Some of you may know that our little Cardinals website is a member of a larger Cardinals-related web community known as the United Cardinals Bloggers (or UCB for short). It’s a large and diverse group of writers all devoted to our beloved Redbirds.

We’ve been involving ourselves with a daily roundtable discussion ever since the end of the World Series, with each member presenting a question to the class and receiving a variety of answers in return. So far, there haven’t been any actual fights, but some heated discussions have resulted from time to time.

Yesterday was my turn to ask a question of the UCB geniuses. After the jump, we dig into both the question and their answers. Join in!

I asked: The market for Albert Pujols has been incredibly slow to develop, much slower than I had anticipated. The Cardinals low-balled him, and then the Marlins went even lower than that. Now the Cubs have shown vague interest without an offer (yet, anyway). What do you think is the most important reason that Pujols seems to have no team really pursuing him? Also, give me your perspective on the Cubs’ interest.

Here are the replies, in order. I’ve indented certain responses to reflect replies to the statement above it.

Aaron Hooks: Look at every team that could afford him.  For one reason or another, each has a reason for not giving him the money.

The Cubs are just making the Cards compete with themselves.  They would have to pay signifigantly more to get him–something they won’t do since they are trying to rebuild in the draft (in spite of the new draft cap) and get all those big bad contracts OFF the books, not on them.

Mark Tomasik, Retrosimba: The most important reason Pujols seems to have no team really pursuing him is most MLB teams are unwilling or unable to tie up so much money long-term on one player, especially one whose prime years (for the most part) are behind him. As for the Cubs’ interest, it most likely is salesmanship to give Cubs fans the perception the franchise is one of the elite movers-and-shakers in the industry.

Daniel Shoptaw, C70 At The Bat: My thought is that a confluence of reasons that are melding together to make this the worst possible time for AP to be a free agent.

You have the fact that most teams with money don’t need a first baseman, most notably the Yankees and Red Sox.  Without them driving up the price, it’s hard to get into record territory. You have the fact that Albert is showing signs of being past his prime. Though he’s still a top-notch player, there are enough signs there to make people wonder. You have another, younger power first baseman on the market as well.  Prince Fielder isn’t as good as Albert, but he’s pretty good as well and he should be in the middle of his prime rather than closer to the end of it. The biggest thing, though, is that general managers, on the whole, have gotten a lot smarter in the last decade.  They really crunch the numbers and use metrics, etc. to make their decisions rather than “oh, that guy’s really good.”  They are less likely to cripple their franchise over one guy than they were in the past.

I don’t think the Cubs are going to be able to pay Albert what it would take to get him.  I figure it’s more of a kick-the-tires, maybe-we’ll-get-lucky type of situation.

Dathan Brooks, CRPS: One only need look back one year to realize what’s probably going on here, from the standpoint of the cubs’ “interest” in Pujols.  Last year, once he’d signed with PHI, it came out that the Red Sox made Cliff Lee a considerable offer.  Why?  They admitted they had no real interest in bringing Lee into the fold in Boston, and merely made an offer in order to squeeze the Yankees into having to increase theirs, if they wanted to stay in the hunt.  It’s just gamesmanship, but if you think it doesn’t go on out there every day, you’re naive.  Who was the GM of that Boston club a year ago?  Oh, that’s right: Theo Epstein.  The cubs have been saddled with the equivalent of a murderer’s row of albatrosses: Soriano, Zambrano, Ramirez, Fukudome…etc, and I just don’t think they’re ready to dive back into committing huge dollars over a lot of years to anyone right now.  Though, that organization never ceases to amaze me–they could actually be in the running, I guess.  I just don’t see it.

As far as “why no teams are interested in him” goes, I’m not convinced that’s the case.  If I owned a ballclub, I’d be trying to keep it quiet that I was interested in the game’s greatest player, as to not continue to publicly drive up what’s already sure to be a huge number.  Again, I point to Cliff Lee last year.  All we heard about was Cashman & Daniels flying to Arkansas to meet with Lee.  We heard about the 6th year vs 7th year argument, and it was NYY/TEX crammed down our throats until suddenly, PHI locked him up.  Teams don’t always shout it from the rooftops when they want a player, it hampers what little leverage they may have considerably.  I suspect this is what’s going on.  A player like Albert comes around once in a lifetime, I can’t believe that only 3 teams are interested in talking to him…even if only as part of a Dog & Marlin show.

Daniel Solzman: My guess would be the fact that it’s going to be expensive to sign  him.  Outside of NYY and BOS, what team has that kind of payroll?  The  Yankees, who ALWAYS go after the big free agents took themselves out of the  running and Boston has no need for a 1B this offseason.

