Thoughts about why the Albert Pujols contract negotiations with the St. Louis Cardinals appear to be moving so slowly.
Having spent this past weekend at the St. Louis Cardinals Winter Warm-Up and specifically listening to both Bill DeWitts, John Mozeliak, Albert Pujols and even his agent’s representative, I tried to take it all in.
Most readers are familiar with the basics of Pujols’ contract negotiations with the club, so I am not going to recap in great detail what has transpired to date. The two sides agreed not to negotiate through the media, reaffirmed it, then seemed to do precisely that.
Mozeliak was first when he explained to us on Saturday that the Pujols’ camp had set a start of spring training deadline for contract discussions. The statement surprised me as Mo did not offer it in reply to a direct question from one of us. He volunteered it as if he wanted to ensure the message was transmitted.
The next day, Pujols spoke. He was accompanied by a representative of his agent who tried to set the ground rules as to what could be asked and what could not. That went over like a lead balloon, but was at least moderately effective for Pujols personally in a “good cop, bad cop” sort of manner.
The player clearly and firmly delivered his between the lines message. He did not care for Mozeliak’s disclosure of the negotiating deadline.
Let’s stop for a minute and make sure that we understand that this little battle is not about money or years. It is about trying to seize the upper hand in the court of public opinion. It is unfortunate, but an expected part of negotiating.
Here is my personal take as to what may be happening.
I think the two sides lack trust in each other. Despite all the words about lifelong Cardinal-dom and the like, this is a business decision in which the stakes are huge.
To help put it into perspective, the upcoming financial commitment to Pujols is likely to exceed the original purchase cost of the franchise and could be as much as half the club’s current value. So, caution is understandable.
The most logical interpretation of the following sentence, spoken by team president Bill DeWitt III on Monday and reported exclusively at The Cardinal Nation, is that the Cardinals have yet to make a substantive bid for their superstar.
“We’re going to put an offer out there that will be the biggest contract in Cardinal history,” DeWitt said.
“Going to” and “will be” – the consistent choice of future tense says a lot.
The Pujols camp is currently taking a beating in some quarters for having created what appears to some to be an artificial deadline. It is understandable to me, especially given the individual, why Pujols does not want to talk contract during the season. My observation is that he is single-mindedly focused on his own game preparation each day.
Even if adhered to, this wouldn’t be the final deadline. The Cardinals hold exclusive negotiating rights until five days following the completion of the 2011 World Series. At that point, if a deal is not done, Pujols would hit the open market.
The key unanswered questions are whether Pujols really wants to test free agency despite his insistence of a preference to remain a Cardinal and whether the club will make an offer big enough to stop him. A team-record deal alone would likely not be enough.
Ideally, by now, the Pujols camp would have disclosed to the Cardinals what it would take in dollars and years to get a contract done. We don’t know if matters are that clear, however.
The DeWitt comment would seem to indicate that the club is taking their time to tender their big offer. The question is ‘Why?’
I think it could be that lack of trust and perhaps lack of confidence, as well.
Perhaps the Cardinals are unsure if Pujols will accept what they are prepared to offer. Maybe they either don’t know what the first baseman wants or aren’t (yet) willing to meet it if they do know.
Any bid made by the Cardinals that falls short of what Pujols would accept, the ceiling, becomes the new floor. To close the gap, either the ceiling must be lowered or the floor must rise. In other words, any non-closing offer made now will be expected to be increased in the future.
The Cardinals may also fear is that any bid they make would become the meets-minimum in discussions with other clubs that could occur at the point Pujols would become a free agent after the season.
Yet if the Cardinals don’t step up soon with a deal that is palatable to Pujols, their chances of losing him or at least seeing his price driven even higher this fall increases substantially.
Deadline or not, it is becoming time for the Cardinals to open the bidding in this very high-stakes game over the services of a major player in another game. Further, that bid has to be enough to capture Pujols’ fancy and ideally, quickly and painlessly secure his signature on the bottom line.