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Brian Walton's news and commentary on the St. Louis Cardinals (TM) and their minor league system

Could Pujols’ situation end up like Jeter’s?

At first blush, there seem few similarities between St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols and New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter.

One is a Dominican-born slugger with three Most Valuable Player Awards still in his prime playing years while the other is a US-raised owner of five World Series rings who is approaching the conclusion of a storied career.

There are several common threads, however. They are the acknowledged current on-field leaders of the two most storied franchises in the history of major league baseball as measured by World Series championships, 27 for New York and 10 for St. Louis.

Each is among the most admired men in the game off the field as well. For example, both are past winners of MLB’s Roberto Clemente Award, recognized for commitment to community and helping others.

Another similarity is that each has recently experienced difficulty getting a new contract in place with his only home as a major leaguer.

Heading into the final year of his previous deal in 2010, Jeter announced upon reporting to camp last February that he would not discuss his contract situation until after the season. He also made it clear he had no intention of wearing any uniform other than Yankee pinstripes. The club confirmed their standing policy of no in-season negotiations, as well.

After the season, the 36-year-old Jeter and the Yankees began a negotiation process that each said they wanted to keep private. Instead, it soon spilled into the papers and turned ugly. At one point, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman publicly encouraged his shortstop to search for a better deal elsewhere.

As expected, when all was said and done, there was not a higher offer. Jeter ultimately settled on a three-year, $51 million deal to remain with New York, but the Yankees took a lot of heat for the approach taken with their long-time team captain and feelings were hurt.

“I’d be lying to you if I said I wasn’t angry about how some of this went,” Jeter said at a December press conference to announce his new contract.

Pujols’ current situation as of February 2011 looks much like Jeter’s did one year prior. Player and club are saying the right things about wanting to remain together until death do they part, but are deferring talks until the fall. That enables everyone to focus on the season at hand.

In hindsight, that approach didn’t work out as well as expected for the 2010 Yankees. While they made the playoffs, it was as a Wild Card. Some observers felt the club was unable to kick it into high gear when the post-season began. The defending World Champions lost to Texas in six games in the American League Championship Series.

Among those dissatisfied is Yankees co-chairman Hank Steinbrenner, son of the late “Boss” George Steinbrenner. On Monday, Hank said the following, as reported by ESPN.

“I think, maybe, they celebrated too much last year,” Steinbrenner said. “Some of the players, too busy building mansions and doing other things and not concentrating on winning. I have no problem saying that.”

The remark was a direct shot a Jeter, who was building a large multimillion-dollar home last year. Said to be almost 31,000 square feet, it is the largest residence in Tampa.

While the Yankees may have won the contract battle with Jeter, at what cost was it secured? Their cold war clearly continues on, long after the ink on the new contract has dried.

The Cardinals aren’t yet saying it the same way as the Yankees did with Jeter, but the one key outcome will be the same – Pujols testing his value via free agency.

No one knows exactly where the negotiations will head this fall. Unlike Jeter, Pujols is in the prime of his career and may be looking for a record haul. As such, there should be greater market interest, though the price may scare off some potential bidders.

This fall, St. Louis will likely be faced with a different problem than New York, having to decide whether or not to match a higher offer from another club. The Cardinals could force Pujols to choose between team loyalty and more cash elsewhere. That is the time when the words may start flying, even if a messy Pujols-Cardinals divorce is eventually averted.

Both sides should remain very careful. As the continuing Yankees-Jeter discord indicates, bad feelings can remain even after what appears to be a good outcome has been achieved.

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