Jon Doble, Redbird Dugout: I was recently thinking about how things have changed over the course of a year. We went from people talking about $30 million a year to a rumored offer that isn’t even above $22 million a year. The reason the market hasn’t developed for him has a few reasons:

1) Most of his potential big spending suitors are out of it. The Dodgers and Mets have financial trouble. The Angels will have their own soon thanks to spending $23 million on Vernon Wells‘ .660 OPS (and while I decry the use of OPS to describe a player, one exceptionally low really says something). The Yankees and Red Sox already have first basemen locked up to big deals. And the Rangers have pretty much bowed out. That doesn’t leave a lot of teams who have deep pockets and who need a first baseman.

2) Another is Pujols has pretty much been in decline for the last three years. I can’t be the only person in the world to have looked at the metrics for a large group of players and realized that the peak age of a player is really about 30 years old. Albert will be 32 by the time next season starts and is coming off of the worst season of his career.

3) Albert also has to deal with another first baseman on the market who will likely be cheaper, require fewer years to sign, and (I believe) will have better production over the next 4 seasons than Pujols will.

If I’m a General Manager and I have no previous attachment to either Fielder or Pujols, Prince Fielder’s agent is my first call. For what Pujols wants, the Cardinals are the only team that makes sense for him anyway.

Bill Ivie, I-70 Baseball: Mind if I chime in? One of the major reasons that I think there is a lack of “interest” in Pujols is simply Pujols himself.  He recently stated publicly that he wants to meet face-to-face with any team showing serious interest.  In addition, both he and the Cardinals have expressed an interest to keep everything quiet between them.  To think that he is asking the home team to be quiet and allowing others to run off at the mouth is a bit close minded.

The winter meetings are right around the corner and I would expect to hear that Albert and Lazono are there.  There will be more rumors because people will physically see agents talking to GM’s etc.  The market will be more defined by the end of the week and a few more teams will pop up in the hunt.

That being said, notice how I mentioned Albert wanting to keep things private?  Theo Epstein kind of ignored that.  Kind of a rough way to start off the discussion, “hey, we’re interested”…”Yeah, I read that in the paper, hard to keep it private now”.  Dumb move, if you are truly interested in him.  That said, I agree with others that it is posturing.  My biggest question with the Cubs is why is Theo Epstein saying all this?  He *is not the General Manager*.  He has hired a General Manager.  When is the last time Jed Hoyer made a statement to anyone?  Leave to the Cubs to bring in new management and still figure out how to do it wrong.

Kevin Reynolds: First, I have to addressed the negative connotation of “low-balling” a professional athlete (not that you meant it that way, Ray…more to others)…what, really, is the problem with low-balling athletes? Do fans really WANT to pay more for tickets? Do fans really WANT their team to think twice, three, even four times before filling a need in a contending season just because they paid 3 million more a season for a player than they had to? Let’s be clear about this…when it comes to negotiations between front offices and players…fans have more in common with the front office than they do the players. I see too many fans on the wrong side of negotiation tactics.

That said…I think the Pujols market is not as lucrative as it once may have been because of contracts like Ryan Howard‘s deal. I honestly think the market peaked at that point, and Albert missed it. There seems to come a point where GMs and owners go, “Uh…wow…that’s a lot of money for [fill in the blank]” and then become instinctually protective about their money. As a result, the market self-corrects a bit…until the next spending spree.

Albert is becoming a free agent at a time when lots of money was dished out for players and now teams are dealing with the consequences. It means Albert won’t get $30 million a year. When Howard signed his deal, many thought it would help Albert push for more. But it may have ended up hurting him as many were shocked at the final price of a slugging first baseman with obvious flaws. Also, Albert’s age isn’t helping him.

But I think the bottom line is two-fold: 1) The Yankees and Red Sox – the two teams that typically drive the big-spending contracts – are set at 1B. They aren’t really in it for Albert, so the ceiling on his contract naturally goes down. Ever watch Storage Wars? Notice how the other guys love it when someone doesn’t show up to bid on a unit? Notice how they hate it when they DO show and the others start bidding them up? Same concept. 2) Albert just really isn’t worth a whole lot more to teams than what the Cards have offered – except the Cardinals. He’s clearly entering decline – even if it is slight – his age is becoming a factor in long-term contract talks, and he would enter the category of high-priced, hired gun for any other city. For the Cardinals, his significance to the area and franchise is much more valuable…but not to other teams. Prince Fielder and other players could offer more for less when talking long-term deals.

Finally, the pace is also simply because no one wants to be the high bidder early on and then get shopped. Ever buy anything on ebay? Cardinal rule is, don’t bid too early. Otherwise, you just become the mark to beat…meaning you guarantee you will pay more than you want to pay if you finally win the bidding war you caused.

