Cards CEO optimistic about Pujols deal

William O. DeWitt Jr., chairman and CEO of the St. Louis Cardinals, said Wednesday that he is hopeful the team will sign superstar Albert Pujols to a long-term contract extension before Opening Day.

When asked if a deal is close, DeWitt told FOXSports.com, “No, I would just say we’ve had discussions, and we’re continuing to talk.”

DeWitt, who is in the Phoenix area to attend the Major League Baseball owners’ meetings, indicated that he doesn’t regard the start of spring training as a firm deadline to announce a deal. Pujols said previously that he doesn’t want the negotiations to be a distraction during the season.

The Cardinals’ first full-squad workout is scheduled for Feb. 19. But the regular season doesn’t begin until March 31.

“We’ve got time between now and then to get things done,” DeWitt said. “I’m hopeful. But these are big deals, and we’ll make every effort to get it accomplished.

“Spring training is a long period of time — six weeks. Whether it’s reporting date, or a week after, I don’t view it as, ‘If it’s not done by this day, then . . .’ I don’t see a specific day.”

Pujols has yet to take a physical for contractual or insurance purposes, a separate source told FOXSports.com. That would suggest a deal is not imminent.

Pujols turns 31 on Sunday — the same day he is scheduled to sign autographs at the Cardinals’ Winter Warm-Up, held at the Hyatt Regency in downtown St. Louis. DeWitt downplayed the possibility that the Cardinals could seize upon the confluence of events and announce a deal this weekend.

“We’re not that far along yet, so I wouldn’t think so,” DeWitt said, of what would be a public-relations bonanza. “I never rule anything out, but we’re not targeting that time frame. We’re looking more toward spring training. A deal of this magnitude will take some time.”

Without an extension, Pujols will become a free agent after the upcoming season. He is scheduled to earn $16 million in base salary this year.

Pujols is coming off a season in which he led the National League in home runs for a second straight year and finished second in MVP voting. He won the award in each of the two previous seasons. Pujols has a career batting average of .331 — best among qualifying active players, according to Baseball-Reference.com.

Pujols’ agent, Dan Lozano, should be helped in negotiations by the fact that outfielder Jayson Werth signed a seven-year, $126 million contract with the Washington Nationals earlier this offseason. Werth will play most of the upcoming season at age 32, and his career accomplishments don’t compare favorably with those of Pujols.

Werth’s contract doesn’t expire until after he turns 38. In order for Pujols’ next contract to take him beyond that point — a realistic expectation, given that his career has been so superior to Werth’s — the Cardinals would need to give him at least an eight-year contract, covering ages 32 through 39.

The largest contract in baseball history is the 10-year, $275 million deal signed by Alex Rodriguez in 2007. At the time, A-Rod was coming off his most recent MVP season, and information about his past steroid use had not yet come to light.

Rodriguez will earn a base salary of $31 million this season, along with a portion of the deal’s $10 million signing bonus. The contract also stipulates that Rodriguez will receive $6 million for up to five “milestone accomplishments,” as determined by the Yankees. Those landmarks are tied to A-Rod’s climb up the all-time home run list. The first such milestone is passing Willie Mays at 660 career home runs; Rodriguez currently has 613.

It’s possible that the Cardinals could give Pujols the biggest contract in history by average annual value without exceeding Rodriguez’s $275 million guarantee. A seven- or eight-year contract worth $30 million per year would accomplish that, thus surpassing Roger Clemens’ record of $28 million per year.

Apart from any new contract for Pujols, the Cardinals are slated to spend more than $100 million on this year’s major-league payroll. DeWitt said he doesn’t anticipate any more “major” upgrades to the roster before Opening Day.

DeWitt added that it’s unlikely the team will add significant payroll to acquire a position player. That would appear to rule out a trade for Texas Rangers star Michael Young, who lost his job as the starting third baseman when the Rangers signed Adrian Beltre.