Time to cue up some late era Pink Floyd and let the mechanical droning rhythms of The Wall bring out your inner child. Or something like that.
In the last few weeks, impatience over the lack of an Albert Pujols contract extension is causing a lot of stress across Cardinals Nation, and it is just not necessary. An increasing number of bloggers are turning negative towards the Cardinals executive team, and while there good reasons to do so, the Pujols situation is not one of them. Criticize them relentlessly for the lack of depth on the major league squad and how the minor league system has been pillaged. Please call the fashion police every time John Mozeliak wears a scarf to a press briefing. But the Albert Pujols situation, not so fast.
Conventional wisdom suggests that they should have already signed Albert to an extension. Why ?
At this point, we are getting the best player in baseball at a significant discount. That is easy to say now, after he has nearly fulfilled his current obligation with a consistency that only a draftsman can get with a straightedge. There was plenty of risk in the early years, and the Cardinals front office bore all of that. It all worked out, but an injury or premature decline in production would have put management in a very precarious position. The last two or three years of the current agreement is their payout for bearing the early risk.
Some will suggest that Albert’s value has gone up and the front office should have already pounced to lock him in. But has it really ? Really ? Sure, the Ryan Howard deal last year added some interesting fuel to the fire of debate, but they have known for the last three years that Albert is a $25-30M/yr extension. Knowing this, the best tactic would be to wait and see what happens. He’s under contract, he’s the ideal professional and won’t play out his option year pouting like some prima donna’s have done in the past. So where’s the urgency ?
There are three more things in play that give the front office reason to take a big picture view of this contract extension.
1. A new TV deal with Fox Sports Midwest. In 2011, FSMW is now the exclusive TV carrier of all the Cardinal broadcasts. This gives Bill De Witt Jr and III some interesting negotiation room in the latter years of a Pujols contract extension. FSMW wants Albert to stay in St. Louis just as much as we fans do, and they may have a financial incentive to assist paying the big man.
2. A new collective bargaining agreement is just around the corner. It does not seem as contentious as some of the other sports, football in particular. But there is always a chance that a new agreement can have a big financial impact on a team. The executives have a much better idea what the new agreeement will look like now, compared to a year ago, which was better than two years ago. Said a different way, they may be more willing now to offer a long term contract to a player of Albert Pujols’ stature than at any time in the past.
3. Ballpark Village. A sore subject for some, this is part of the deal that led to the construction of a new baseball stadium in St. Louis. While the stadium is a beautiful attraction, one that the city should be proud of, the area around the park that was to be developed for shopping, offices and living has been largely ignored. Again, this presents an interesting case of leverage. It can be as simple as asking the city officials whether they want to pay Albert Pujols or build out Ballpark Village. Of course the answer is both, but it may open the possibility of scaling back the Ballpark Village construction plans, and that is already happening. Every dollar that the ownership does not put into Ballpark Village this year is an extra dollar that they can spend on Albert’s out years in what will likely be an 8-10 year $240-$300M deal. We might take exception to this, but that does not change the fact that huge sums of money are involved in this either way, and this is the way that some business gets done.
I respect how both sides have acted in this situation, conducting the negotiations in private. This is as it should be. Albert Pujols has earned that, and the front office is smart enough to honor it. Where this gets tricky is when local and national media step in and fight for your mindshare. They know that printing anything about Albert and his contract will spread through the midwest faster than an August brush fire in West Texas. Sources will report something, conclusions will be drawn from that, and pretty soon ESPN or STL Today’s web hit counts are soaring. “Oh my gosh, did you read what <fill in the blank> wrote about Albert ???” The only ones who make out in this are the advertisers.
The front office has consistently stated that they want to see Albert remain a Cardinal, and we should take them at their word. Albert Pujols has continually reaffirmed that he wants to stay in the St. Louis area, and we should take him at his word. The fact that there is no contract extension news means exactly that – there is no news. It doesn’t mean that there are irreconcilable differences and that the two sides will not ultimately reach agreement. While Albert has publicly indicated a deadline of the start of spring training, do you really think that if the Cardinals come back with a reasonable offer in the middle of spring training, before the first home game of the regular season (as they did with Ozzie Smith) or on an arbitrary Tuesday in May, that he wouldn’t sign the contract ? Of course not.
Even if it gets as far as free agency, it doesn’t mean that the Cardinals are out of it by any means. Sure, it might be a little more expensive at that point in time because cash rich teams like the Angels might make it hard on the Cardinals, but it can still be done then.
All we know is that there is no agreement. I’m not getting all wound up by some sports writers longing to sell newspapers or pad their web hit counts. I won’t get upset until I see Albert at a press conference in a city other than St. Louis.
No, this is not the real contractual crisis facing the Cardinals. That will happen in 2013 when Adam Wainwright is playing out his option season. We haven’t seen a pitcher like Adam Wainwright in a long time, and that’s the one that I worry about. But I won’t start worrying until 2013. If the Mayans are right, we’ll have much bigger problems before we get to that point.