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Brian Walton's news and commentary on the St. Louis Cardinals (TM) and their minor league system

Time to act on the Holliday-Pujols contract FUD

Why the conditions may be right for the St. Louis Cardinals to move to lock up Albert Pujols.

    FUD.

    Ever hear the term? Fear. Uncertainty. Doubt.

    Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday (Getty Images)St. Louis Cardinals fans have lived under a haze of FUD almost from the moment general manager John Mozeliak announced the acquisition of outfielder Matt Holliday on July 24 without having agreement on a contract extension for the then-free agent to be. It required almost six long months to get a deal done, which was finally announced on Tuesday.

    Instead of celebrating the huge signing, one which makes the Cardinals the clear National League Central Division frontrunner and top challenger to the League Champion Phillies, many in the mainstream media couldn’t wait even 24 hours to start shoveling more FUD.

    Though far from alone, one example is Yahoo’s Jeff Passan, who kicked off our unwanted sentence of another seven years of terrible Holliday-Holiday puns with his article entitled, “Cardinals’ short-lived Holliday celebration”. The side dish is a table with the pun-ishing heading “Card sharks”.

    I can summarize the entire article and the reactions of many others with this single-sentence excerpt:

    “If Matt Holliday costs $120 million, what on earth does that make Albert Pujols worth?”

    Here’s the deal.

    Even if Holliday had never been born on January 15, 1980, one day before Pujols, Albert would still be recognized as the best player in the game today. Holliday’s contract did nothing, zero, nada, zilch to increase Pujols’ value. It was already far more than either $120 million or $17 million annually.

    FUD alert!

    While Holliday scored a nice contract, do you have any idea how many other Major League Players currently make more than his $17 million per year? How many others have a deal greater than $120 million in total?

    Give up? The answer is 14 and 11, respectively.

    Might some of their deals be a better gauge of the top end of baseball’s pay scale than Holliday’s?

    I know. That would blow the whole theme of part two of the FUD story – where the poor bumbling Cardinals awaken one day from their deep slumber only to see “Pujols standing next to Hal Steinbrenner or John Henry or Arte Moreno, flashing his teeth and holding up a new jersey,” as Passan suggests.

    The author may be a former understudy of a player agent, as he spins a yarn suggesting Pujols’ new salary might somehow be tied to the on-paper increase of the value of his franchise or club revenue growth.

    Let’s get real. The Cardinals wouldn’t have anted up for Holliday if they didn’t believe they could sign Pujols. The former is a very good player, but the latter is the face of the franchise. This ownership group knows what they are doing.

    So, what might it take?

    Realistically, putting aside Alex Rodriguez’ re-negotiation of his Texas Rangers contract which pays him $27.5 million per year, his Yankees teammate Mark Teixeira and Dodger Manny Ramirez are the highest-paid position players in terms of annual salary at $22.5 million each.

    Given the downturn in the economy, should it take more than $25-$28 million per? That would be between $8 and $11 million per year more than Holliday. If Pujols wants seven or eight years like Holliday, give it to him. $175-$224 million is a wide enough bandwidth to work within. Even at $175M, only A-Rod ($275M), Derek Jeter ($189M) and Teixeira ($180M) have bigger deals.

    In my opinion, the time for the Cardinals to push ahead with a substantive offer to Pujols is now. In the Thursday Post-Dispatch, Mozeliak was asked about this, but offered a reply that was far too passive for my tastes.

    “If he (Pujols) and his representatives want to engage, we’re ready,” Mozeliak said.

    Some are concerned with the idea that Pujols might feel disrespected by Holliday making more than him over the next two seasons, the remaining term on his current seven-year, $100 million contract. A way to quickly address that potential concern is to approach Pujols now about re-negotiating the next two years as part of his extension. Even if he turns the initiative down, he knows the team put forth the effort.

    With the signing of Holliday, the Cardinals have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt their commitment to spend. Being as sensitive as he is, Pujols would not want to be painted as the bad guy by turning away a mega-deal from the club, especially after having made such a point in the past about wanting to see ownership commit to fielding a competitive team around him.

    Ownership has done their part. Now it is Pujols’ turn.

    Yet, forcing Pujols’ next step is not without risk. If he makes it clear that he wants a record-breaking, unprecedented, beat-A-Rod contract, his greed would be exposed. It might also punch his ticket out of town, an unthinkable idea to many.

    While I don’t expect this to happen, if for some reason the Cardinals receive signals that crush their optimism over keeping Pujols, by acting now, they would still have time to consider how best to deal him. Waiting means the potential of receiving only a measly pair of future draft picks in return for the game’s best player if he reaches free agency.

    At the end of the 2010 season, Pujols will receive full no-trade protection as he completes his tenth year as a major leaguer, the last five years with the same team. Realistically, that leaves the 2010 trade deadline as the best trade-no-trade target decision date.

    By getting the ball rolling now, the Cardinals will put the pressure on Pujols to declare his hand. Even if Pujols really isn’t ready, both sides will have a much better idea where they stand.

    Could they wait? Of course, they could. Pujols still has two years remaining on his current contract. Yet given Albert’s consistent success, how would his asking price go down in the future?

    (I will pick up the remainder of the story here in an upcoming post.)

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