If the Cardinals intend to re-sign Albert Pujols, they've certainly done nothing to show it so far.
Granted, the Redbirds like to keep their contract dealings behind closed doors. But it seems impossible to completely do so in these days of 24 hour news. And, with their exclusive negotiating window long gone, we haven't heard a peep about the Cardinals doing so much as calling Albert's agent to say hello.
The Cardinals have insisted that they want Pujols but that they can't afford to go much beyond their offer in the spring estimated at around $200 million over nine years. If that's true, the Birds need to be even more aggressive in their dealings than they would be if money was no object.
There is going to be a lot of pressure on Pujols from the Major League Baseball Players Association to set the market by signing the largest deal possible. Simply put, the more Albert commands, the higher the payday for the less talented free agents in the pool. So, if the Cardinals wait around for Pujols to ink their $200-million deal, all they have done is put other teams in a position to bid $225 million and steal away the best player of a generation.
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It's easy to say that Albert is his own man and he won't be pressured. But the potential of becoming a pariah amongst his peers would weigh heavily on Pujols.
The Cardinals need to be open and honest with Pujols -- and they need to be creative -- to try to get him to sign here before the Cubs or Rangers say what the heck and drop a 10-year, $275-million contract in the big guy's lap.
I understand that there are limits to what can be paid to a 32-year-old guy and still make sense. But I don't buy the Cardinals' cries of being poor. They're one of the best supported teams in baseball year in and year out. Plus, they made tens of millions of dollars on the recently completed playoff run, hosting nine games at Busch Stadium -- including four incredibly lucrative World Series games. At $200 for the average ticket, that's $9.4 million per game for a full house of $47,000. And that doesn't include the concessions, parking and souvenir sales.
I have to chuckle when people say that instead of paying Pujols $25 or $30 million a year they should spend the money on other players -- younger ones. Let's be perfectly clear: If the Cardinals don't sign Pujols, there is no $25 or $30 million.
I know it seems ironic. But the only players in Major League Baseball who justify their paychecks are the highest paid ones. Why? Pujols puts people in the seats and he moves merchandise. He brings in the money that he makes. I know it sounds mean, and I don't intend it to, but very few -- if any -- people buy tickets to see Kyle Lohse ($11.75 million a year), Jake Westbrook ($9 million) or Skip Schumaker ($2.75 million) play. They buy their tickets to see Albert -- as illustrated by the percentage of number five jerseys and tee shirts in the stands. Making Pujols a Cardinal for life will pay dividends for the club for decades.
The Cardinals are arrogant to think that if they let their marquee player walk that they aren't going to see a hit in ticket and merchandise sales.They might not in 2012 because of the World Series carryover. But they will as they fade back to the pack in 2013 and beyond.
My biggest worry when the Redbirds failed in attempts to re-sign Pujols in the springs of 2010 and 2011 was that they didn't really WANT to ink him to a longterm deal. They seemed to be dragging their feet, finally making a lowball offer that would be incredibly team friendly. And we all knew that wasn't going to happen.
I don't feel too sorry for Pujols who spent the last several years as the best player in baseball while he was being paid like he wasn't even in the top five first basemen. But don't lose sight of the fact that no one forced Pujols to sign a deal that paid him $116 million eight seasons ago. He chose to take financial security over potentially higher future earnings, so he needs to drop the martyr routine.
But the deal the Cardinals offered Pujols eight months ago isn't that far off from something that could work. If they make the deal eight years at $25 million or so, the total value isn't much different. It's just a higher annual average because it's a year shorter. And the difference per year could be worked out either in deferments or a signing bonus covered by the team's World Series bounty.
I just don't understand why the club isn't out front making things happen instead of hoping no other team comes forward with a better offer while they fiddle around... Unless they don't want to keep Pujols.