Why Cards must keep Pujols, and why it looks like they will
JUPITER, Fla. -- Baseball executives agree on a couple things regarding superstar
1. Pujols and the Cardinals have a very good chance to stay together beyond 2011, when his first nine-figure contract expires, and...
2. Pujols will get his $30 million a year, give or take a few pennies.
"He has to get the A-Rod contract,'' one NL executive said. "If you ask 30 GMs which player they'd want with two out and the bases loaded in the ninth inning, 30 would say Pujols.''
It's no certainty that is the case (I didn't talk to all 30), but 30 does appear to be the magic number -- as in $30 million per year. While management people generally prefer lower salaries, they say this is an easy one to predict.
The Cardinals, a very well-run organization that has succeeded by paying its stars while still keeping its payroll at around $100 million, aren't a team that skimps on its stars. Competitors see them as quite profitable and believe they have enough room to keep Pujols. And so does owner
Execs interviewed also believe that the Cardinals have no choice, not after finding $17 million a year for cleanup hitter but clear second fiddle
"They caved on Holliday, and he's like crumbs compared to Pujols,'' one NL exec said. "He's a latter day [
"They can't afford not to have him,'' another exec said.
Several said Pujols is too much a part of the Cardinals brand to let him leave.
"Can McDonald's not have the Big Mac? Can Burger King not have the Whopper?'' one said.
"He's probably worth more to them than anyone else,'' another said. "I'm not sure he'd get [A-Rod's deal] from someone else. But to St. Louis, he's worth it.''
Any way you look at it, this would be one whopper of a loss for the Cardinals if Pujols were to leave after 2011 (he'll make $16 million this year, and the Cardinals are sure to pick up his option for another $16 million next year).
"There's no question we'd like to have Albert be a lifetime Cardinal,'' DeWitt said. "That's a major objective of ours. And we're hoping to make it happen.''
DeWitt was asked whether the Cardinals could pay close to $50 million to two players when their payroll has been in the $100 million range, and while he didn't address specific amounts, he suggested that they would stop sometime before handing Pujols a blank check.
"There's obviously a limitation as to what you can pay any individual player, any two players and for any group of players,'' DeWitt said. "We all have our financial limitations. It depends on how the contract is structured. We feel there's an area that could work where it would be affordable to us.''
Pujols has been especially engaging and accommodating so far this spring. Cardinals people suggest that has to do with his elbow finally feeling right, a scary proposition for opponents who were battered by a less-than-100-percent Pujols the past couple seasons. While Pujols said he would love to stay, he doesn't rule out the other possibility, the one that's almost unspeakable in that baseball-crazed town.
"This is the best city to play baseball. The way the fans embrace me, I don't want to go anywhere else,'' Pujols said. "As we know, this is a business. There are things you can't control. I hope to finish my career as a Cardinal. Hopefully, we'll get something done. But you saw Alex Rodriguez go from Seattle to Texas to New York. And
The Cardinals made a new deal for Pujols a goal of last winter, but talks never got going. Even so, DeWitt said he feels no worse about their chances. "Not at all,'' he said. "There's no sense of urgency because it's two years away.''
At the time the Cardinals were pretty busy making sure they retained Holliday, paying him $120 million over seven years (slightly more than the $100 million guaranteed over seven that Pujols got as a non-free-agent back in 2004). But while some have suggested that the Cardinals bid against themselves for Holliday, DeWitt said he is comfortable with seven years for him because he will be 36 years old in the seventh year. Regarding their six-year offer, it's believed that they offered about $96 million and then about $102 million, and Holliday sought eight. So they compromised. The Red Sox are known to have offered $82.5 million early in the game, but other bids aren't known. DeWitt isn't too worried about suggestions that they were bidding against themselves. "It's easy to say in hindsight that there's no underbidder bidding in that category. But underbidders can come in at the last second and make bids if you don't close out the contract.''
If the Cardinals took little chance with Holliday, competitors see them taking no chance with Pujols, either.
• The Dodgers and
• The Marlins are looking for a left-handed hitter and have
• The first-base competition with the Mets is supposed to be led by
• Rangers people say they were well aware of
• The Cardinals haven't ruled out adding a piece, depending on how things go in the spring. The infield would appear to be a spot for enhancement, with youngster
• Mets manager
• The Nationals got themselves another innings-eater with
• Get well soon to Diamondbacks executive