So the negotiating deadline passed today, and the world kept turning anyway. And shortly afterwards, as expected, details began to emerge about the substance of the offer the Cardinals presented to their star, Albert Pujols.
Basically, owner Bill DeWitt tried to low-ball Pujols, who was right to reject it.
Two stories are floating around, one with a bit more substance than the other and both insulting to Pujols and the realities of the market. The first is a reported contract for 8 years at $200 million (an average value of $25 million a year) that gives Pujols the same money as Ryan Howard. As anyone with a brain can tell you, Pujols is substantially better than Howard. Pujols is probably better Alex Rodriguez, who would still make more money than Pujols at those terms.
The second report comes from Ken Rosenthal (a reliable source) who wrote that the team offered Pujols seven years at $19-21 million a year. That would make Pujols only the tenth-highest salary in baseball, a ridiculous offer that is blatantly insulting to Pujols and blind to true market value.
What is the point of low-balling Pujols?
With this offer, DeWitt makes the case that the Cardinals are not interested in playing the endless game of contract one-upsmanship that has inflated prices around baseball. Either offer makes Pujols the highest paid player on the team while still allowing that team to be competitive – an important distinction that essentially reveals Pujols’ statements about winning and how “it’s all about the team” to be lies. Obviously Pujols has been in it for the money all along. DeWitt is trying an interesting and hard-nosed tactic that could blow up in his face if they have offended Pujols somehow.
DeWitt is also attempting to readjust the perception of the so-called “best player in baseball” within the market. Essentially, DeWitt is asking an important and intriguing question: exactly how much should you pay for the declining years of a first baseman in the National League? Admittedly, Pujols is a great hitter – one of the best ever – and he has transformed himself into a gold glove first baseman. But there’s nowhere for Pujols to go as he declines. The National League doesn’t have a DH rule, so the Cardinals would be stuck with a $30 million a year first baseman hitting 20 homers a year at age 39. That’s scary. Dan O’Neill put it this way:
A first baseman cannot possibly be the “best player in baseball.” Roger Freed played first base, as did Boog Powell and Dick Stuart. First base is where players like Musial played when they couldn’t play somewhere else anymore. Pujols might be the most dangerous hitter in the game, and a fine all-around player. But the day a first baseman is the “best player” in he game is the day they should blow it up and start over again.
The most important thing DeWitt accomplished with this blatant low-ball of Pujols is that he got Albert to reject it. DeWitt WANTS Pujols to reach free agency in order to establish what other teams are willing to pay for an aging first baseman. This is one of the riskier elements to this insulting offer – you’re basically offering your star to the other big money teams with whom you cannot compete financially. But DeWitt knows that the market is limited for the kind of contract Pujols seeks. How can the team possibly put together a real offer until it knows exactly what the market bears for someone of Pujols’ caliber? If DeWitt ran the Yankees, he would just give Albert a blank check. Since he doesn’t have that kind of money, he must play it cautiously. Getting Pujols to reject any offer before free agency was the way to accomplish that.
It’s going to be a long season of second-guessing and innuendo, and the impact of that on the team and its performance will be an ongoing story. One thing is certain: barring injury, Pujols will have a monster season this year, the likes of which we have never seen before from him. I hope the rest of the team is ready to capitalize on that.
As for DeWitt, this low-ball offer was probably the first good move he has made in these negotiations.