Before the 2011 season, the St. Louis Cardinals made what they believed to be an ample offer to their soon-to-be free agent first baseman, Albert Pujols. Reports varied slightly, but the offer was believed to be in the nine-year, $200 million range. The Pujols camp liked the length of the deal (which would take Pujols into his 40s), but not the average annual value, which was just in the $22 to $22.5 million area.
Pujols and his agent blanched, believing his deal should be much closer to the 10-year, $275 million extension that Alex Rodriguez got from the Yankees before the 2008 season (which, you should note, was a slightly different animal because Rodriguez was already under contract through 2010, so the “10-year deal” was really more of a seven-year deal, which re-worked the final three years of his original massive contract).
Now that the season is winding down, and the Cardinals appear unmoved by negotiating in the face of a playoff chase (the team just extended Lance Berkman for $12 million in 2012 (yo)), the two sides are likely to begin discussing the extension again. But, according to Joe Strauss, the Cardinals aren’t quite ready to back up the truck.
Mozeliak stated this summer that the club considers upcoming talks “independent” of last winter’s abortive negotiations. The Cardinals then offered a nine-year deal worth $22 million-$22.5 million per season. Pujols and his representation thought the gulf immense.
The club is currently inclined to remain within that framework, even tightening its length while remaining around the same average annual value. Such a tactic assumes at least one of two realities: Last winter’s bid would stretch payroll to its limit, or they believe Pujols’ market overstated until further notice.
The Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Angels, Texas Rangers, Florida Marlins and Washington Nationals are frequently cited as potential bidders for Pujols. The Cards, wary of bidding against themselves, are not inclined to offer another bid until they know their competition.
If the Cardinals kept the annual dollar value of their offer the same, while reducing the years below nine, they might have to kiss Pujols goodbye. While he may not find an offer exceeding eight years on the open market, it’s hard to imagine a team not being willing to offer him something on the order of five years and $150 million, or eight years and $200 million.
Whether the Cubs will enter the bidding, regardless of the Cardinals’ offer, remains to be seen. The chosen GM will have a great deal to do with the decision, but it is hard to imagine the Cubs, in their current state, being competitive in the near term even with Pujols (unless the budget goes up considerably in 2012 and 2013). You sign a guy like Pujols to a huge, long deal because you want his production in the next three years or so, before the inevitable decline of aging sets in. Is that really the Cubs’ best competitive window? I’m not sure.
Whatever the case, it is hard to see Pujols playing anywhere other than St. Louis next year, and even harder not to see whatever team he ends up with not regretting the deal in 2015 through 2018.