- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
As baseball starts its move toward the front burners of sports today, it has two front-burner issues of its own:
1. Albert Pujols' negotiations. The contract talks between the Cardinals and the game's best player are not moving at all, with 12 days remaining before his deadline -- the day he is scheduled to arrive at the St. Louis training camp.
Considering how this has played out, and dragged on, and considering that Pujols has already made tens of millions of dollars in his career, it looks like he is placing an enormous bet on himself. Despite the inherent risk that a major injury in the next nine months would greatly undercut his value as a free agent, Pujols -- who has been making millions less than Alex Rodriguez and Ichiro Suzuki and A.J. Burnett and others in recent years -- apparently intends to pursue a Mount Everest contract, whether in St. Louis or elsewhere.
Which leaves the Cardinals in a really difficult position: They can either pay the man what he wants in the next 12 days, or they should be prepared to lose him, because his asking price will only go up in the fall, when other teams will join in the bidding.
As written here before: You can debate the merits of giving a slugger who just turned 31 a 10-year deal based on what you expect his production to be, and you won't have to look hard for reasons to not do that kind of deal. For example: Rodriguez has seven years remaining in his 10-year, $275 million deal with the Yankees, and already it appears that the last years of his contract will be sunk money for the richest franchise in the sport, because there already are signs of regression in the third baseman.
But Pujols might be the only player in the majors now who is single-handedly capable of changing the value of a franchise's brand. If the Angels signed him, the perception of that team would change dramatically and make them must-see TV. If a sale of the Dodgers were to happen in the next eight months, there would be no better way for the next owner of the team to signal a dramatic shift for what should be one of the proudest franchises in sports than the signing of Pujols.
If the beleaguered Wilpons had to sell the Mets, imagine what the acquisition of Pujols would mean to the club, and to the SNY Network. The Cubs will be shedding major salaries in the next few years; the response for that team, in that city, would be enormous if Chicago were able to steal Pujols away from its greatest rival.
Then there's the other front-burner issue ...
But on the other hand, there's no mechanism that requires the Rangers to trade him, and while other teams probably will want $20 million to $25 million to help offset the $48 million owed to Young over the next three years, Texas has no intention of just giving him away.
It's possible that this could result in a standoff, writes Jeff Wilson.
At some point, the Rangers will have to weigh any offer they've received versus the potential fallout of not acceding to the wishes of the infielder. And it could be that Young's past professionalism will work against him; the Rangers could decide to keep him, banking on the fact that if Young goes to spring training, he would be a total professional, generally bottle his discontent for the sake of teammates and go about the business of preparing the season.
Young is not someone who is prone to complain out loud, but if he really wants out -- if he really wants to force the Rangers' hand -- he might have to make a spectacle of this situation if Texas can't identify a suitable deal quickly.
Moves, deals and directions
1. It's unclear who will be the Giants' third baseman, as Scott Ostler writes.
2. The Rockies have moved to new spring training digs in Scottsdale, as William Porter writes.
Based on the time parameters Albert Pujols has laid down, less than two weeks remain for him and the Cardinals to come to some kind of agreement. Similarly, Michael Young is set for his own showdown with the Rangers.