The Albert Pujols-St. Louis Cardinals haggling is a massive turn off. All I need to do is hear “Pujols” or “St. Louis Cardinals,” and I change the channel.
I’m not sure whether Pujols, his agent Dan Lozano, or the Cardinals truly understand what they refer to as “the market.”
Since I worked on Wall Street for nearly 25 years, I do understand it. Markets are not static but are constantly in flux.
Unfortunately for Pujols, in today’s baseball climate, there’s no interest in signing a 31-year-old player to a ten-year deal for nearly $30 million annually. As of today, Pujols’ value is $16 million for the remaining year on his contract. The Cardinals apparently offered more but Pujols prefers to gamble that by 2012, an owner will step up and offer him the money he wants.
Historically (see Jayson Werth, Alex Rodriguez, C.C. Sabathia, Kevin Brown, Ryan Howard etc.), owners have anted up. But there’s a certain group mentality among baseball’s big bosses that salaries and contract terms governing length of service have to be drawn somewhere. Pujols may have the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Other 2012 possibilities include Pujols wrenching his knee running out an Opening Day ground ball and requiring surgery. Or maybe, under the unpleasant atmosphere surrounding his dispute with the Cardinals he could hit .265 with a corresponding drop in home run and RBI production. If either of those scenarios comes true, Pujols value will drop precipitously.
Pujols is disappointingly hung up on being baseball’s highest paid player. But at the salary levels he’s talking about, what realistically does it matter if he earns more than Alex Rodriguez? I’ll make the seemingly strange (until you stop to think about it) argument that there is no practical difference between $20, $25 or $30 million a year. And if it were up to me, I’d rather not have my name mentioned in the same sentence with Rodriguez.
What the fans are left with is the prospect of an extended, season-long reminder that Pujols wants $5 or $10 million more per year than whatever multimillion dollar deal management has offered.
Whether it’s fair or not, an months-long debate about how many millions more Pujols wants in an era of 10 percent American unemployment puts him by definition in a bad light, at least as far as I’m concerned.
Give me Gil Meche any day! Meche left $12 million of his $55 million contract on the table when he retired from the Kansas City Royals during the off season. Plagued by shoulder injuries last year, Meche went 0-5 with a 5.69 ERA. Even with surgery, there was no guarantee that he would pitch in 2011.
As Meche said during his press conference:
My first reaction is I’m not a guy who’s going to sit here and play baseball for the money. I know you hear a lot of athletes say, `It’s not for the money, it’s not for the money.’
Actually, it wasn’t. And hopefully this does show a lot of guys do feel the same as I do. Yeah, I’ve made a lot of money in my career and I know I’m financially good. My kids are good. That’s comforting for me. I’m not a guy who’s going to go and blow money. The money wasn’t ever, ever a factor in my decision.
Do the math on Meche’s deal. He’s earned $43 million from baseball. At age 32 and assuming he lives to 72 but deducting whatever he’s spent since he signed his contract in 2007, he’s still got about $800,000 a year to live on (in retirement!) plus whatever supplemental income he generated before or after his career.
To date, Pujols has made $111 million and is a beloved figure. Pujols may or may not play out his days as a Cardinals; he could or could not keep his iconic status in St. Louis. But whether he signs with the Cardinals or some other money-minting team, there will always be a lingering and bitter aftertaste in fans’ hearts about what’s truly important to Pujols.
Outside Busch Stadium, 10 sculptures of St. Louis ballplayers stand. They represented the best Cardinals of all time and include Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Red Schoendienst and of course Presidential Medal of Freedom winner Stan Musial. Nowhere on their statues is there a mention of how much money they made.