Pujols' deadline just doesn't make sense

BY foxsports • February 11, 2011

For the past several weeks, Pitchers Hit Eighth, a blog written by St. Louis Cardinals fans, has published a daily compilation of news links about THE story surrounding the team. It is called “The Daily Pujols.”

A Twitter account has been set up under the name of baseball’s (for now) most-talked-about player: @Albert_Pujols. But the tweets are not written by Pujols. They are written about Pujols. No matter. Nearly 9,000 people are following, anyway.

Sports websites, including this one, have used the magic of Photoshop to offer previews of Pujols wearing a Chicago Cubs uniform. The verdict: He looks slightly less awkward than Joe DiMaggio in a 1980s-style Houston Astros jersey.

All this, because the free-agent-to-be has (supposedly) set a deadline of Feb. 16 – NEXT WEDNESDAY, PEOPLE! – to sign a contract extension. Or else.

I find this a.) amusing and b.) somewhat excessive.

Let’s start with the date. Feb. 16 is pretty arbitrary. Cardinals position players don’t officially report until two days later. The first workout is Feb. 19. So, why Feb. 16? Well, that is when Pujols reportedly will show up in Jupiter, Fla. And Prince Albert doesn’t want to negotiate a contract during the “season,” however loosely that is defined.

Because baseball writers tend to be obsessed with minute details, I have a few questions about this policy. Such as: Are talks going to end at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday? Or when he enters Palm Beach County airspace? How about when he sees a Publix grocery store – there are about 4,325 of them in Florida – for the first time this year?

Perhaps it’s when he crosses the clubhouse threshold … or after he gets dressed to work out … or puts on his cleats. (Follow-up: Does one cleat count?)

Or maybe Pujols isn’t going to talk after he takes his first swing. You know, that’s probably it. And if that’s the case, the Cardinals could deploy some creative stall tactics …

NICK PUNTO: Hey Skip, great to see you. I’m so excited to be a Cardinal.

TONY LA RUSSA: Glad to hear it. We’re sort of like the Twins. We make up the left side of our infield as we go along. Anyway, can I ask you a quick favor?

PUNTO: Sure, anything you need.

LA RUSSA: You know Albert? The big guy?

PUNTO: Uh, yeah.

LA RUSSA: Hide his bats.

It all sounds pretty absurd, but then again, so is setting a Feb. 16 deadline for extending a contract that won’t expire for more than eight months. If the Cardinals win the Missouri Lotto and offer Pujols a $300 million contract on Feb. 17, what’s he going to say? Hell, no! Too late. I’m gone.

Besides, the Cardinals will have an exclusive negotiating window with Pujols immediately after this season. Pujols has said only that he does not wish to engage in talks during the season, which isn’t the same thing as promising to become a free agent.

But here’s the biggest reason why Cardinals fans (and Cardinals haters) are getting waaaaaay too worked up about this: I’m not convinced Pujols will sign elsewhere if he files for free agency in November.

Don’t get me wrong: There is a real possibility that Pujols will leave St. Louis. But this is nothing like Carl Crawford’s (brief) contract talks with the Tampa Bay Rays last spring. The entire industry knew the Rays couldn’t afford Crawford – not in March, not in November, not ever. Pujols is different.

Pujols, 31, would love to sign the richest contract in baseball history, surpassing Alex Rodriguez’s 10-year, $275 million deal. Based on his performance, and the game’s revenues, Pujols probably deserves it. That doesn’t mean he will get it.

With contracts of this magnitude, context is important. And let’s not forget the circumstances when A-Rod signed that deal in 2007: He was regarded as the best player in the game, and the New York Yankees really, really wanted him. For Pujols, the first condition very well may be true this fall. The second probably won’t. Care to guess which one matters more?

If the Yankees and Boston Red Sox don’t need/want a free agent, it can cost the player millions. Don’t believe me? Ask Carl Pavano, who was stuck with a two-year deal this winter because the industry knew he wasn’t going to return to the Yankees.

While a lot can change in eight months, the Red Sox and Yankees don’t look like strong suitors for Pujols. At this time next year, Mark Teixeira will have $112.5 million and five seasons left on his contract with the Yankees. The Red Sox, meanwhile, are widely expected to sign Adrian Gonzalez to a multiyear extension.

The Red Sox and Yankees should have openings at designated hitter after this season, but it’s hard to imagine that Teixeira (four Gold Gloves) or Gonzalez (two Gold Gloves) would be eager to assume those roles to accommodate Pujols (two Gold Gloves).

So, it’s likely that the Cardinals will rank at or near the top of Pujols’ list from a baseball/financial standpoint – even apart from any personal feelings he has about St. Louis.

To be clear: It’s not that there will be a lack of interest in Albert Pujols. But a lot of factors need to fall in line for an owner to sit across from his GM and say, “You know what? I’m really itching to spend about $300 million on one player.”

I’ve seen the Angels mentioned as one possible destination. Sure, I see the fit: Kendry Morales becomes the DH, and Pujols plays first. But are we really forgetting what happened, oh, two months ago?

The Angels didn’t sign Crawford, a perfect free agent for them, and afterward owner Arte Moreno told the Los Angeles Times that they “never made an official offer.” The Angels couldn’t land Adrian Beltre, either.

Lesson: Waiting for the Angels to set your market is like hoping Snooki will solve the Egyptian crisis.

The Mets and Dodgers? Yeah, they’ll come up with an offer for Pujols right after they’re done reading through reams of legal documents. I do, in fact, agree with those who say the Cubs make sense. But is Pujols really ready to spurn the Cardinals for their archrival, thus jeopardizing a decade of goodwill – not to mention a lifetime of endorsements – in St. Louis?

I don’t know. But here’s what we know for certain: Pujols will report to Jupiter next week. Cardinals fans are advised to take pictures – you know, just in case. And please don’t Photoshop them. Yet.

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