(Cbssports.com/Evan Brunell) — Spring training is one-and-a-half weeks away and many fans, teams and players are eagerly awaiting the day for pitchers and catchers to report.
However, in St. Louis, the reporting date is one of looming danger, not optimism. Star first baseman Albert Pujols has set a deadline for the beginning of spring training and hasn’t been afraid to send statements to the team on the seriousness of the deadline.
When GM John Mozeliak confirmed the deadline in mid-January, Pujols questioned the team’s professionalism the day after on Jan. 16 that has effectively shut the Cardinals up. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Joe Strauss writes that Pujols is determined to keep the talks strictly internal. He watched as New York almost imploded during negotiations with Derek Jeter and only entrenched him more in keeping all talks private.
But Pujols wasn’t done making statements. When chairman Bill DeWitt, Jr. responded to Pujols’ public comments on the 16th, he waved away concerns that the current deadline of the beginning of spring training could be concrete
Except he may have erred. Pujols’ camp suddenly went quiet for two weeks and has only restarted negotiations again recently. Talk about delivering your message. It may be heavy-handed of Pujols to set a firm deadline of the start of spring training and go on a two-week strike to drive the point home, but he and agent Dan Lozano are reportedly frustrated with the Cardinals not negotiating last spring training or earlier in the offseason
Then again, it’s not as if it’s all that difficult to negotiate with someone like Pujols. Sure, the years and money might differ by years and tens of millions, but the over-arching package it will take to retain Pujols certainly has to be known at this point. So what’s the problem?
It does appear that both sides are fairly entrenched in their respective opinions on what a new deal should offer. Given St. Louis has a ton of money tied up in its roster already, the Cardinals can’t offer the moon to Pujols. And they may not want to, with Mozeliak saying that any contract with Pujols will use projection of future performance as its baseline, not other players’ extensions, such as Ryan Howard’s five-year, $125 million extension with Philadelphia. DeWitt followed up at the winter meetings that there was only so much the Cardinals could offer and they would refuse to kowtow to the market for contracts that would be blown apart with the Jayson Werth deal.
That’s all well and good, but St. Louis made its own bed last season by bringing in Matt Holliday for seven years and $120 million. It would be ludicrous to imagine the Cardinals justifying paying Pujols only marginally above that deal.
Through all this, Pujols has been disappointed at the process of negotiations, a source with knowledge of the situation has reported. Talks have yet to really kick in — and again, spring training is just around the corner.
Could the Cardinals really lose Albert Pujols? Now more than ever, that’s looking like it could happen. And that provides the perfect opening to…
WHAT TEAM COULD SIGN PUJOLS?
For the purposes of this discussion, we are ruling out any trades. First of all, word is that Pujols will exercise his no-trade clause, meaning he will play the entire season for St. Louis, no matter what. So what teams could make a run at Pujols to sign with the team next offseason?
St. Louis: Well, obviously. Despite all the doom and gloom painted above, the two sides are still closely entwined to each other and it’s hard to imagine St. Louis not doing everything it can to keep Pujols.
Los Angeles: Both teams in L.A. could use Pujols. The Dodgers have financial troubles, but things can always change there and the team only has $32.2 million in guaranteed contracts next season. That’s a whole lot of financial room to maneuver. The Angels, meanwhile, can’t be discounted, although based on their recent history, will offer King Albert a major-league deal for the minimum and then act surprised when he signs elsewhere.
Toronto: A bit of a weird name to bring up, but the Jays are on record as saying they can handle a high payroll and the market is there to do just that — they just need fans to come and the club to start winning. Well, in a difficult AL East last season, the Jays won 85 games. They then executed some brilliant moves this offseason and will challenge to finish around 85 wins again — but will have their young players one year older and closer to domination. It might be hard for Pujols to look past the talent on the team if the dollars are there.
Boston or New York: You can’t rule out either AL superpower. The Red Sox have Adrian Gonzalez, but he has yet to sign a long-term deal, plus David Ortiz will become a free agent. You never know. That goes double for the Yankees, who could clear out DH by letting Jorge Posada walk and trading Jesus Montero. One team not likely to be a factor: the Mets. It’s hard to imagine GM Sandy Alderson going for that kind of financial commitment so soon after trying to wade the team out of the current mess. Add in an ownership situation in flux, and it’s not an ideal destination for Pujols.
Chicago Cubs: Yep, you read that right. The Cubs could very well be a player, with no long-term first baseman under the fold. Besides, can you imagine the uproar if Pujols bolted to the Cubs?
— Evan Brunell