The Cardinals-Pujols Negotiation Debate… Pujols Deserves To Play Hardball

Read the opposing argument from Loyal Homer.

The St. Louis Cardinals have fallen victim to one of the classic blunders – the most famous of which is “never get involved in a land war in Asia.” But only slightly less well-known is this – “Never go against a Dominican power hitting first baseman when free agency is on the line!”

The St. Louis front office has engaged in a potentially disastrous game of chicken with Albert Pujols, and by all outward appearances, the front office has lost. Pujols and the club have been deadlocked in a contract standoff for weeks, and it appears the window to get a new deal done before free agency (which has been graciously extended multiple times) has finally closed. This virtually assures that the Cardinals will have to pay an even greater price to reacquire the services of the man who has become the modern face of the franchise and is arguably the greatest player in baseball today – that is, if the team is even able sign him again, considering the sizeable number of suitors he is sure to attract.

Is Albert Pujols at fault for wanting to be compensated as one of the highest paid players in the game today? Certainly not! Some 24 other contracts have surpassed the 7 year $100 million mark that Pujols’ current deal set back in 2004. While it might be expected that a few of the recent splashy contracts of players like Alex Rodriguez ($275,000,000 for 10 years), Joe Mauer ($184,000,000 for eight years) and C. C. Sabathia ($161,000,000 for seven years) might have exceeded that of Pujols significantly older deal, it should come as an absolute shock that the contracts of Alfonso Soriano ($136,000,000 for eight years), Barry Zito ($126,000,000 for seven years), and Carlos Beltran ($119,000,000 for seven years) surpassed that of Pujols considering the players’ comparative values.

The Cardinals should be kissing Pujols’ cleats right now for the simple fact that he has played for the franchise at below market value for as long as he has. This is after all Albert freakin’ Pujols we are talking about, the man who has been an unstoppable force both at the plate and in the field since bursting onto the scene as the Rookie of the Year in 2001. The same man who is a three time MVP, a nine time All-Star, a six time Gold Glover, and six time Silver Slugger winner. This is the same man who is the active career leader in batting average, slugging percentage, and on-base percentage. He deserves whatever contract he wants. Considering he isn’t even the greatest compensated player on his own team – a distinction which Matt Holiday holds with his seven year $120M dollar deal – it seems as if Pujols has every right to demand more money.

While critics of Pujols will point to his desire for a 10-year deal worth around $300M as unreasonable, it is honestly just fair market value. Alex Rodriguez is probably the closest player to Pujols in terms of caliber of talent, and the deal Pujols is requesting is only $25M more than what A-Rod got just three years ago. Admittedly Alex Rodriguez’s numbers have dropped as of late, making a similar deal look like a bad investment for the Cards. But it must be considered within the greater context of the economics of the league.

Albert Pujols would be the most coveted free agent of this off-season, if not of all time. Nearly every team in the league would attempt to acquire his services. There is a common misconception that Pujols may not demand A-Rod type money in free agency because most of the clubs with deep pockets – namely the Yankees, Red Sox, and Phillies – already have serviceable options locked up at first base, but this theory has some serious holes. It would be foolish to count the Red Sox and Yankees out of any free agent bidding war, as an American League team can always find ways to work a bat, especially one of Pujols caliber, into the lineup. Add to that the fact that Adrian Gonzalez only has a one year deal in place in Boston, as well as the fact that the Yankees could have a spare $90M if C.C. Sabathia opts out and walks after this season, and suddenly these two unmotivated teams have a reason to give Pujols a good look. Even if its not Boston and New York that offer to shell out the big bucks for him, some team will. Teams like the Cubs, Giants, Dodgers, and Angels all seem to have the bankroll and the desire to ink a game-changing player like Pujols. Unfortunately for Cardinals fans, baseball is a sport without a salary cap. A team’s unwillingness to meet his demands may very well mean that the franchise must sit idly by while the single greatest asset in team history leaves with absolutely nothing to show for it.

So how did it all come to this? Who is to blame?

This worst-case scenario nightmare that the Cardinals are now in was COMPLETELY avoidable. The team had the resources and means to sign the slugger, even given his self imposed pre-Spring Training deadlines, but the organization chose not to. That blame sits squarely on the shoulders of the St. Louis front office staff.

It should be remembered we are not talking about resigning just any old player, but rather the preeminent player of this era – Albert Pujols. Can you really put a price on that? Apparently the Cardinals did and time will tell if it was worth it.

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