Albert Pujols is holding the hammer, and right now in his hands it looks every bit as dangerous as a Louisville Slugger against a batting practice fastball.
A winter-long promise that he will refuse to negotiate a contract extension once he reports to spring training is down to a two-strike count.
|By the time this is over, Albert Pujols may command $30 million a year. (US Presswire)|
The breathing has never been so heavy in St. Louis, not even a year ago in anticipation of Mark McGwire returning from exile to become the club's hitting coach.
For those who are nervous because they're scared the Cardinals will devote so much money to Pujols that it will hamstring them from doing much in the future, that's a legitimate concern.
As for those who are sweating because they're fearful Pujols will leave, there's this: A whole lot of folks stored ludicrous amounts of water in their basements because they thought catastrophe would hit at Y2K, too. Sometimes, the sky really isn't falling.
Look, if Pujols leaves, he may as well take Tony La Russa, the Arch and Charlie Gitto's with him. St. Louis would no longer be St. Louis.
This is a deal that will get done. Yes, we're at the could-go-either-way stage of negotiations, and true, sometimes things blow up unexpectedly. Look at the impending Texas-Michael Young divorce. Sometimes, stuff happens.
But to St. Louis, Pujols is Stan Musial and Red Schoendienst. And while The Man -- Pujols, not Stan -- long ago placed a gag order on negotiations, it doesn't take Marvin Miller to figure that Alex Rodriguez's 10-year, $275 million deal is a starting point.
By the time this is finished, Pujols may seriously command $30 million or more a year.
At 31 years old, he's already won three Most Valuable Player and two Gold Glove awards during his decade with the Cardinals. There probably will be more where those came from, too.
Two winters ago, the Cardinals did what they had to do when they signed Matt Holliday. Even though he's only one year into a seven-year, $120 million deal, I do not believe that is impacting the Pujols negotiations.
For one thing, owner Bill DeWitt Jr. and general manager John Mozeliak were not operating in a vacuum in the winter of 2009-2010 when they were negotiating with Holliday. Believe it or not, they knew Pujols had just two more years remaining on his contract. I know. I remember talking with Mozeliak about it at the GM meetings in Chicago that November.
For another thing, I think the Holliday signing relates to Pujols staying. While it might be "show me the money," it's not just about the money. The Cardinals had to show -- and must continue to show -- Pujols that they can field a competitive team. Because if they can't, the Pujols talks become moot, anyway. He ain't sticking around if the Cardinals can't win.
No, when they retained Holliday, they knew they'd have the Mother of All Negotiations on their hands two years down the road. And they knew they'd have to cough up more money than a Brinks truck, and they knew they'd have to get more creative than Apple.
Well, two years down the road not only is here, it appears to be in its final days.
I still see Pujols as a one-organization man for life, just like Cal Ripken, Kirby Puckett and Tony Gwynn.
I still recall the weary look on Mozeliak's face that day at the GM meetings in Chicago as the Holliday situation remained unsettled and his agent, Scott Boras, was selling his case to reporters at the Airport Hilton.
I imagine the look on Mozeliak's face today is that weary, times 100. Pujols is never an easy at-bat. But I still see this deal getting closed.