Cardinal Nation remains in turmoil today after a brutalizing week of rumors, innuendos, and dashed hopes swirling around the Albert Pujols contract situation. Fans are playing the blame game. And, for now at least, both sides seem to be cautiously respectful of each other and the process. It feels a bit like the inside of a hurricane.
Despite the brave faces shown by owner Bill DeWitt and GM John Mozeliak during yesterday’s news conference, I couldn’t help but notice how shell-shocked and disappointed both men seemed that their brave (but foolish) gambit failed. Mozeliak looked like he might start crying. And DeWitt has never looked so tired, so drawn. For a man accustomed to huge deals and shark-like business tactics, this Pujols situation seems like it’s taken an emotional bite out of him.
Which is why I want to take over DeWitt’s burden for a moment and make a radical suggestion that will perfectly solve this problem and make winners out of everyone in this drama.
First, the obvious: the Cardinals need to make Pujols the highest paid player in baseball. It’s going to happen somewhere. It needs to happen here. Why? Because a symbiotic relationship like the one between the organization and Pujols comes along only once in a generation. St. Louis fans have been lucky to have it happen a few times (Stan Musial and Ozzie Smith), and it’s happened a few times with other franchises (think Ruth with the Yankees, Doerr with the Red Sox, or Banks with the Cubs). Keeping this relationship between a storied franchise and a legendary player is of utmost importance at a time when there are so few heroes in the game.
And that relationship has a monetary value. Think about it this way: if the Cubs and the Cards both offer Pujols the 10/$300 he seeks, which offer is MORE valuable? Obviously, the Cardinal offer would be, because it continues a rich history between player and club from which both sides could profit for decades. Pujols’ eventual breaking of records, his retirement year, and his Hall of Fame induction will all have deeper meaning and greater financial significance if he remains a Cardinal for life.
So, if I was Bill DeWitt, what would I do? I would give Albert the thirty million a year for ten years, with the difference between what he’s making now ($16 million) and that figure coming directly out of my own pocket so as to not affect the finances of the team.
It’s a radical notion, but hear me out. First and foremost, it secures the entire career of Pujols as a Cardinal, one that has enormous and lasting financial benefits. It would also make DeWitt a hero in a town that remains wary of the multi-millionaire and assuring him of eternal adoration (the deal could be spun as DeWitt’s “love letter” to the fans of St. Louis, who would eat it up). And finally, such a remarkable gesture tells everyone else on the team and throughout baseball that extraordinary measures can happen for players who demonstrate the talent and loyalty that Pujols has throughout his career.
Can DeWitt do such a thing? Yes. Despite the talk of spin doctors, DeWitt has a net worth somewhere near a billion dollars. The franchise is one of the healthiest in the game. DeWitt probably makes the $14 million a year needed to do this as he’s brushing his teeth in the morning. Over the life of such a contract, DeWitt would pay out $140 million of his own money. But consider this: how much more will his franchise be worth with ten more storied years of Pujols on the team? Currently, the Cardinals franchise is worth $488 million (in other words, $428 million more than DeWitt paid for it). It could easily gain another $140 million in ten years – with Pujols and his record-setting career behind it.
But would DeWitt ever consider my plan? It’s unlikely. DeWitt has shown himself to be a shrewd and responsible businessman first, with his love of baseball a distant second. Unlike Gussie Busch, who dearly loved his team, DeWitt looks onto a baseball field and sees accounting spreadsheets. Additionally, DeWitt has shown little love for St. Louis, as evidenced by his failure to live up to commitments to the city (taxes owed, Ballpark Village) that reveal his true motivations. I doubt very seriously that DeWitt wants nearly half of a record-breaking contract to come directly out of his own pocket.
This is an unprecedented idea I’ve presented here, one that I think has no chance of gaining traction with the only person that matters – DeWitt himself. But the enormous financial and public relations benefits of such a plan make it one of the smartest moves that this very smart businessman could ever make.