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The St. Louis Cardinals at spring training in Jupiter, Fla.
February 16, 2011 -- Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak (left) and chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. address the media in a press conference after a deadline to sign Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols to a new contract passed without agreement during Cardinals spring training at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Fla. Chris Lee clee@post-dispatch.com

Reading Time, 5 Minutes:

* Deadline DOA: So, the news of the day is the John Mozeliak and Bill DeWitt Jr. news conference to brief the media down in Planet Jupiter. The Cardinals "are disappointed" that they weren't able to reach a deal with Albert Pujols and will respect his wishes to cease with the negotiations now that spring training is underway. The Cardinals will keep the phone lines open in case Pujols changes his mind. They still hope to keep him. According to Mozeliak, the team felt "very good" about the offer made to Pujols but declined to describe the offer. DeWitt said the Cardinals "explored every avenue to keep Albert a Cardinal" in this phase of the negotiations.

Let's cut through this, shall we? Bottom line: if the Cardinals are willing to pay Pujols $300 million over 10 years, then they can pick up the phone next week, next month, in June, in July or at anytime and make that offer to agent Dan Lozano and the deal will be finalized in approximately 16 seconds. If the Cardinals continue to be reluctant to go 10/300, then Pujols will see if he can find a team willing to pay that price after the season in free agency.

There's a difference of opinion. Team Pujols obviously believes it can get someone to pay at least 10/300 ... the Cardinals obviously are willing to take their chances, betting that no team will come forward with that kind of deal. They could lose Pujols, yes. They could also satisfy Pujols, based on other offers he receives. It's too early to predict.  

* But understand this: there are no real negotiations... there is nothing to negotiate ... not in the literal sense, not as this stands. Why? Because at the beginning of this process, going back as far as before the 2010 season, the Team Pujols position was a simple one: the Pujols contract has to exceed the Alex Rodriguez contract. (The Yankees gave A-Rod 10 years, $275 million in December 2007.) The A-Rod contract is the standard. And unless the Cardinals agree to that, then there isn't much to talk about ... and that's turned out to be true. Team Pujols isn't budging. At least not yet. And why should they? As I wrote the other day here on the Bernie Blog, all it takes is one or two teams willing to give Pujols 10/300 when he reaches free agency after the season. And then his wish will be granted. If the rigid goal is 10/300, and Cardinals management has reservations about going to 10 years, then Pujols has to search for it on the  open market.

* Pujols has every right to ask for whatever he wants to ask for. I'm not criticizing him for that. He obviously feels he's earned the status of deserving a record-setting MLB contract, and surely a lot of people would agree with him. Others will say that 10 years is too much for a player who will be 32 when the new contract kicks into place in 2012. But as long as Pujols remains entrenched in his position, we'll eventually determine the answer about the risk of a 10-year deal and if a team or teams are willing to take it.

* Has Pujols hurt his relationship with Cardinals fans? I can't be sure. Personally, I've received a ton of e-mail from fans, telling me that Pujols is asking for too much, and that they wouldn't give him 10 years. I sense that he does have some folks angry at him. It's become routine for me to get stopped on the street or in public places -- it happened three times at Lambert Field this morning -- by a Cardinal fan who's down on Pujols. And the e-mails usually include a reference to the economy and people being out of work and how it's hard to feel sorry for any athlete who turns down a huge deal. In fairness to Pujols, the business of baseball is booming, the Cardinals have stayed strong at the box office, and he's a free agent. He's not responsible for the economy or job losses. Should athletes have a better sense of perspective? Probably so. But just because -- and I don't mean to sound callous -- a manufacturing plant closes in, say, rural Missouri it doesn't mean that Pujols is obligated to settle for less money from the Cardinals. He works in an industry where the revenue flow is better than it's ever been. But this isn't for me to decide. I don't pay for tickets. I don't sit in the stands. I don't spend a good chunk of money to go to ballgames. I'm safe from all of that up there in the press box. It's up to fans to decide if they still love Albert Pujols as much as they did before.

* And please allow me to make a rather obvious point: people may be down on Pujols now, but what happens when he goes on a two-week rampage, hitting homers and driving in a bunch of runs? Will the applause for Pujols be any less than it was before? I don't think so, but we'll see.

* Tony La Russa's rip job on the MLB players association was taken straight from the TLR playbook. People who have paid attention for the last 15 years should know this by now. By blasting the union, TLR had a two-point objective: (1) make himself the story and have reporters buzzing around him in his office, rather than have those reporters bugging Cardinals players about Pujols. This was a vintage TLR diversion, to pull the pack away from the players. And (2) by suggesting that the union and the agent are putting pressure on Pujols to settle for nothing less than a monster deal, TLR is trying to absolve Pujols and prevent AP from taking the hit from fans/media.  

* Now, let's review that La Russa strategy: No. 1 is smart. If La Russa wants to make the headlines to cut down on the amount of Pujols-related questions directed at his players -- well, it worked, at least for a couple of days. But with the national baseball media invading Jupiter, what's TLR's next move? But No. 2 could backfire. I mean, what is La Russa saying here -- that Pujols doesn't have an independent thought process, and he's being controlled by agents and union bosses? I think Pujols is perfectly comfortable with how Agent Lozano is handling this. I don't think Pujols would react to La Russa's insinuation favorably -- but that's between him and the manager.

* If Pujols gets 10/300 from the Cardinals, can he at least become an investor in Dave Checketts ownership consortium so the Blues will have some money to improve their team?

Thanks for reading ...

-Bernie

 

 

 

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