Most baseball people believe that the St. Louis Cardinals will re-sign first baseman Albert Pujols. But with less than two weeks until the slugger’s self-imposed deadline for an agreement, the discussions are not going well, major league sources say.
Contract talks are fluid, and a breakthrough toward a record extension might be only one phone call away. But the Cardinals are balking at Pujols’ price, sources say, increasing the possibility that Pujols will become a free agent at the end of the 2011 season.
Pujols, 31, wants a contract that reflects his status as the game’s premier player, one that likely would vault him ahead of Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, who signed a 10-year, $275 million, free-agent deal at the same age.
Sources paint an increasingly pessimistic view of the negotiations.
While the Cardinals are making a sincere attempt to complete a deal, they are not in as strong a financial position as other clubs in larger markets. The team is frustrated that Pujols’ aggressive negotiating stance does not match his public declarations of loyalty. Pujols, however, has been paid below market value for virtually his entire career.
His current contract – a seven-year, $100 million deal – included a $16 million club option that the Cardinals exercised for 2011. Pujols also was paid $16 million annually in each of the previous three seasons, his highest salary over the course of the deal.
In the first seven years of the contract, Pujols won three National League MVP awards, finished second twice and third once. He never complained publicly that he was underpaid. The Cardinals knew he was in line for a monster deal, but thus far have failed to sign him to an extension.
Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak recently acknowledged that Pujols’ deadline for a deal was the start of spring training. Pujols’ agent, Dan Lozano, set the deadline in an effort to jump-start negotiations, sources say. The Cardinals’ position players report to spring training on Feb. 18. The team’s first full workout is the following day.
The bidding for Pujols as a free agent almost certainly would be fierce. The Cubs, Rangers and Angels are among the teams that could pursue Pujols. The Mets and Dodgers also could bid if their ownerships become more stable. The Yankees and Red Sox currently are set long term at first, but they could turn creative in an attempt to land Pujols.