Despite a spirited last-ditch effort to sign Albert Pujols before his self-imposed noon deadline Wednesday, Pujols' deadline came and went without the superstar first baseman reaching a new contract with the Cardinals.
"While we are disappointed we did not reach an agreement we remain hopeful that Albert will finish his career in St. Louis," Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Cardinals said.
St. Louis had offered Pujols an eight-year contract believed to be worth in excess of $200 million, people familiar with the talks told SI.com. However, several people connected to the negotiations believed the sides would not have an agreement in place before the deadline, setting the stage for free agency at year's end for the three-time NL MVP.
According to sources, the Cardinals' latest offer was short of $30 million per year. Pujols, 31, has been seeking a deal greater than the record 10-year, $275 million contract that Alex Rodriguez signed with the New York Yankees before the 2008 season.
Both sides made proposals during talks that have stretched over months, but in recent days no one was expressing great hope for a quick resolution.
While the main goal for Pujols was always to top A-Rod, Pujols' agent, Dan Lozano, at one point in the negotiation with the Cardinals proposed that part of a deal include a piece of the storied team for Pujols, which would have made Pujols a player/part owner, in just one of the attempts by either side that still appears to be going nowhere.
While the Cardinals' exact offer is not known, it presumably has to be higher per year than the $25 million salary the Phillies gave Ryan Howard last season.
Lozano's apparently unsuccessful attempt to acquire a piece of the team is unconventional and perhaps even unprecedented, but it is not explicitly disallowed by baseball rules, which only prohibit part ownership of a competing team by a player. Had DeWitt agreed to take Pujols as a limited partner, commissioner Bud Selig would have had to approve the complicated arrangement, which would have had to allow for a provision for transfer of Pujols' shares in the event he were later traded (although for a practical matter, that may not have mattered since Pujols already has veto rights over trades as a 10-and-5 player). So while Lozano's request wasn't technically impossible, it would have complicated things.
Lozano, as well as DeWitt and Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak have been scarce in recent days as they've been sought to talk publicly about negotiations. A source familiar with the talks suggested the sides were "speaking different languages" as of a week ago, and so far apart in talks that a deal by Pujols' deadline had virtually no chance of being completed by Wednesday. Pujols' camp has said that if no deal is done by Wednesday, he will not discuss money with the team during the season, almost guaranteeing he will become a free agent.
In a brief interview with SI.com last November, DeWitt expressed his belief that the Yankees must regret their $275 million investment in A-Rod, though the Yankees have not said that's the case. The Yankees are also in better position to do a longer deal since they will have the DH as an option in the last years of Rodriguez's contract.
Cardinals manager Tony La Russa opined Tuesday that the players union is trying to coerce Pujols to try to go for a record contract in free agency, an assertion that players union chief Michael Weiner denied. La Russa, a lawyer as well as a manger, might just be trying to set things up for blame for someone other than his Cardinals or his favorite player should a deal not get done.
"It's not accurate at all. We've had no conversations with Albert Pujols or Dan Lozano about the numbers of the contract," Weiner said in a phone interview. "Albert is a sophisticated and experienced player and he has a very experienced agent."
Other teams are not allowed to publicly discuss Pujols' situation, but speculation around the game is that Pujols may be able to get his 10-year deal elsewhere, perhaps even from the Chicago Cubs. Two competing executives said they believe the Cubs, who have the resources and need, not to mention several big contracts coming off their books after the season, to do a monster deal to steal the greatest star from their archrivals.
Should Pujols become free, there's no telling who may get involved. But while he would be extremely coveted by many teams, one person familiar with the thinking of the Yankees, the biggest free-agent players with the most money, suggested that star Mark Teixeira's presence would make them an illogical fit for another A-Rod type deal for a first baseman, even an all-time like Pujols.