The Albert Pujols contract: why the DeWitts will win

The surge of non-information around the Albert Pujols contract negotiations is hardly interesting. Both parties have upheld their stance on keeping quiet about the progress (or lack thereof) of negotiations. Let’s face it, it’s all rather boring. But with a little outside the box thinking, there are a few possibilities no one mentions.

Think of a fur coat for a moment: It’s winter, and, being female, I know there’s nothing better than a fur coat to keep you warm. They are the most expensive coats available, but there are stores that sell top-of-the-line fur coats at a discounted price. They are rare and hard to find, but if you know what you’re looking for you can snag one at Neiman Marcus for 25 percent off what fur coats are currently worth.

Many people have said they don’t understand why the Cardinals ownership didn’t get the Pujols contract done before now. They knew this was coming—why would they wait this long? Jayson Stark of ESPN wrote this on Dec. 8:

So the more you reflect on this, the harder it is to believe that this team has let this situation hang there, unexplored, for so long.

How could the Cardinals let Pujols get this close to free agency without making a serious effort to get this deal done already?

Maybe that is the point. The Cardinals have Pujols backed into a corner. Huh? Right now we know one thing: Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt will not pay more than he can “afford” for Pujols just to keep him. He wants a winning ball club.

Again from Stark, Dec. 8:

“Every team has financial limitations,” Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt told the St. Louis Post Dispatch this week. “I don’t care what team you name. They have them. It’s a process where you have to evaluate the value of a player given the ability to still field an effective, competitive club.

“Those are always the tradeoffs,” DeWitt went on. “It’s not, ‘I don’t want to give you X dollars because you don’t deserve it.’ It’s, ‘I’ve got so much money I can afford and have a competitive team.’ And you’ve got to put all those pieces together.”

It’s also been reported that the Cardinals have no intention of giving Pujols a contract better than Alex Rodriguez’s. If that is true there are only two options for Pujols.

If he signs now he will be getting less than he would if he hit the free agent market. We know the Cardinals ownership will buy a fur coat at a discounted price. They are not the New York Yankees—New York can buy fur coats at Neiman Marcus. St. Louis has a ball club that consistently gets deals on authentic fur coats.* The Cardinals have consistently said that’s what they must do to keep a winning team on the field.

If Pujols doesn’t sign now he is running just as much risk as the Cardinals. He’s established already that he is the best player in the game today; he doesn’t need another year to prove anything. It’s hard to think of Pujols having a down year, so we won’t. But heaven forbid he gets injured. Sure, no one should live life being paranoid, and it probably won’t happen, but is it a possibility? The reality is anything can happen and reality plays into the minds of everyone when you make a huge decision.

So, they’ve backed him into a corner—and one thing we’ve never seen is what Pujols will do backed into a corner. Unless breaking news happens in the next few days and weeks, if you’re in St. Louis take a gamble with the Cardinals. Grab your tickets for the 2011 baseball season. You’ll either see one hell of a record-breaking year, with a baseball god proving his point, and confirming his worth and saying goodbye to Cardinal nation or you’ll weep for what could have been.

*In recent years, of course, there are those contracts that were way too much money and haven’t worked out (insert Kyle Lohse here). And there is one exception in the last few years in which the Cardinals departed from getting a marquee ballplayer at a discount (insert Matt Holliday here).


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13 years ago

Curious, why is Pujols backed into a corner?  You know there are some teams that can afford him, not named the St. Louis Cardinals?  I find a funny parallel between St. Louis Cardinals fans and Cleveland Cavaliers fans, they hang on the “he can’t and won’t leave” mentality.  We see how that worked in Cleveland. 

Both the Cubs and the LA teams could potentially make a play at him next offseason.  Even if he does sign with St. Louis, the Cards will have nearly $70M tied into 4 players next year in Pujols, Holliday, Carpenter, and Wainwright…not exactly ideal for a mid-market team.

13 years ago

@Goose: Good point (re. LeBron). I think a big difference would be that the Cardinals won without Pujols (and, at some point, will have to win without him even if he stays with them until retirement). Cleveland…well, they *do* have the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame. For now.

Anna McDonald
13 years ago

By backed into the corner I meant for only right now, this year. Sorry that wasn’t clear. By waiting the Cardinals have, in a way, forced him to have only two options: sign for what they want or take a risk and see what the next year brings. Of course many teams will want him—-and pay him more than the Cardinals would now—- but one would think , and Pujols has said as much, that he wants this done before the season starts.  Thanks for the comments.

