This is no time for Cardinals fans to panic, but it's certainly not looking good. According to Jon Heyman of Sports Illustrated, the Cardinals and Pujols are miles apart in terms of their contract expectations.
While neither side is talking publicly, early word is that Pujols has used A-Rod's contract, the richest in baseball and one that guarantees him least $275 million over 10 years (and could be worth as much as $305 million if he hits all his landmark home-run numbers), as the only comp. That comes as no surprise as Pujols is widely considered the best player in the game.
The Cardinals, meanwhile, are said to have initially suggested a contract that would guarantee Pujols at least a bit less than $200 million. The exact particulars of their offer or offers aren't known, but there is a belief around the game that the Cardinals are hoping to keep the deal to seven years or less. In an interview with SI.com at the winter meetings, Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt strongly suggested he had no intention of making a 10-year offer and opined that the Yankees had to "regret'' such a deal.Three years and roughly $100M is a huge difference, and it's one that might be too difficult for the two parties to overcome. Pujols and his agent Dan Lozano reiterated the other day that they have no intention of negotiating once Spring Training starts on February 19th. This gives the Cardinals exactly 34 days to get a deal done, or risk losing their franchise player to free agency.
I understand both parties in this situation. On one hand, Pujols is the best player in the game. Through ten seasons, he's done things that few, if any, players have done in their career. His track record speaks for itself. Based on Dave Cameron's projections, Pujols looks to be worth 42.5 fWAR between 2012-2020, which would make him worth $267M during that time if we assume a steady 5% salary inflation rate. If his projections are correct (and I believe they are), Pujols will definitely be worthy of an A-Rod type contract. For a player of Pujols' caliber, the Cardinals should be willing to make considerable salary concessions in order to keep him in the fold.
On the other hand, ten years is a very long time. An awful lot can happen during that time, especially when the player in question is on the wrong side of 30. For instance, Pujols could unexpectedly decline at a rapid rate. Or he could end up with a catastrophic injury that permanently affects his performance. There's a lot of risk involved in signing a player to a contract of that magnitude. When the Yankees signed A-Rod to his most recent deal after the 2007 season, most felt A-Rod was a freak of nature. At 33, he was showing no signs of decline. Then, the steroid bombshell it. Then, he suffered a serious injury to his hip, which has limited him defensively at third base. Three years later, A-Rod is a much different player, and the Yankees reportedly regret making such a large commitment to the controversial third baseman. Understandably, Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt has similar concerns, and rightly so.
While it looks pretty grim for the Cardinals right now, I have to imagine something will be worked out. It might not get done before Spring Training starts, but something will be worked out during the 2011-2012 offseason at the latest. Pujols is hugely important to the organization, and I don't see the Cardinals allowing him to walk away. One thing is for sure, though. If the two sides are going to come to an agreement, both parties will need to make some concessions along the way.
Over the next week or so, I'm going to put together an article detailing Pujols' potential destinations if he's allowed to hit the free agent market after the season. Stay tuned!