For weeks now Cardinal fans have endured “updates” of the doom and gloom variety on the Albert Pujols contract situation. The Cardinals, for their part, let it be known that they were told the deadline for a contract to be signed this offseason is the second Pujols steps on the Spring Training practice fields in Jupiter, Fla. Pujols has been saying the same for some time now. And as the deadline approaches, reporters from all over the country see it fit to remind baseball fans that Pujols still does not have a new deal. But I have a different take on this saga.
There is no reason to panic. And I even have reasons why.
The Cardinals and the Pujols camp have both been steadfast in maintaining silence to the media while this plays out. So where are these writers and broadcasters getting their information? Well, in short, nowhere. I’m not saying the info is made up, but what are we hearing, really? “Sources” or “People familiar with the negotiations” exist, I’m sure. But are they Pujols, his agent Dan Lozano, GM John Mozeliak, or one of the DeWitts? No, they are not. So what we have heard is little more than speculation. Speculation does not equal news; speculation equals those in the know sharing what they think would, could, or should happen based on what they are told by people who may or may not know what they are talking about.
One of the big items brought out recently was that the Cards had not made a formal offer to Pujols yet. You might think “What the heck are they waiting for?!?!” While I can’t answer that question, let me say this: if it is true the Cardinals have not made a formal offer that could be a good thing. At least Pujols has not turned down an offer from the Cards, right?
And I am not buying the whole “waiting until the last minute” hysteria, either. Do people honestly think DeWitt and Mozeliak are sitting around their offices tossing a stress ball back and forth saying “When do you think we ought to start writing up that Pujols contract?” Get real. Everyone has known this was coming. The Cardinals know exactly what they are going to offer Pujols. They have known for a while, I’m sure. A few i’s probably need to be dotted and a t or two may need to be crossed, but this offer is almost certainly ready to go. Bill DeWitt Jr. is a very shrewd businessman, and John Mozeliak has many years working big, complicated deals as an assistant and general manager. People like this do not procrastinate and they do not miss the boat. What if the team sends the contract offer today, or tomorrow? What if it is signed by Tuesday and this all goes away? Will the panic really have been worth it?
The money and the years certainly do need to be carefully considered. When it was reported that Pujols was asking for $300 million over 10 years, people freaked. “He won’t be worth $30 million per year in his 40s!” they cried. I tend to agree. No player can possibly live up to that salary at that age. And if Pujols and his agent believe the Cardinals are the only team that will have reservations about paying him that much at that age, I think they will end up disappointed should he decide to explore free agency. If it is crazy for the Cards to pay him that much at that age, why would it be OK for another team to do it? Pujols is on the record saying he wants to finish his career as a Cardinal and he is not only about money. So would he really sign somewhere else for an extra year or a couple million more per?
One other thing I will agree with is the superficiality of this deadline. It could be a bluff, or it could be meant to pressure the team to make an offer. But if Mozeliak calls Lozano in May, is the agent really not going to answer the phone? Or will he answer and say, “I understand you’re offering my client a quarter of a billion dollars, but we’re just not going to accept any proposals during the season!” Come on. And the Cards do still have an exclusive negotiating window up until five days after the World Series, should it go that far.
I fully admit I wish this whole thing was already done. I do want the Cardinals to sign Pujols. I want to watch him finish his career wearing the birds on the bat. And I think they can come to an agreement that satisfies both Pujols’ desires and the team’s budgetary expectations in order to field a competitive team.
But the sky is not falling. Not yet, anyway.