As the agreed-upon deadline for a contract extension approaches on Wednesday, Albert Pujols and the St. Louis Cardinals have a long way to go to get a deal done.
The developments have been rolling in early this week in anticipation of Wednesday, which will be the last time Pujols and the Cardinals discuss a new contract until the end of the upcoming season.
First, we heard on Monday that Pujols rejected the Cardinals' offer last week, the terms of which were not disclosed.
Then, on Tuesday, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said that the MLB Players Association is putting pressure on Pujols and his agent to demand the highest and longest contract possible, which Albert seems sheepish about doing.
Later on Tuesday, it was reported that Pujols and the Cardinals were far apart and that no deal would get done before the deadline.
This development is of no small consequence; its effects are far-reaching in the realm of player contracts and the precedent that could be set for the rest of the union's clients, MLB's players.
Here are the ramifications of La Russa's report, if true, and how it affects Pujols, the Cardinal organization and the rest of MLB right now.
The Cardinals are sensing a few things:
1. The union sees this particular contract as a battle to be won with the opponent. The union has been winning beachheads in contract length and amount for the last several years but considers the upcoming Pujols contract to be its crown jewel.
If it can push Pujols to demand a figure in the $30 million range, it will be a huge win for the union that opens the floodgates for other contracts like it.
2. Pujols isn't comfortable demanding an obscene amount of money like so many other superstars do. Albert, as many realize, is a humble, down to earth man whose sense of entitlement is disproportionate to his talent level.
3. Pujols' dollar amount is not specifically known, but it is clear that he wants a contract that runs about 10 years. The Cardinals have a major discussion about whether it is a sound investment to offer 10 years and $275-300 million to a 31-year-old veteran of nine years. By those numbers, Albert will be pulling at least $27.5 mil in the final year of his deal at 41 years of age. Even for the best hitter on the planet, possibly the greatest in baseball history, that investment isn't a given.
On the surface, Albert looks like the clear-cut winner in this situation. Either he gets the $30 million that has been rumored, or he agrees to something in the $23-26 million range.
Either way, he's getting a major raise. So there's that.
More important to Albert than money, however, is the contract length. The guy has over $100 million in earnings just from baseball; he isn't concerned about making more as much as he is concerned with being guaranteed to play for as long as he wants to play.
If La Russa's claim about the players union applying pressure on Pujols is true, then Albert is really caught between a rock and a hard place for a couple reasons:
* Pujols has built up so much loyalty and affinity with everyone associated with the Cardinals that holding the team hostage to max out on money could potentially turn them bitter on him forever. He recognizes that good, healthy relationships with his employer and the fanbase are of higher value than another zero on his bank account.
* The well-being of the players union may rest on the precedent he sets with his new contract. He runs the risk of rubbing a lot of people who work for the union and other players the wrong way by not demanding to be paid what he's worth.
* Either way, Pujols runs risks of damaging relationships/reputation/legacy.
When you look at it from that angle, it starts to look like a no-win situation for Pujols.
Of mutual concern to the Cards and Pujols (if he stays) is the team's long-term potential to compete. If the team is shelling out $30 million to Pujols for the next 10 seasons, that ties up between 25-35 percent of their total payroll, and that's assuming that they make a concerted effort to hover around $100 million.
With that in mind, will the Cardinals be a viable contender for the World Series every year if Pujols is sucking up that much financial space? Having Albert Pujols will make your lineup elite just by virtue of his presence, but at what point does the price start to make your team worse overall?
This is the reason that Pujols isn't signed yet. The Cardinals are crunching numbers down to the dollar to determine just how much money they can give Pujols before they start to decline as a team.
On the other hand, Albert doesn't want to blindly accept a record-setting contract, because that money isn't spent in a vacuum; it has effects on everyone in the organization and directly impacts the quality of the on-field product. He doesn't want to be the richest pro athlete in history and play for a team that can only muster 85 wins per year. He wants to make money but also have a chance to play into October every year.
He and the Cardinals must find that delicate balance.
In effect, Albert Pujols will be a free agent on Wednesday.
As you can imagine, this has a huge impact on how potential suitors position themselves and build their teams this season.
For some, it changes their entire strategy in the hopes of wooing Pujols this winter. For others, the decision about buying or selling players is made much easier if Pujols is available at the end of the season.
Even though Albert won't literally be a free agent until the end of the Cardinals season, teams will not hesitate to start jockeying now to have their best shot at him then.
MLBPA head Michael Weiner is watching intently for the outcome of the Pujols situation. He represents over a thousand players whose compensation depends largely on how Pujols comes out with the Cardinals.
The Pujols outcome could revolutionize market values for dozens of players by raising the standard of annual salary to previously unknown heights. The union wants this; MLB owners do not.
The tug of war is set between the two sides in Pujols' negotiations. The idea that Pujols' humility and willingness to be underpaid would actually dictate a victory to his side's opponent, MLB, is ironic and refreshing.
Pujols' situation affects some big names due for free agency after the 2011 season. Here's a list of guys whose market value could skyrocket after a landmark Pujols deal:
Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, Dan Uggla and Jose Bautista.
There are several strong pitchers on the market as well, but Pujols is likely to affect the value of position players more than pitchers anyway.
* his relationship with St. Louis and the Cardinals
* his legacy as a Cardinal
* good will with MLBPA
* a new contract
For the St. Louis Cardinals
* their franchise player
* their franchise's future
* good PR with their fans
* the current standard for player contracts
* tolerable team payrolls
* competitive balance
Nothing really. At this point, the union is playing with house money in terms of the headway it's already made in driving up player contracts. Any new standard that Pujols' contract sets will be icing on the cake.