13 years ago

I don’t really see the idea that the Cardinals have great leverage over Pujols. From Pujols’ perspective, whatever the Cardinals are willing to offer him now will be a floor on what he will get in free agency.  Why?  Because the Cardinals aren’t going to reduce their current offer when he hits the market. In all probability, the Cardinals will have to continue increasing their offer next off-season or else let him sign with another team.  Considering that most players want to find out what they can get in free agency—it’s something that’s attractive to them—Pujols has no reason to sign for a big discount at this point.

While it’s true that Pujols takes a risk on injuries or a down year, I don’t think high level professional athletes think that way.  Their confidence and ego lead them to believe that it’s an opportunity rather than a risk.

Anna McDonald
13 years ago

Yep, ‘tis true it all depends on what the perspective is from each side and what they each know of that perspective. I’m just throwing out some different possibilities of what each side might be thinking. It’s all moot if they give him more than an A-Rod-type deal in the next few weeks, but most reports say that’s not likely.  One of the articles I linked to was Jon Heyman’s on the topic. I’m sure everyone’s read it, but it was a very good starting point for this.

Brad Johnson
13 years ago

You have to imagine there comes a point where eeking out an extra 30 mil just isn’t worth it. If he knows he’s getting paid enough for the next 4 generations of Pujols’ he might just say “screw it, let’s play baseball.”

Grandpa Boog
13 years ago

Trade Pujols.

Cardinal fans would go nuts, but they’d keep on coming to the games because StL is a great baseball town. So, what could the Cards receive in return? Any ideas?

My first memory of the Cardinals is 1935, or thereabout, so I don’t speak loosely when suggesting that we trade Pujols, instead of breaking the bank and not being able to make other moves.

—Stay tuned.

They can't trade him
13 years ago

Pujols is a 10/5 guy and has already said he will exercise his right to veto any trade

Donald Trump
13 years ago

I prefer articles that aren’t all about fur coats.

13 years ago

Interesting take on the AP / Cardinals situation.

I have been a devoted Cardinal fan for 50 years. And from my perspective this situation is not just about the dollars but the length of the contract.

I believe the Cardinals are willing to give AP between $28 – $32 million but not over a 8-10 year period. The max length of the contract they are probably willing to provide is between 6-8 years and rightfully so.

Who in their right mind would continue to pay a ballplayer mega dollars when said player is 37 years or older? Their skills will have substantially dimished by then if not sooner. AP is a freak of nature but let’s not kid ourselves. His production will start to slip by the time he’s 33 or 34. The natural aging process always wins. ALWAYS.

If he bolts to another team after 2011 then so be it. I won’t like it but he’ll be 32 with about 2-3 years of hitting dominance left. If he’s intent on winning another WS he had better hope that the team who signs him has the components in place to field a competitive team.

In the end I believe the Cardinals and AP will reach a deal by the third week of this month.

Rocket J. Squirrel
13 years ago

Marc, agree with your analysis if you will accept that ALWAYS does not apply to everyone in the same way.  In particular, you may wish to look at the strange career of Hall of Famer Zach Wheat, whose last 5 years were miraculously strong.  Zach was an outlier and that said, Albert has indeed shown signs of wear and tear.  Your crystal ball is likely right on but you never know . . .

You may be correct in how Cardinals are thinking.  If it were I, I’d be thinking $35M over 6 years has a present value of about $182M.  Now, $182 million over 8 years is $28M a year.  In short, there are lots of ways to skin a cat.  You be better off with the longer term contract because Albert is the sort that you would expect to retire if he can no longer get the job done.

Brad Johnson
13 years ago

Here’s a question people seem to shy away from, how will Pujols age? I think a lot of people kind of picture a Bonds scenario where mashes late into his 30’s before flipping to the AL and continuing to mash on shorter contracts.

Rocket J. Squirrel
13 years ago

What has been disappointing has not been DeWitt & Co.‘s position but rather their publicly displayed attitude.  With a player such as Albert, management should have articulated something like, “Albert is a franchise player whom we believe is the best in baseball and one of the all-time greats—and his career is only mid-way.  His doesn’t just have a winning attitude, he is a winner.  More, he has been invaluable to the organization, the fans, city of St. Louis, and baseball.  We will do whatever we can to ensure he is wearing the Cardinal uniform when his career closes.”  Instead, they speak of him in dollars and sense with a we-they attitude.  If he departs, it may be as much because of their arrogance as the money.

13 years ago

Based on historical comparisons, it is almost impossible for Albert to remain as good going forward, and to not be overpaid even by SL. He will have to choose between money and home like everyone else. More complicated than it sounds of course, and I refuse to be surprised regardless of the outcome.