As most Americans know, Groundhog Day is a long-standing national tradition which began back in the 18th Century with its roots in ancient Europe. If upon emerging from his burrow on February 2, the groundhog sees its shadow, six more weeks of winter will follow.
In the case of Albert Pujols, the St. Louis Cardinals first baseman has also emerged from a winter that for the most part kept him out of the spotlight. That has changed with his impending arrival in spring training camp and the expiration of his self-imposed negotiating window.
It seems that when Pujols saw his shadow this month, the conclusion to be drawn is that ten months of hard winter is ahead.
That is the minimum time I estimate it will take for the free agent to be to test the market and ultimately make his decision where to play baseball starting in 2012.
Without rehashing current events in detail, suffice to say that the player and his team appear to be far enough apart in their contract negotiations that a deal will not be completed any time soon. An open question is how chilly the relationship between the two parties may become over the upcoming months.
Pujols has been clear that he does not want to discuss contractual matters while focusing on playing baseball. Of all the related story lines, this is the one I most suspect will be followed. I predict the Cardinals will respect Pujols’ wishes accordingly.
Following that scenario, the next window and last exclusive period for the Cardinals to talk money would be between the end of their season and five days following the conclusion of the World Series. While the two sides could come to an agreement then, I think it is highly unlikely. Having gone that far, Pujols would be expected take the final step to determine what he is truly worth.
At that point, he would hit the open market.
Pujols has said in the past he does not fear free agency and why should he? The Cardinals seem prepared to wait and react to what Pujols can find elsewhere.
The free agent mating process could easily take several months and will likely tie up the high end of MLB’s free agent market this coming off-season. Milwaukee’s Prince Fielder may have to wait until Pujols’ fate is decided but should benefit from being the consolation prize.
Based on a typical winter, it will likely stretch until December and perhaps into January for the Pujols saga to play out. This year’s premier free agent, Cliff Lee, agreed to terms with Philadelphia on December 14. The winter prior, Matt Holliday did not decide to return to the Cardinals until January 5.
The bottom line is that it appears Pujols’ considerable shadow will cover most if not all of the entire remaining 2011 calendar year. How the player himself and his team react throughout the season has become the next major unknown.
In parallel to the Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day, the same questions will be asked every day for months, so we may as well get used to it.