The Clock is Ticking


It’s the phrase that has had all of St. Louis living on edge for the past 13 days now, but it doesn’t take a diehard Cardinals fan to have the slightest idea of what I’m talking about. In fact, you don’t even need to be a close follower of MLB to know that this clock is counting the seconds, minutes, and hours leading up to the start of spring training. It’s been nearly two weeks since Albert Pujols announced that he would cut off contract negations with the Cardinals at the start of spring training, but it feels as if it’s been more like two years. Cardinals position players report to Florida on February 19th.

During this time span, the entire baseball world has taken notice of one of this offseason’s most interesting storylines. If you’re anything like me, you’re probably routinely turning on SportsCenter or searching the internet, praying for any sort of news on the Pujols front. Searching for something, anything, you’re just about ready to explode with anticipation. Patience is a virtue, but in this situation, it’s tough to maintain.

As much as everyone would like a deal done that can satisfy both parties as soon as possible, that’s just hasn’t been the case so far. There have been conflicting reports about how the contract talks are progressing, but it’s all speculation at this point. By and large, no details have been leaked from these negotiations. That’s probably best for both sides, but it leaves sportswriters like me much less to work with, and it doesn’t look like that’s going to change until a deal is reached. Take a look at Cards general manager John Mozeliak’s perspective on the negotiations with Albert and his agent Dan Lozano.

"The way I need to answer this, just to be consistent with ownership, management, the player and the agent, is really we don’t want to sit here and handicap or guess or give any type of gut feels where this thing is headed right now. I think in respect to that, that’s really all I can add to the topic at this time. Hopefully in the near future it’s something we can talk more about, but right now I’m not prepared to say more."

Oh what I would do to be a fly on the wall in the room of those negotiations.

Maybe it’s just me, but I’m starting to get a bit concerned with the situation as a whole. As the days go by, I find it harder and harder to maintain an optimistic viewpoint. Why, you ask? Well here’s what Bill DeWitt (Chairman & CEO) had to say just days before Pujols gave the Cardinals his ultimatum, if you will.

"I would just say we’ve had discussions, and we’re continuing to talk. We’re not that far along yet. I never rule anything out, but we’re looking more toward Spring Training. A deal of this magnitude will take some time. Spring Training is a long period of time — six weeks. Whether it’s reporting date, or a week after, I don’t view it as ‘If it’s not done by this day, then …’ I don’t see a specific day."

Well this is awkward. Obviously DeWitt and Pujols aren’t exactly on the same page here. I totally understand that a deal of this magnitude takes some time to develop, but a little more sense of urgency would be nice. Maybe that sense of urgency has settled in now, but time is running out.

Cleary Albert Pujols does not want this thing hanging over his head during an already long, grinding 162-game season, as it could possibly become a distraction. While I have a hard time believing that anything can distract a player as great as Pujols, I can easily see it affecting some of the younger guys. Considering that the team had a hard time focusing in the latter half of the 2010 season, that’s the last thing St. Louis fans want to see.

The reality is, Albert Pujols and his agent posses all of the power and momentum in this deal. Think about it. It’s a win/win situation for them. Regardless of the outcome of the talks with the Cardinals, Pujols will be playing baseball next year, and he will be getting paid big bucks. What does he have to lose? DeWitt and Mozeliak are completely at his mercy. Why? The answer is simple: Pujols produces statistics year in and year out that are second to none.

The numbers speak for themselves. 408 career home runs, 1,230 RBIs, a .331 batting average, 1,900 hits, 1,186 runs, 914 walks, a Rookie of the Year award, two Gold Gloves, six Silver Slugger awards, three MVP awards, and nine all-star appearances. I could go on and on about this guys remarkable accomplishments, but I don’t think it’s necessary. After all, the clock is ticking.

With those numbers in mind, I think it’s pretty safe to say that Albert has earned the right to do whatever the hell he wants. Do I think that he wants to play in St. Louis for the rest of his career? Yes. But do I think he’ll hesitate to explore other options if he doesn’t like the direction in which things are going with this franchise? Absolutely not.

Look, it’s not as if the Cardinals were blindsided by the fact that they would need to make a large investment here. The team didn’t make all of its offseason moves and suddenly forget about the best player in baseball. They have seen this day coming for quite some time now, and it’s time to take care of business. I can’t even begin to imagine the kind of pressure that DeWitt and Mozeliak are under right now, because this one deal could make or break the franchise for the next decade.

No matter how you look at it, this deal is likely to be historic and unprecedented. As crazy as it sounds, it may take $300 million dollars to re-sign Albert Pujols. According to Jayson Stark, Albert and his agent began the conversation with a contract in mind that would pay Pujols $30 million per season for the next ten years. For those of you who just fell out of your chairs, take a minute to regain your composure.

Believe me when I tell you that the man is worth it. Pujols is the greatest thing that has ever happened to this franchise since Stan Musial, and by the time he retires, he very well could go down as one of the best players to ever play the game. Only eight contracts in MLB history have even been half of this proposed 10-year, $300 million deal, but I tend to think that many ST. Louis fans would be willing to pitch in a few dollars here and there to help keep “The Machine” a Redbird. As things stand right now, Alex Rodriguez’s current 10-year, $275 million contract with the Yankees is the largest in history.

The way I see it, there’s no way the Cards can let Pujols get away. They have built their entire organization around him, and the fear of life without him is enormous. That’s why this deal must be reached before Albert’s deadline. If a contract cannot be agreed upon by the start of spring training, Pujols becomes free game for anyone in free agency, which is a scary thought considering the fact that the Yankees never seize to amaze us with their outrageous spending capabilities.

I mean, can you honestly picture Pujols in another uniform? The thought alone is more than enough to make me sick. There isn’t a team in the league that wouldn’t jump at the opportunity to acquire him. Remember the big-name free agents that made headlines all winter long with major signings? Remember the many trades and transactions that occurred across the entire league? All of that seems irrelevant now, because Albert Pujols contract is now the big story. That just speaks to the type of player he is.

So, as the clock ticks away, keep reminding yourself that the future success of the St. Louis Cardinals depends on just one contract. The importance of this deal cannot be put into words, but the ticking sound of the clock says it all.