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February 16 Pujols-Cardinals media scenarios

How might the story unfold if the St. Louis Cardinals and Albert Pujols are unable to come to contract terms by the reported deadline of February 16?

As the baseball world is far too aware, St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols does not plan to discuss his contract once he reports to spring training. Some media sources have said Pujols’ camp has assigned February 16 as that deadline date.

Looking ahead a few days, what might happen on the 16th?

Certainly, the two sides could announce a new contract. That is pretty cut and dried.

If there is no deal, however, a number of possible scenarios might ensue.

1) Both sides could restrict their communications regarding the status of the negotiations to prepared statements only.

a) They could disclose the details on money and years discussed privately that everyone wants to hear, or much more likely,

b) They would not provide specifics other than the obvious that the deal is not done.

Reporters (and the fans) would not be satisfied with that and would continue to probe for information. Either the sides would hold to that stance or

This agreement might erode if one side discloses details (either directly or indirectly) designed to try to take the high road. This would drive the other side into sharing their version of the events, likely conflicting in at least some aspects. The result would be a more contentious public posture to carry into the season.

2) Both sides could take media questions either separately or jointly in a scheduled press conference.

a) Either Pujols would be kept out of it, with his agent representing him or

b) Pujols would be involved directly.

3) Both sides could make a joint decision about further communications.

a) They could agree to cease discussions until after the season (as expected) or

b) They could decide to continue discussions, disregarding the deadline or

c) They could say they won’t be talking, but continue to privately do so anyway.

No matter what, the heat is about to be turned up. During the winter months, the principals have generally been unavailable and out of the spotlight. With Pujols reporting to camp, that will change.

Specifically, even if the 2a path is followed, Pujols will still personally be pressed for information, whether in the clubhouse or on the practice fields, an action that will almost assuredly irritate him.

Once Pujols is in uniform, he will not be protected by his handlers. I do imagine team officials will try to shield him, but some will continue to ask the questions until they get something of substance to report.

Here is my 2a-related prediction based on my direct experience. Pujols will say he is not talking about it. That might hold until about the third time he is asked, at which point he will angrily explain in considerable detail why he isn’t talking about it.

Another possibility is the 2b path – that the Cardinals hold a Mark McGwire-like clear-the-air show on day one of camp to get it out of the way, supposedly once and for all. This seems like the most straightforward way to go, but putting Pujols directly on the “witness stand” has its risks, too.

Trying to influence public perception without it being obvious they are attempting to do so could be a crucial maneuver for both parties. Fans will invariably take sides, with some accusing Pujols of being insincere and greedy, others calling ownership inept and/or cheap, while others, disgusted by the entire process, will blame both. The ones who have already made up their minds will find cause to dig their trenches even deeper.

No matter what, Pujols’ teammates and manager will be queried about the situation for a day or two, but like the McGwire story last spring, once it is clear there is nothing more to say, the local media will generally move on.

The national media and those who cover Cardinals opponents will be a much different animal, however. If unresolved, the contract and free agency questions will be asked and re-asked in each new road city all year long.

Photoshoppers in every MLB city will be cutting and pasting Pujols’ smiling face into the local threads. It seems inevitable. After all, each of them could be a prospective future home of the franchise first baseman.

What do you think will happen on February 16?

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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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