As the contract negotiating deadline passed on Wednesday, the St. Louis Cardinals, Albert Pujols’ agent Dan Lozano and the player himself each made prepared statements to the media.
What we know: The Cardinals stated one official offer was made in early January, while both sides continued to discuss and negotiate aspects of the deal. Lozano confirmed, stating the two sides exchanged proposals but could not come to agreement.
The concept of Pujols gaining an ownership share of the team was discussed at some point. That could certainly affect the standard years and dollars equation most use to assess a contract. The two sides agreed to not talk on the subject again until after the season. In the meantime, Pujols asked to left alone to concentrate on baseball.
What we don’t know: Pretty much everything else.
Beyond the few items above, which we can pretty assuredly call facts, the vast majority of the remainder about the situation which has been written and printed is based on some level of rumor or speculation.
As the negotiating parties scramble to take the high ground in the battle for public opinion and the media rush to appear to be the most wired with inside information, the inevitable leaks have sprung. I have chosen a few which I believe are representative.
Lozano selected a national concern, USAToday, to receive his statement on Wednesday morning and did the same with Pujols’ prepared remarks that evening. Nothing of this nature occurs by accident. My guess is that Team Pujols felt the the widest coverage would be achieved by going national.
SI.com’s Jon Heyman offers his view of the money while admitting the facts are not known.
“The Cardinals made what they consider a great effort, and indications are that they showed a willingness to go to seven or eight years, with the eight-year deal being for a lower average annual value, maybe $25 million for eight and $28 million for seven, or something along those lines (though those numbers couldn’t be absolutely confirmed).
“But word is, Pujols sought a 10-year deal for Alex Rodriguez money, or even above that, meaning at least $275 million. Sources tell SI.com Lozano also broached the subject of an ownership stake in the team, too.”
Another widely-known national writer is Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com, who pegs the Cardinals’ offer at a much lower amount than Heyman and many expected.
“The range of such an offer likely was between $19 million and $21 million per season. The exact length of the proposal is not known. But at the high end, it would have translated to eight years, $168 million, nine years, $189 million or 10 years, $210 million.”
Those attaching a high level of importance to Rosenthal’s report likely correspond with those taking Pujols’ side in the talks, while Heyman’s rumor would seem to more support ownership having negotiated in good faith.
Shifting to the local perspective, on Wednesday afternoon, St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz offered his view of what might be behind the news such as what Rosenthal reported, tweeting this:
“Interesting development, the leaking of supposedly “lowball” STL offer to Pujols to embarrass DeWitt-Mozeliak.”
Still, the columnist acknowledged public opinion could turn against the club if those rumors are proven to be correct.
“If leaks are accurate, Cards will be ripped,” Miklasz tweeted.
Mikasz went on to wonder aloud if the Cardinals erred in taking a “diplomatic tone” with the media and noted “lots of numbers are being tossed around in frantic online competition to be ‘first.’ So I don’t know what to believe, except for @JoeStrauss, who has been consistently accurate and on point.”
He is referring to his colleague, Post-Dispatch beat writer Joe Strauss, who had reported the following Wednesday morning.
“Before Tuesday, the Cardinals had refused to guarantee more than seven years to a player who will turn 32 before playing his first game under its term, but they may offer some sort of modification before the deadline.
“As of Tuesday night, however, the club continued to weigh whether to guarantee an eighth year or to raise the average annual value within a shorter structure.
“The Cardinals’ initial proposal failed to reach the $25 million average that the Philadelphia Phillies gave first baseman Ryan Howard last April in a five-year extension.
“The Cardinals subsequently submitted a formal bid that apparently fell short of a $30 million per season average and was rejected.”
By that evening, Strauss had a different view.
“Sources familiar with the process described the package’s total value at more than $200 million spread across a nine- or 10-year base. Once rejected, the deal took several other forms that involved shifting years and salary and apparently even an equity stake in the team.”
Strauss noted the Rosenthal annual values as well as another unnamed report without passing judgment as to their accuracy.
I share these examples to illustrate not only are the stories somewhat fluid, but there is considerable vagueness in what is being reported. That is the nature of the beast, as rumor reporting is always a challenge, no matter who is doing it. Yet those readers who attach strong positions to information written in the shifting sand may end up being disappointed.
In fact, when meeting with the media upon his arrival at Cardinals camp on Wednesday, Pujols said this about his contract numbers as told to B.J. Rains of FOX Sports Midwest:
“That’s so funny because me and my agent (Dan Lozano) talked every other day about you guys throwing numbers out there,” Pujols said. ” ‘Assuming the Cardinals offered this,’ and ‘Albert is asking for 10 years,’ and we just laughed about it. I’m pretty sure the Cardinals are, too, because you guys don’t have any clue. You guys are way off on the numbers . . . you are throwing out there.”
Of course, no one was expecting Pujols to verify or even clarify any of the rumors.
Finally, remember these are just numbers at a point in time. Pujols almost certainly will not agree to a new contract for at least nine more months and likely longer.
A lot can change in the interim. In fact, everything can and probably will.
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