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Has Pujols’ negotiating stance changed?

St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols now says he wants to get a new contract done before the 2011 season begins.

Albert Pujols' 400th home run, 08/26/10 (Getty Images/Greg Fiume)Having been in Arizona watching prospects for the last week meant I did not remain current on all the Twittery regarding the St. Louis Cardinals. In catching up on Monday morning, a late-week exchange between MLB Cardinals beat writer Matthew Leach and several other media members regarding Albert Pujols’ public remarks caught my eye.

The flashpoint was Pujols’ Dominican Republic interview last Thursday.

There was at least one time in the past when Pujols’ translated remarks from a similar interview were disputed by the player and/or his representatives. That was in 2006 when Pujols was widely quoted as saying the league’s Most Valuable Player should come from a playoff team, remarks considered to have been critical of the Phillies’ Ryan Howard.

As such, Leach checked with the Pujols camp about the new comments from Thursday and gained assurance that the first baseman’s words were accurate.

Among Pujols’ comments:

“I hope that before the season begins I get an extension.”

Pujols said he wants to spend the rest of his career with the Cardinals, “but that is something that I cannot control.”

Regarding the timeline, Leach stated at least twice that he considers this “a change from his (Pujols’) tone last winter, which essentially was, ‘When and if it happens, that’s cool.’”

Though I would call it more a refinement in tactic rather than a change in tone, Leach makes a good point.

Prior to this past week, Pujols had granted a number of interviews over time during which he consistently expressed a desire to be a career-long Cardinal. At least once, during January’s Winter Warm-Up, Pujols even mentioned the possibility of a “discount,” but specific time frames had been avoided – with one exception.

Once the 2009-10 off-season ended and spring training began, Pujols shut off all contract discussion, internally and especially externally. This approach makes a lot of sense, especially for a player whose intensity and focus on the game is well-documented.

Fast forwarding to today, the “discount” concept could be history and Pujols’ recent words were intended to put pressure on the Cardinals to come forward with a specific offer. Even if so, the end result would be good for everyone.

The sooner the specifics can be put on the table and a deal hammered out between the player and the organization, the better. And if the two sides can’t see eye-to-eye, they have more time to prepare for the life after, whatever that might entail.

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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