Cubs interest? Irrelevant. First, I don’t think they are interested…at least not enough to overcome other issues surrounding the deal, but second, I don’t think Albert is interested. He wants a winning culture…not a hope that a losing culture can become a winning culture. He wants to win now, not in five years when the “ground up” rennovations by Theo start supporting him. How many years would he have to throw away waiting on a contender if he went to the Cubs? 2? 3? 5? For a player in perhaps the last 9 or 10 years of his career, that’s a significant percentage of years he could be contending in another city like St. Louis. And let’s not forget he hates Wrigley.

Nah…I don’t think the Cubs are seriously interested in out-bidding other teams for Pujols. Fielder I think is a good fit for Wrigley, but not Albert. But ultimately, it doesn’t matter. I don’t see any scenario in which Albert would think going to Chicago is a good idea.

And it is looking more and more like the Cardinals were smart for waiting to sign Pujols – and the Pujols camp knew it…that’s the REAL reason Albert was miffed that the Cards didn’t sign him when Howard signed his deal or shortly thereafter. He – and the Cardinals – looked ahead and knew the timing was going to be in favor of the Cardinals. Yanks/Sox have 1B. Market retreating from huge contracts a bit after lasting sticker shock. Every year Albert only gets older. Back then, Albert was only getting better year to year…why not wait to see if he starts declining?

Timing all in Cards favor.

JE Powell, Fear The Red: The answer to this is twofold, in my opinion. First is the money issue. There are not that many teams that can afford him and with the biggest markets (Yankees, Red Sox, and Phillies) set at first base, there just does not seem to be that many high revenue teams after him. Secondly, is Pujols’ age. Any team that wants to sign Pujols would, it seems, have to offer him a 9 or 10 year cotract. I don’t think there are many teams that want to pay a 41 or 42 year old $25-28 million a year.

I get the impression that the Cardinals organization learned from the Holliday deal and do not want to bid against themselves, so I think they are sitting back and waiting to see what other teams offer. I get the impression that the Cardinals actually have more money to offer than they are letting on, but don’t want to over do it right off the bat.

  • Bill Ivie: Don’t forget that the Holliday deal was a little different. The team has admitted that during that process it was “Matt Holliday or we have no idea who’s in left on opening day”.  If  Pujols walks, Berkman plays first and Craig is in right. They paid what they needed to in order to ensure that Holliday was in Cardinal red.  Did they outbid themselves?  Maybe…but the alternative was much worse.  This situation allows them to be less aggressive. I suspect there may be some respect between AP and Mo that makes the Cards feel that they will get a chance to match any offer.  Makes it easier to tell him “Go find out your price and come let us know what we need to do”.
  • Bob Netherton: And there is (as much as you can ever count on this) some long term protection that is close in the farm system.   You are right, Bill, the team was full of question marks during the Holliday free agency period.   If that exact situation presented itself today, it would have played out much differently, just as the Pujols one is right now … They absolutely outbid themselves, and I’m pretty sure they knew that when it was happening.   Mo and BDW Jr are not going to be schooled by an agent, even if it is Scott Boras.   They knew their business too. I believe this to be the foundation of the entire process and is the reason for the patience (on both sides).   Tom’s comment about AP being far more valuable to the Cardinals is the reason why nobody is forking over $300M and this explains why the Cardinals aren’t preemptively taking AP out of the market as they more or less did with Holliday.

Matt Philip, Fungoes: Did I miss something? When did the Cardinals low-ball Pujols?

  • Ray DeRousse, STL Cardinal Baseball: You don’t consider a $22 million AAV contract to be a low ball offer when he would only be the fifth-highest paid player in MLB? It’s not a low ball offer for the Cardinals, but it does not keep up with the established salaries of elite players.

Tom Knuppel: I know I will get your scorn but the market appears weak for Pujols because IMO he simply isn’t worth that kind of money to any one else but the Cardinals.

  • Bob Netherton: Blunt, to the point, and could not agree more :-)

Chris Reed, Bird-Brained: I don’t think I would go so far as to say the Cardinals low-balled Albert Pujols, but they’re definitely keeping the numbers in their comfort zone to this point and I’m fine with that. Honestly, I think it’s just a matter of timing with the Pujols market. It’s only December 2. Big contracts are rarely signed before the arbitration deadline, and a lot of work towards those contracts often gets done during the Winter Meetings. Those start Monday. So I expect the Pujols news to start picking up next week. But I’d be shocked if any team offered significantly more than the Cardinals have, and that includes the Cubs. That’s what it will take to make him leave. If the Cards offered nine years, what’s the trump card? 10 years? Every year past seven represents more and more risk for teams. So it will come down to AAV money. And I don’t think Pujols would go anywhere–especially Wrigley–for less than $3-4 million more per year than the Cards offered. Not only is he worth more to the Cardinals than any other team, he is also more revered in St. Louis than he will be anywhere else. That’s worth something. Nothing at this point makes me think Albert Pujols will be absent from the 2012 Winter Warm Up.

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About The Author

Lifelong Cardinal fan and general loudmouth.