Pujols rejects $275 million offer from Marlins to sign 10-year deal with Angels

St. Louis Cardinals Albert Pujols swings, hitting a double in the seventh inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on September 3, 2011. St. Louis won the game 6-4. UPI/Bill Greenblatt

To many, it was shocking that Albert Pujols decided to leave familiar territory in St. Louis and sign with the Angels on Thursday. But maybe even more shocking is the fact that the Halos’ offer wasn’t even the biggest that Pujols received.

Bob Nightengale of USA Today reported that the Marlins were actually the highest bidders for Pujols, who will earn $254 million over the life of his new 10-year contract with the Angels. Miami offered the slugger $275 million but Pujols ultimately decided to head out to Southern California, which is presumably where he’ll finish his career.

With ownership trying to attract fans to a brand new stadium in Miami, the Marlins have been linked to many big names since the start of the winter meetings. They’ve already locked up shortstop Jose Reyes to a new six-year deal worth $106 million and also signed closer Heath Bell to a three-year, $27 million contract. In the end though, the club couldn’t catch the biggest fish of all (no pun intended), as Pujols heads West to play with the Halos.

The Angels seemingly came out of nowhere to not only outbid the Cardinals but also impress Pujols enough for him to take less money to sign in Southern Cal. Alex Rodriguez was the only player to secure a contract worth more than $200 million before Pujols signed his deal, although it’ll be interesting to see how much Prince Fielder eventually signs for once he chooses a destination. He’s now the most attractive name left on the market, and should receive plenty of high-priced offers over the next couple of days.

As for the Cardinals, they fell nearly $50 million shy of the Angels’ offer for Pujols, who said back in spring training of last year that he wasn’t going to take a hometown discount to stay in St. Louis. His previous contract was very club-friendly, so the Cards knew they would have to pony up this time around if they wanted to keep his services. In the end, it obviously wasn’t enough. Now the defending World Series Champions are left to pick up the pieces from an offseason that not only saw their long-time manager Tony La Russa retire, but also their best player and most marketable star leave for a bigger contract.

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With Pujols’ contract situation up in the air, La Russa wise to walk away now

The St. Louis Cardinals Manager Tony La Russa recieves the Commissioner’s Trophy from Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak after winning the 2011 World Series in St. Louis on October 28, 2011. The Cardinals defeated the Texas Rangers 6-2 winning game 7 of the World Series. The Cardinals won their 11th World Series after defeating the Texans 4 game to 3. UPI/Bill Greenblatt

Maybe Tony La Russa’s decision to retire was as much about timing as it was foreshadowing.

Why not retire if you’re La Russa? Your Cardinals were seemingly left for dead in spring training when Adam Wainwright went down for the season and again when your club trailed the Braves by 10.5 games in the NL Wild Card. Down to your last strike not once but twice in Game 6, your Cards flat lined multiple times before reviving to become 2011 World Series Champions. And with three titles in your back pocket plus four Manager of the Year awards, there’s really no reason to keep going. You’re financially set, you’re already a baseball icon, and you’ll get to walk away after climbing the very top of the mountain.

You’ll also leave a potentially disastrous situation behind you as you ride off into the sunset.

St. Louis fans still haven’t stopped partying from last Friday night, nor should they. What the Cardinals were able to accomplish this year was highly improbable and they’ll go down as one of the most memorable teams in baseball history. If you think about what had to happen for them to even sneak into the postseason was incredible. Then throw in how they knocked off the heavily favored Phillies, the feel-good Brewers and the high-powered Rangers and…wow. Again, it’s been an improbable journey.

But while St. Louis continues to bask in its World Series glory, the rest of the baseball world is gearing up for next year. And next year’s Cardinals might look completely different if the front office can’t convince Albert Pujols to stick around.

With Wainwright expected to come back to full health next season, the Cardinals’ starting rotation will be in good, if not great shape. Jason Motte also gave the audition of a lifetime last postseason to be the closer next year and the lineup is solid as well. Matt Holliday is a nice player. David Freese is a nice player. Lance Berkman, assuming he’s as good in 2012 as he was in 2011, is a nice player.

But without Pujols in the middle of that lineup, sorry, the Cardinals are an average team. Great baseball city, but an average team. They’ll be even worse if Berkman reverts back to his 2010 production and/or if Holliday visits the disabled list as much as he did this past season.

There were probably many reasons why La Russa decided to call it quits at this point in his career. And who could blame him if he got the sense that the front office won’t be able to give Pujols what he wants? Who could blame La Russa if he saw the writing was on the wall and instead of going out with a whimper he went out with a roar?

No matter what those reasons were for why La Russa decided to retire, he goes out as a champion and doesn’t have to spend this winter thinking about how to repeat next year, which is difficult enough.

It becomes even harder when you don’t have your superstar first baseman batting in the three hole.

2011 Fantasy Baseball All-Contract Year Team

Fellow TSR fantasy baseball writer David Medsker recently reminded me of something legendary manager Sparky Anderson once said:

“Just give me 25 guys on the last year of their contracts; I’ll win a pennant every year.”

It got me thinking: What if you could build a fantasy team this year comprised only of players in the last years of their contracts? Granted, unless your league was made up of owners who have lived in a cave for the past five years, you couldn’t draft Albert Pujols, Robinson Cano and Jose Reyes on the same team. But since this is just for stickers and giggles, don’t sweat the details. (Seriously, have a little fun for once in your life.)

Without further ado, I give you the All-Contract Year Fantasy Team.

