JUPITER, Fla. -- With just hours remaining before Albert Pujols' self-imposed deadline to reach a contractual agreement with the Cardinals, sources with knowledge of the talks say there is zero momentum toward a deal and that Pujols is expected to report to camp on Thursday ready to focus on the season and then, likely, free agency.
At the conclusion of a wild day Tuesday on which St. Louis manager Tony La Russa ripped the Major League Players Assn. for pressuring Pujols to push for a record-setting contract and an apparently erroneous report surfaced on SI.com that said the Cardinals made an eight-year offer to their star first baseman, Pujols and the Cardinals were said to be no closer to a deal than they were at the beginning of the week ... or last week ... or the week before.
Despite pushing the deadline back 24 hours out of respect to Cardinals Hall of Famer Stan Musial, who was in Washington D.C. on Tuesday to receive the presidential Medal of Freedom, the two sides continue to move in different universes.
Union boss Michael Wiener earlier in the day strongly denied to multiple news outlets that the players assn. had anything to do with the Pujols talks. This after La Russa said before the Cardinals pitchers and catchers worked out Tuesday that "I know what he's going through with the union and, to some extent, his representatives. His representatives are getting beat up by the union. 'Set the bar. Set the bar.' That's bull----."
Later came the report that the Cardinals had ponied up an eight-year offer to Pujols.
Late Tuesday night, however, a source familiar with the negotiations told CBSSports.com that no such offer had been made.
"That's completely inaccurate and false," the source said.
Failing some sort of last-ditch effort that suddenly kicks these talks into overdrive Wednesday morning, the Cardinals will enter 2011 with a major, major distraction on their hands by failing to lock up a franchise icon, and Pujols will sail into the summer charged with blocking out an uncertain future.
It is not the optimal condition for either side, to say the least. And there will be plenty of opinions as to who's at fault.
Pujols, for insisting on a deal that compares with or surpasses Alex Rodriguez's 10-year, $275 million contract despite the fact that the Cardinals don't have Yankee money?
The Cardinals, for failing to move earlier to sign Pujols long-term and thus avoid the very kind of feeding frenzy that is taking place at their spring camp?
You can argue that Pujols, who has never made more than $14.545 million, has been one of baseball's biggest values over the past decade and that the Cardinals now owe him.
You can also argue that if Pujols indeed is seeking something like a 10-year, $300 million deal, then, despite his iconic status in St. Louis, it would be a financial disaster that could cripple the Cardinals from being competitive in future years.
Despite Wednesday's deadline, the Cardinals, of course, will retain exclusive rights to Pujols until the 2011-2012 free agency period begins five days after the conclusion of next fall's World Series.
Little is certain at this point on how this epic staredown will play out.
But at the moment, the overwhelming indications are that Wednesday's deadline will come and go, with a major gap remaining between the Cardinals and Pujols.