January will turn to February soon. As in hours.
The Cardinals, as well as 29 other MLB teams are moving equipment and personnel to various camps all over Florida and Arizona. And within a couple of weeks Spring Training will open signaling the beginning of the end for winter.
While most of us are excited that we’ll soon have the beautiful daily grind of baseball in our lives again- these two weeks also might happen to be the most important weeks in the history of the 100+ year old franchise.
The Cardinals and their first baseman Albert Pujols know the stakes- get a deal done by the time Mr. Pujols heads to Jupiter Florida and reports for duty or don’t and table the discussions until after the 2011 Cardinal season has commenced.
If the Cardinals do the former, they’ll have made it known that the next decade will be solely in the hands of former 13th round draft pick cum best baseball player currently alive. If the latter is chosen, then the Cardinals will resume talks with Pujols in October or November of this year. Most likely with chairs pulled up to the table colored in Cub Blue and Angel Red.
It’s not an enviable predicament.
On one hand, Pujols is the face of the Cardinals. An international superstar that has three story posters hanging in Times Square, a national endorsement deal with Nike and a partial season ticket plan named in his honor. If he never plays another inning for the Cardinals every again, no one else will ever wear the #5 on the field of play for the team.
On the other is the uncertainty of the future. 8-10 years is what Pujols wants to be guaranteed and while we can reasonably expect that he’ll at least be serviceable for that period, nothing is certain… sans the fact that millions and millions of dollars will be deposited into his bank account every other week.
Talk locally has centered on the dollar amount that Mr. Pujols will/does command in the word of professional baseball. 200 million? 300 million? More?
Trying to put a dollar amount that everyone would be comfortable playing seems to have taken precedence over the normal winter conversation on new players (Theriot, Punto, etc) and departed friends. But does the dollar amount even matter? Should it?
The Cardinals are a profitable enterprise. They have a tremendously ravenous fan base. If you need proof look no further than this site- we write about Cardinals related things maybe 60% of the time- but it’s on our masthead because Cardinal fans will read anything.
And buy anything. And watch anything. They’re fanatical, which equals profitable. If the Cardinals really had to pay Pujols 500 millions dollars- they could, in the most literal sense, do it. They just wouldn’t have as handsome a profit margin that the investors in the team would be comfortable with.
So perhaps, just maybe, this negotiation isn’t really about the money. Sure, a cost/valuation is being considered. If Mr. Pujols would sign for the veteran minimum, the Cardinals would probably take that. But once you start talking about 100+ million, I think the more apt question is this:
Do you have a chance to win the World Series with Albert Pujols every year he has a contract for?
2011? Hell yes, you have a great chance. It’s the Phillies and the Cardinals as the heavyweights in the NL.
2020? Hmm. Most athletes aren’t at their peak performance level when they’re 40 (?). If Pujols is making 27-30 million in 2020, can the rest of the guys pick up his slack? If he does fall off, how far does it fall off?
I don’t know. You don’t know. The Cardinals don’t know.
The proliferation of better medical procedures, diagnostic/preventative measures and the general knowledge of the men that came before them lead to longer careers and even better, longer, more productive careers. It’s not just the Jamie Moyer’s that are freaks… it’s the guys like Steve Nash of the Phoenix Suns who would have retired 4 years ago if he’d played in the 80’s or 90’s but is still a top 3 point guard in the NBA because doctors figured out how to keep his back from being an issue.
So I’m leaning that towards thinking that the 2020 Cardinals could be in contention with a 40 year old Pujols. Meaning I’m leaning towards paying him.
But I’m not the guy offering the contracts.
I’m the one hearing about all the contract rumors/numbers/options and wondering if that’s even the discussion happing over on Clark Street. They know Pujols needs to be paid, simply because someone else would pay the man if they didn’t. But maybe we’re over complicating the whole damn thing.
Perhaps the Cardinals are more worried about how wide Albert Pujols shoulders are. That if they decide to dedicate the 11-20 seasons to him, if he’ll be able to deliver like he always has or if we’ve seen the best of a great player.
Maybe harder than what that is actually worth. Because if you decide he can carry the burden, then no price is too much.
And if he can’t, then no price is worth it at all.