALLAS -- The Baseball Writers Association of America voted this morning to partner with MLB Network to create a series of shows based on the game's most prominent and prestigious awards.

A vote of the BBWAA membership this morning approved a plan to televise the announcement of the groups signature awards -- the Most Valuable Player awards in both leagues, the Cy Young awards in both leagues, the Rookie of the Year in each league and the Manager of the Year in each league. The shows will be televised in November, right at the time the awards are normally announced.

A twist to make the award announcement more suitable for TV will be the announcement of the finalists for the awards in the week before the formal announcement. The top three vote-getters for the Rookie awards, Manager awards and Cy Young awards will be revealed on MLB Network; the top five vote-getters for the two MVP awards will also be disclosed.

At a later time the winner will be revealed with the player, team and public learning all at the same time for the first time during the telecast.

The awards are voted on each year by members of the BBWAA in good standing. Each chapter receives two votes for each awards so that there are 32 voters for the National League awards and 28 voters for each of the American League awards.

-- Derrick Goold

***

Rookies take the stage

DALLAS -- Among the scheduled events for Day 2 of the winter meetings at the Hilton Anatole is the national debut of two greenhorn managers -- Cardinals' skipper Mike Matheny and Chicago White Sox manager Robin Ventura.

Neither Matheny and Ventura bring any experience to their new roles. Like Matheny, Ventura served in the front office before being hired as the manager. Both Gold Glove winners as players were selected on their potential as managers and their ability to command respect and lead a clubhouse.

The two managers are scheduled to talk at 2:30 p.m. St. Louis time.

This will be their first time talking to the national throng of baseball writers.

-- Derrick Goold

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Baseball writers Derrick Goold and Rick Hummel cover the Cardinals for the Post-Dispatch and STLtoday.com. They'll provide daily Cardinals updates here, from the start of spring training through the end of the season and beyond.

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