As we all understand, not too long ago Albert Pujols set a Spring Training deadline for contract negotiations with the Cardinals. With a contract, Pujols would remain in St. Louis for just about the rest of his career. Without a contract, Pujols would prepare to enter free agency after the season.
Two weeks ago, ESPN's Jayson Stark spoke with a number of baseball officials, and the consensus opinion at the time was that Pujols would re-sign. But now Spring Training is sneaking up quickly, and according to Buster Olney, negotiations aren't going so hot:
The contract talks between the Cardinals and the game's best player are not moving at all, with 12 days remaining before his deadline -- the day he is scheduled to arrive at the St. Louis training camp.
Now, we have to understand one thing: from the beginning, Pujols and the Cardinals said that they would hold their talks in private, and that little would get leaked to the media. So it is entirely possible that talks are moving along nicely, and that reporters are simply being kept in the dark. Given what we know about the difficulty of conducting stealth negotiations in this day and age, though, there's reason to buy into what Olney - and others - have said. And there's reason to believe that re-signing Pujols may not be the virtual slam dunk that a lot of people thought it would be.
Even without any insight or inside knowledge, we can figure that Pujols is chasing a very long contract for a very large sum of money. The figure that's been thrown around previously is $240 million over eight years. And with Pujols having turned 31 a few weeks ago, one could understand why the Cardinals might hesitate. Alex Rodriguez signed a ten-year contract with the Yankees at the age of 32, and already he's showing signs of significant decline. One can not bet on Pujols remaining a significant contributor through the next decade; rather, one could bet very strongly against it.
So, for St. Louis, it becomes a matter of figuring out the maximum commitment they're willing to make without taking on too much risk. And if Pujols wants more than that, then, well, that would explain why nothing's yet gotten done. When you're talking about re-signing the best baseball player in the world, finding a point at which both sides are comfortable can be incredibly difficult, if not impossible.
The Cardinals won't reach Spring Training without making a major push. Whatever's going on behind closed doors is going to intensify in the coming two weeks. Stay tuned. No matter what ends up happening, it's going to change the game.