(Note: I’ve indicated if a player has a club option for next year.)

All 2011 Fantasy Articles | 2011 Position Rankings

Catcher: Jorge Posada, Yankees
Obviously Posada’s best days are behind him and now that the Yankees have Russell Martin to help share the catching duties this season, it appears as though the 39-year-old backstop is destined to finish his career as a DH. Hopefully the transition will mean fewer trips to the disabled list for Posada, who has landed on the DL four times in the past three years combined. There’s still 15-20 home runs left in his bat and with this being the final year of his contract, he needs to show the Bombers that he’s worth keeping around past this season. (Yadier Molina of the Cardinals also has a $7 million club option with a $750K buyout for next season, so he’s another possibility if you’re concerned about Posada’s durability.)

First Base: Albert Pujols, Cardinals
I’m not going to insult anyone’s intelligence by writing about why Albert Pujols is the best first base-eligible player in a contract year, but what I will do is note that both Adrian Gonzalez and Prince Fielder’s current deals also run out in 2011. Talk about an interesting 2012 free agency year it’ll be for first basemen.

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Why is it again that Pujols and the Cards can’t work out an extension during the season?

St. Louis Cardinals Albert Pujols has fun with Yadier Molina (L) and Pedro Feliz (R) in the dugout in the fifth inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on September 27, 2010. UPI/Bill Greenblatt

It’s kind of ironic that Albert Pujols’ camp didn’t want the superstar’s contract situation to become a distraction because that’s exactly what it’s become.

Wednesday’s Noon deadline came and went without Pujols and the Cardinals agreeing to a new contract. As it stands now, the slugger will head into the 2012 offseason as a free agent and the Cards will just have to hope another team doesn’t whisk him away before they have another chance to re-sign him. (If they even want to re-sign him, that is. It sounds like the club has no plans of meeting Pujols’ 10-year, $275 million-plus demands.)

But what’s unclear to me is why the discussions have to cease. I think it’s admirable that Pujols doesn’t want his personal situation to become a distraction to his teammates, but that’s out of his hands. Does anyone think that the media in St. Louis isn’t going to ask him about his future plans just because his deadline passed? Does he think the media in New York, Chicago or L.A. won’t poke and prod him every night when the Cardinals play the Mets, Cubs and Dodgers on the road?

Sorry Albert, but your situation will be a distraction whether you like it or not. So you might as well let your camp continue discussing dollar amounts with the team over these next couple of months. At least then you can say, “Hey, my agent is working on it. I’m staying out of it.” That sounds a heck of a lot better than, “I’m going to body slam the next sum bitch that says the word contract.” (What, that doesn’t sound like Pujols?)

I think everyone needs to use common sense here. Albert has stated that he wants to stay in St. Louis and you know the Cardinals don’t want to lose him. So if the main objective is to keep him in the Lou, then the two sides might as well keep the lines of communication open throughout the season. Again, it’s not realistic to think that everyone will fall hush over these next couple of months just because Pujols’ deadline passed on Wednesday. He’s baseball’s best player and this story is the biggest in baseball. Who knows, maybe if the two sides keep talking, they’ll eventually settle on something and everyone can put this mess behind them.

La Russa: MLBPA forcing Pujols to ask for a record-setting contract

St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa speaks to reporters before a game against the Chicago Cubs at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on August 13, 2010. La Russa who was given a two game suspension for his part in a bench clearing brawl during a game against the Cincinnati Reds in Cincinnati last week, will not manage the next two games. UPI/Bill Greenblatt

Tony La Russa doesn’t believe that Albert Pujols is all about the money. He thinks it’s that damn Major League Baseball Players Association that is making Albert Pujols be all about the money.

From ESPN.com:

St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said Tuesday that he believes the Major League Baseball Players Association is attempting to “beat up” Albert Pujols and his agent in an attempt to get Pujols to sign a record-setting contract.

And that, La Russa said emphatically, “is bull—-. That’s not the way it should be.”

“I’m not saying that if I was a union representative I would do it differently,” the manager said. “I’m just saying I think it diminishes the other factors that a player looks at. … I think each negotiation should be based on what’s the best decision — taking everything into account, not taking one thing into account.”

But because the union sees Pujols as a player who can raise the salary bar, he’s under more pressure than your average player, La Russa said.

This sort of pressure has gone on for years, with many high-profile players, La Russa went on. But in Pujols’ case, he said, this was “not just arm-twisting. It’s dropping an anvil on your back through the roof of your house.”

La Russa said he had no specific evidence that Pujols was being pressured by the players union. But he said his many years in the game have made that “a guaranteed assumption. It’s gone on since I started managing. And I don’t think they’d deny it.”

I think the first sentence in that last paragraph sums up this situation nicely: La Russa has no evidence that the players union is pressuring Pujols.

Who knows, maybe La Russa is right and the union is pressuring players to get the most they can. But it’s not a stretch to think that the players and agents want to soak every last penny out of teams. Why wouldn’t they? If they’re lucky, players are able to land one, maybe two big contracts throughout their playing career, so you better believe they’re going to stretch the dollar amount as big as possible.

Besides, I don’t really see a benefit for the union to demand that players ask for as much money as possible. There’s already a natural order to the way contracts are done now. Player A makes X amount in 2010, then Player B makes a little more than what Player A made in 2011. Player C then makes a little more than Player B and the cycle never stops.

The union already has what it wants, so there’s no real need to put pressure on players. I think La Russa has just grown frustrated that this Pujols contract situation hasn’t been resolved and the players are set to report to spring training.

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