Management continues to play it cool while Cardinals fans sweat out the free agency of Albert Pujols.
General manager John Mozeliak has had very little to say about the negotiations to bring back the most significant Cardinals player since Stan Musial.
But it appears the Cardinals have yet to bolster the nine-year, $198 million contract (according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch) offered to Pujols before St. Louis embarked on what would become the franchise’s 11th world championship season.
While the Miami Marlins have floated a lowball offer Pujols’ way and the Chicago Cubs may (or may not) be interested in wading into the deep waters of financial commitment to snare the slugger, the Cardinals have smartly chosen not to bid against themselves.
That is likely to change — and soon. With the beginning of the winter meetings this week in Dallas, the Pujols sweepstakes should kick into another gear.
If a team is willing to top St. Louis’ proposal significantly enough to pry Pujols from his comfort zone along the Mississippi River, the time to step forward with checkbook in hand is now.
The Cardinals, of course, have not not tipped their hand as to how they would react if Pujols’ agent Dan Lozano presents them with a can-you-match-this offer from a rival club.
It seems unlikely a 10-year, $300 million mega deal will surface for the future Hall of Famer who will turn 32 before Opening Day 2012, But eight years at $25 to $27 million per just might. That will put the horsehide in Mozeliak’s court for a decision that will shape the Cardinals — for better or worse — for the next decade.
While it’s hard to imagine Pujols producing at a $25 million level at age 39-40, the Cardinals should be reasonably assured that the first five (maybe six) years of the deal will be well worth the considerable coin and certainly capable of producing another World Series title or two with a capable supporting cast in place.
Pujols is too important of a player to the team, the city and the legions of fans that pack Busch Stadium year after year to let him don another uniform even if it does hamstring the organization’s finances.
In this era of budget cuts, this is one expense the Cardinals simply cannot afford to slice. St. Louis needs to ride out the El Hombre era and make plans for another Musial-type statue.