The Cardinals-Pujols Negotiation Debate Verdict

February 18, 2011

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Babe Ruthless.

Albert Pujols is a great player and deserves to be the highest paid player on his team.

But, don’t stop reading there. This case isn’t as open and shut as you may think.

But, before diving into the semantics and positions in each argument, I first must commend Babe Ruthless for the best opening to any argument ever in this site’s almost two years of existence. If you missed the classic twist on a famous monologue from Princess Bride, do yourself a favor and go back to read it.

Now that we have that out of the way, on to the verdict…

Being the optimistic business person that I am, I fully expect the window for Pujols’ negotiating period to remain completely open. The whole “the window closed, better luck next time” gag has been tried for decades in sports. It is tried because it works. But, it is a just a tactic. Let’s not pretend the talking is REALLY over until the end of the season. Therefore, I don’t buy into the fact that the Cardinals have blown it in this respect, Babe.

I do agree with Babe Ruthless that Pujols is not at fault for leveraging his considerable talents to maximize his paycheck.

I am old school, however. If a player wants to pursue a career in one spot, they should be able to do that. In this instance, I believe the MLB Player’s Union is exhorting its desires and using Pujols as a figure to prop up salaries across the board again, as it did with Alex Rodriguez’s now infamous 10-year $225M contract from several years ago. Therefore, I do believe that Pujols truly DOES want to be a with the Cardinals for his entire career, but that nobility comes with a substantial price – which, as Babe Ruthless points out, he is free to pursue.

I agree with Babe also that there are players among the top salaries in baseball that are earning money they do not – and probably never did – deserve. However, this point is exactly why I am siding with Loyal Homer in this argument.

Pujols is letting outside forces cloud his judgment. As Loyal Homer points out, he is losing site of his roots, of what his driving force was as a youth – his love for baseball. He is celebrated by one of the best fan bases in all of sports (yes, I am writing that as a Cubs fan), yet he is still at the center of his debate about more money.

Loyal Homer makes another excellent point that a mid-market team like the Cardinals can’t afford to be cutting huge checks willy-nilly like this. Pujols has to know this, too. If he ever wants to win another championship, he needs to leave some money for other future free agents to sign with the Cardinals in the future. Greed on this magnitude kills a team’s ability to build a contender, and Loyal Homer is right to point that out.

Pujols has proven to be an outstanding player. But, at the time of the big contract signings, Alfonso Soriano, Barry Zito, and Carlos Beltran were similarly regarded, and their contracts were – and will painstakingly remain – busts. It is just as prudent for the Cardinals’ front office to cap its offer as it is for Pujols to pursue a huge contract. Only, in this case, the organization is right to hedge its bets.

No player – or employee – in any business is impossible to replace. As much as we may not want to believe that, it is fact. As good as Pujols is now, do the Cardinals really want a huge contract for a player who is aging, where he will be taking home the largest gobs of money as he ages and skills decline? That is an old way of thinking in both business and baseball – and it now makes sense in neither circumstance.

The smart move here for the Cardinals is to offer Pujols more money per season, but offer a contract of just four or five years. The organization can keep Pujols from getting lazy on his fat contract, and are paying top market money for a top market talent still in his prime. It just doesn’t make sense any other way.

The Cardinals have the leverage here. Pujols is a great player, but he’s not the only way to win. The team – and the league as a whole – must get over the fear of losing big players. Organizations build systems that scout for great players and build solid teams. The organization must rely on its strengths in this regard, keep the leverage, and let go of the fear.

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The Cardinals-Pujols Negotiation Debate

February 17, 2011

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Babe Ruthless.

These types of issues in sports always perplex me. Albert Pujols is clearly the best baseball player the St. Louis Cardinals have, and likely the best player in all of Major League Baseball. But, with his contact up after the 2011 season, it is time to work on a new deal. If no deal happens by the end of today, talks will continue after the season – when Pujols is a free agent with a maximum amount of leverage

Ten years and $275M is the first baseman’s starting point. That is big time A-Rod type money that many would agree Pujols likely deserves. But, the St. Louis Cardinals are in a tough spot. The franchise is not among the richest in the league (unless the conversation turns to tradition). It seems if Pujols really wanted to play for the Cardinals he would move off of his high price tag and get a deal done.

So, here we are at yet another annual, typical sports standoff between star player and franchise. But, in this case with Pujols and
the Cardinals, which side is right and justified?

Loyal Homer will argue that Pujols is being outrageous in his demands while Babe Ruthless will argue it is the franchise that is failing to see value

It all comes down to today. A deal must be agreed upon, or the deadline passes and Pujols reports to camp, where anything can happen with contract negotiations… from a calmly negotiated deal (unlikely since Pujols said he does not wish for talks to continue into the season) to a standoff that will continue indefinitely and begin to impact how effective the player can be (far more likely). Which is it? But, more importantly, which side is right?

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The Cardinals-Pujols Negotiation Debate… Pujols Threatens to Put St. Louis on Lockdown

February 17, 2011

Read the opposing argument from Babe Ruthless.

This whole Albert Pujols situation really exploded in the past two weeks or so. We’ve known for awhile that his contract was set to expire of the end of the 2011 season, and that he was going to be a wealthy man. We all just assumed that he would either reach an extension with the St. Louis Cardinals and there would be a general consensus that it would take place. That doesn’t appear to be the case after the passing of Wednesday’s self-imposed deadline to reach a new deal. So who is to blame? I think this is an easy one. It’s Albert Pujols. He’s being outrageous, actually.

I have a lot of respect for Albert Pujols. I was in attendance when he hit his 150th home run on a Sunday night in Atlanta nearly seven years ago. Until this point, he’s been worshiped in a city that worships baseball. But the fans in the Gateway City, as St. Louis is often referred to, know their baseball and I have a feeling those knowledgeable and passionate fans could turn on him. Who could blame them?

According to sources, St. Louis had offered Pujols an eight year contract that was believed to be worth in excess of $200M with a possible stake in ownership once his playing days are completed. With Pujols, currently 31 years old, the life of that type of deal would take him to the age of 39, and presumably, to the near-end of his career. As a middle-class American who earns considerably less than my sports idols, how I am supposed to feel toward Pujols for turning down such a contract, especially since he grew up in less than stellar conditions in the Dominican Republic?

There is no conceivable way to question Pujols’ credentials. He is arguably the game’s best player and deserves to be paid handsomely. But I don’t know if it is realistic to compare what he could make to what players on the New York Yankees make. That throws out the likes of Alex Rodriguez, C.C. Sabathia, and Mark Texiera. A-Rod and Texiera also have the option of playing DH the last few years of their contract if age begins to take away their fielding skills. Besides, the Yankees are a whole other gorilla to tackle, and well, Albert, if you want that kind of cash, Brian Cashman would probably love to talk to you because he needs something positive going for him.

The Cardinals have stated that they can’t get into the payroll stratosphere with the likes of the Yankees and Red Sox. By signing Pujols to an A-Rod type deal, not only would the organization blow its payroll through the roof, but the chances of building a championship-type contender around the star first baseman would be severely limited.

There’s no question that the Cardinals are taking a risk by not reaching a deal with Pujols yet. Truth be told, it never should have gotten to this point. But it has, and the Cardinals are going to have to dig deep into the coffers because Pujols is asking for the bank vault and the keys to lock the vault up after he’s done with it. Signing Pujols to a contract that exceeds either of A-Rod’s last two contracts will make it less likely that Pujols will add another ring to that hand. Way to cripple your organization, Albert!

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

February 17, 2011

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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