Sports business expert Pat Rishe, an associate professor of econmics at Webster University in St. Louis and a contributing sports business writer to Forbes magazine predicts that the Cardinals will ultimately sign Albert Pujols. And, contrary to what some national pundits think, that the club has the resources to make it happen.
I don't know if the Cardinals would be the highest bidder in a bidding war," Rishe said Friday. "But I do believe that they can make him the sort of offer that would make it very hard for him to leave."
Rishe said the Redbirds are hamstrung by $20 million in annual debt service on the new Busch Stadium that some other clubs with publicly funded ballparks don't have to worry about. But the team knew that Pujols' free agency was pending as the roster was built for the last several seasons.
"In my opinion, the Cardinals are willing to pay $25-30 million a year for a limited time period," Rishe said. But he added the team could compensate Pujols in other ways to push up the total value. "I think that they are willing and able to pay him in the mid to high 20s as an average value. Albert's side would like to see that for the cache of saying he is the highest contract in major league history. But there are other ways to sweeten the pot. Could you see him getting 5 percent interest in the team? could you see them giving him a percentage of the merchandising? I think I could."
While he names the Cubs and Angels as top potential suitors, Rishe said he believes that Pujols doesn't want to break the bank. But he wants to be paid amongst the top players in the game.
"Cliff Lee chose happiness over the money," Rishe said of the free agent pitcher who signed with the Phillies this off-season. "I think if another team is going to bid $2-3 million more a year for Albert's services that it might not be enough to convince him to leave. If he turned down more money to stay in St. Louis, in a media relations play, that would make him look even more like a hero. And I think that is something that appeals to him."
Ultimately, Rishe believes that Pujols will sign a contract with the Cardinals that pays him $25-28 million a year with some money deferred. He thinks, if the Cardinals upped the annual average value, that Pujols might be willing to accept a deal for as short as six years. Some in the national media have suggested Pujols would take no less than 10 years.
"I think the Cardinals have been good to Albert and that he has been good to them," Rishe said. "I like the rhetoric that i am hearing on both sides. Everything has been very positive. I have full confidence that something will get done."