Pujols’ deadline passes without a deal
Unable to reach agreement on a contract extension with the St. Louis Cardinals, Albert Pujols(notes) intends to play the upcoming season without a contract for 2012 and beyond, increasing the likelihood he will be a free agent next winter.
Wednesday’s noon ET deadline – imposed by Pujols – passed without a final flurry of negotiations; the sides were never close to an agreement. Pujols is believed to be seeking a contract that would pay him at least as much as $275 million over 10 seasons. A recent offer by the Cardinals fell short of Pujols’ demands in both term and value.
Other than Pujols’ preference to separate contract talks from the season, there is nothing that says the Cardinals could not approach their star first baseman with a refreshed offer this summer. They also have the entire month of October (until five days after the World Series) to negotiate exclusively with Pujols and, of course, would be free to bid on him in free agency.
In a statement released just after noon Wednesday, chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. said, “While we are disappointed that we did not reach an agreement, we remain hopeful that Albert will be finishing his career in St. Louis. … We respect Albert’s decision to focus entirely on preparing for the 2011 season. We will honor his wishes and not discuss this matter until the completion of the season.”
A three-time National League MVP and the identity of the Cardinals, Pujols, who turned 31 last month, is playing out a contract he signed seven years ago and this season will pay him $16 million. The club and Pujols’ agent – Dan Lozano – have spoken sporadically over the past year, to no avail. The Cardinals, among the healthiest of baseball’s 30 teams, seem reluctant to unbalance a payroll that in 2011 is expected to reach $100 million for the first time in club history. And Pujols, regarded by many as the best player in the game, expects to be paid like it.
The prospect of Pujols leaving the Cardinals has brought debate among fans and media in St. Louis, the line drawn between those who expect the organization to pony up for its certain Hall of Famer and those who fear the organization will be crippled by the massive contract.
Pujols has notified the club that, as a player with full no-trade protection, he will reject any attempt to move him during the season, further complicating the Cardinals’ position.
In free agency, Pujols could expect to draw strong interest from at least a half-dozen teams, first among them the Chicago Cubs, who share the National League Central division and a bitter rivalry with the Cardinals. Though the wealthiest of organizations – the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox – would seem to be set at first base for years, both clubs will need a designated hitter. The Texas Rangers, Washington Nationals, two Los Angeles clubs, even the New York Mets, among others, also could compete with the Cardinals for Pujols in free agency.