Pujols serious about contract deadline

Albert Pujols is serious about his contract deadline. Jeff Hanisch/US Presswire

Logic tells us that the St. Louis Cardinals and Albert Pujols will work out their differences, because the first baseman is to St. Louis what Stan Musial used to be, and Stan The Man has been omnipresent around the Cardinals in the half century since his career ended. The folks who run the Cardinals know how much Pujols means to the franchise and what his departure would mean.

But the deadline that Pujols gave them to work out a long-term deal -- the start of spring training, Derrick Goold writes -- is very real, and if that passes without a contract in place, all bets are off. Thereafter, the talks would shift from a nice, one-on-one conversation between the Cardinals and their star player into a straight bidding war.

Pujols is in position to get the biggest contract since Alex Rodriguez's 10-year, $275 million deal, and he intends to test free agency and get paid. If an offer that comes from the Cubs, Giants, Dodgers, Angels or Mets in the fall is significantly greater than the Cardinals' proposals, well, he'll become the Stan Musial for some other franchise.

The Cardinals' challenge in signing Pujols probably has gotten more difficult for St. Louis this winter, when Jayson Werth got $126 million from the Nationals and Carl Crawford got $142 million from the Red Sox and Cliff Lee got a $24 million-a-year contract from the Phillies. Pujols has been better than any of those players in the past decade, better than anyone, as the greatest of his generation. The Cardinals might have great difficulty squeezing a $28-30 million salary into a $100 million-range payroll that already includes a significant obligation to Matt Holliday, but they have to know by now that somebody will give Pujols what he wants.

Not only is Pujols a great player, but he also would represent, for some franchise, a shift in direction that casual fans would notice. If Frank McCourt's financial issues forced him to sell the team, can you imagine the impact if the next Dodgers owner announced his arrival with the signing of Pujols? If the Angels struggled again in 2011 and Arte Moreno felt compelled to make a bold move, could there be anyone better than Pujols? If the Cubs flounder in 2011 and the Ricketts family felt the need to invest in a new brand for its franchise, what could be better than wresting a future Hall of Famer away from the archrivals? And the Giants, having cashed in on their investment in Barry Bonds, know better than anyone the box-office power of landing a Hall of Fame-caliber slugger who is destined to challenge benchmarks.

So although the Red Sox and Yankees might not be in play for Pujols because of their investments in Adrian Gonzalez and Mark Teixeira, respectively, there will be a market for a player as great as Pujols.

What will it take?

A whole lot.

For the Cardinals, locking themselves into such an enormous contract would cause a lot of heartburn and might constrict the baseball operations folks as they try to make other moves in the years ahead.

But they already must be asking themselves: What if the Cardinals lose him? How much would that hurt?

A lot of dominoes must fall before that happens, but the possible departure of Pujols -- what it would mean for the Cardinals if he walked away and what leverage that possibility creates -- has now officially become part of these contract talks.

By the way: The Cardinals have gotten some feelers from other teams on Pujols' availability in the past year but haven't acted on any of that. Presumably, their efforts will be focused entirely on signing Pujols until the start of spring training.

Meanwhile, Chris Carpenter is in a waiting game on his contract situation. Colby Rasmus says he must learn from his winter of discontent.

• The Ricketts family was under fire from fans at the Cubs Convention this weekend.

• The alliance between Frank McCourt and Fox spells trouble for the Dodgers, writes T.J. Simers.

• The Jays are not likely to sign Manny Ramirez, writes Mark Zwolinski.

Pablo Sandoval is looking good in the midst of his offseason workouts.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. The Oakland Athletics might have a geography advantage working for them in the Brian Fuentes bidding; the left-hander is from California and knows he would join an already-deep bullpen. On the other hand: If he goes to Toronto, he would appear to have a better shot to get save chances. Either way, it figures Fuentes will get a deal along the lines of Grant Balfour's two-year, $8 million contract with a possible option for a third year. Some teams had balked at Fuentes' request for a three-year deal.

2. The Athletics settled their arbitration case with Brad Ziegler for $1.25 million.

3. A source with the Yankees says that although the ownership overruled general manager Brian Cashman on the Rafael Soriano signing -- ownership wanted it, Cashman didn't -- the GM has the full confidence of the Steinbrenners.

4. The Phillies worked out their arbitration case with Ben Francisco, the favorite to be the team's primary right fielder.

5. Paul Janish, competing for playing time as the Reds' shortstop, appreciated a call he got from Walt Jocketty.

6. Paul Hoynes addresses the question of how much Shin-Soo Choo will cost.

7. The Royals re-signed Bruce Chen.

8. The Rays will be really, really busy in next year's draft, writes Marc Topkin.

9. The Rangers have tried and failed to improve their rotation.

10. There is one reason the Rangers should consider adding Manny Ramirez, writes Kevin Sherrington.

Other stuff

• There is sad news about Carlton Fisk's father.

Stephen Strasburg is getting lessons in resilience from Tony Gwynn, writes Chris Jenkins.

• Bob Brenly talked with Nick Piecoro about the 2001 Diamondbacks.

Rafael Palmeiro deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, writes Gil LeBreton.

• Here is a list of some trades that worked out for the Reds.

• The Mariners face more competition for Cactus League fans, writes Larry Stone.

• Clint Hurdle inspired Lyle Overbay, writes Colin Dunlap.

• The Red Sox need a little luck with a catcher and a left-handed reliever, writes Nick Cafardo.

• The Brewers' new manager will be under pressure to win right away.

• Other players helped out with a Ryan Dempster fundraiser.

• The New York chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America will hold its 88th annual awards dinner on Saturday at the Hilton New York, located at 1335 Avenue of the Americas between West 53rd and 54 streets.

Cocktails begin at 6 p.m., with the dinner slated to get under way at 7 p.m. Tickets are $225 each and can be purchased through Phil Pepe (philpepman@cs.com or 201-871-5924).

Former Reds MVP Barry Larkin will be on hand to present the NL MVP award to Joey Votto, while former Phillies Cy Young winner John Denny will be there to present the Cy Young Award to Roy Halladay.

Also, Bernie Williams and several members of his all-star band will be on hand for a memorable performance.

Here is the complete list of the awards that will be presented at the dinner. Nearly all the winners are expected to attend, including all eight national award winners:

Willie, Mickey and the Duke Award: Joe Torre, Lou Piniella, Bobby Cox

Joan Payson Award for community service: George Steinbrenner

William J. Slocum-Jack Lang Award for Long and Meritorious Service: Bill Shannon

Joe DiMaggio Toast of the Town Award: Robinson Cano

Ben Epstein-Dan Castellano Good Guy Award: Phil Hughes

Sid Mercer-Dick Young Player of the Year Award: Josh Hamilton

Babe Ruth Award (Postseason MVP): Tim Lincecum

Casey Stengel You Could Look It Up Award: Harmon Killebrew

Arthur and Milton Richman You Gotta Have Heart Award: R.A. Dickey

American League MVP: Josh Hamilton

National League MVP: Joey Votto

American League Cy Young: Felix Hernandez

National League Cy Young: Roy Halladay

American League Rookie of the Year: Neftali Feliz

National League Rookie of the Year: Buster Posey

American League Manager of the Year: Ron Gardenhire

National League Manager of the Year: Bud Black

In addition, new Hall of Famer Pat Gillick will be in attendance, as will Spink Award winner Bill Conlin.

• While working on book projects, I love to listen to one CD repeatedly through the process -- and right now, that is Jackson Browne's "Running on Empty." About as good as it gets.

And today will be better than yesterday.