St Louis Cardinals v Pittsburgh Pirates

The Cardinals are probably going to sign Albert Pujols, but it won’t be easy and it won’t all be positive…

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As the resident Cardinals supporter on this here blog, I feel it is my responsibility to riff a little on the Albert Pujols extension stuff.

It was reported Saturday that Pujols and his agent want talks to cease once spring training begins and Albert confirmed that deadline while speaking with the media Sunday in what MLB.com’s Matthew Leach called an “occasionally testy” press conference at the Cardinals’ Winter Warmup.

Assuming that Pujols and his representatives stick to that plan — and there’s no reason to think they won’t — the St. Louis front office has about a month to get a contract worked out.  Otherwise, the greatest hitter in the game today will hit free agency next winter at the age of 31.

If I’m Pujols’ agent, I’m asking for a nine-year deal worth $270 million.  I’m not expecting to sign at that number, but it’s where I would start.

No hitter in baseball history has been so consistently prolific to start a career and Pujols is no slouch on defense either.  He’s squeaky clean, a family man and infinitely marketable.

Pujols is without a doubt the best player in the sport and it is his agent’s job to ensure that he is paid as such.  Whether the historically excellent rate of production continues into the next decade is unknown and maybe even unlikely, but the Cardinals must pay for what he has already accomplished and what he might accomplish in the future.  Because if they don’t, someone else will.

You’ve probably heard the idea that the Yankees and Red Sox won’t try to a lure in a free agent Pujols because they are both already locked into multi-year contracts at first base.  I don’t believe it, not for a second.  The Yankees are committing DH duties in 2011 to Jorge Posada, a 39-year-old with bad knees.  The Red Sox will go with David Ortiz, who is 35 and playing in a body that isn’t aging well.  Why has it been determined that baseball’s top big money clubs won’t have openings?

The Yankees will try to get Pujols if he becomes a free agent.  The Red Sox will, too.  Mark it in ink.

Now, that doesn’t mean that Pujols is definitely going to leave St. Louis if a pact isn’t agreed upon before the opening of spring camp. If the Cardinals don’t like the slugger’s asking price this winter and decide to let him dip a toe in the free agent waters, they will still be a legitimate suitor on the other end.  Majority owner Bill DeWitt Jr. is a billionaire and has already made a killing off his $150 million purchase of the club in 1995.  He runs the team like a business — with the intention of making a profit — but he is also a legitimate fan.

The money is there to battle the big boys.  You’ll hear the Cardinals referred to as a mid-market team from time to time, but it’s completely false.  St. Louis is not a big town, but the fan base extends to all bordering states and beyond because of the strong radio signals that KMOX emitted when televisions weren’t in every home. You can find big pockets of folks wearing the “birds on the bat” in Arkansas, Tennessee, southern Illinois, Indiana, Oklahoma, Mississippi and Iowa.

The Cardinals are in the Top 5 of league-wide merchandise sales nearly every season and they pack three million fans into the new and somewhat publicly funded Busch Stadium on a yearly basis.

The money is flowing.

But it’s DeWitt’s team.  If he decides that it is bad business to outbid offers from the Yankees and Red Sox, or even the Giants, then it simply won’t happen.  And that rightly has Cardinals fans nervous.

I don’t have sources and I don’t know any of the involved negotiators personally, but I think the deal gets done just before spring training.  I think it will be an awful contract, maybe in the eight-year, $225 million range, and I think it’s going to hamstring the Cardinals for almost its entire duration.

When the Cards need to lock up Adam Wainwright after 2013, they won’t be able to.  When Colby Rasmus hits free agency, he won’t be brought back either.  DeWitt isn’t going to operate yearly with a $150 million payroll.  He is interested in making money, and that’s fine.

But I have a feeling — wise or not — that he is going to open the purse strings for Pujols before the Cardinals head down to Jupiter, Florida in late February because DeWitt knows what it will mean for public relations if El Hombre departs and because, well, there have been no discussions about a possible Plan B.

The Cards are going all in.

Report: MLB approves new rule allowing a dugout signal for an intentional walk

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 29:  MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred laughs during a ceremony naming the 2016 winners of the Mariano Rivera American League Reliever of the Year Award and the Trevor Hoffman National League Reliever of the Year Award before Game Four of the 2016 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians at Wrigley Field on October 29, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images
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ESPN’s Howard Bryant is reporting that Major League Baseball has approved a rule allowing for a dugout signal for an intentional walk. In other words, baseball is allowing automatic intentional walks. Bryant adds that this rule will be effective for the 2017 season.

MLB has been trying, particularly this month, to improve the pace of play. Getting rid of the formality of throwing four pitches wide of the strike zone will save a minute or two for each intentional walk. There were 932 of them across 2,428 games last season, an average of one intentional walk every 2.6 games. It’s not the biggest improvement, but it’s something at least.

Earlier, Commissioner Rob Manfred was upset with the players’ union’s “lack of cooperation.” Perhaps his public criticism was the catalyst for getting this rule passed.

Unfortunately, getting rid of the intentional walk formality will eradicate the chance of seeing any more moments like this:

Tony Clark responds to Rob Manfred’s claim that union had a “lack of cooperation”

ADVANCE FOR WEEKEND EDITIONS, JAN. 18-19 - This Jan. 15, 2014 photo showing new baseball union head Tony Clark during an interview at the organization's headquarters, in New York. Clark has big shoes to fill _ and not just as Michael Weiner's replacement as head of the baseball players' union. Moving from Arizona to New Jersey, the former big league All-Star also needed to find size 15 snowshoes.  (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
AP Photo/Richard Drew
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Earlier, Craig covered Rob Manfred’s comments in which he accused the Major League Baseball Players’ Association of “a lack of cooperation” concerning some proposed rule changes. The union would need to agree to any such changes, which have included automatic intentional walks, limiting mound visits, pitch clocks, and swapping batting practice times for home and visiting teams.

Manfred went on to say that MLB will impose those rule changes unilaterally next year as allowed in the latest collective bargaining agreement.

Tony Clark, the executive director of the MLBPA, responded to Manfred’s comment. Via Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports:

“Unless your definition of ‘cooperation’ is blanket approval, I don’t agree that we’ve failed to cooperate with the Commissioner’s office on these issues.”

“Two years ago we negotiated pace of play protocols that had an immediate and positive impact. Last year we took a step backward in some ways, and this off season we’ve been in regular contact with MLB and with our members to get a better handle on why that happened.”

“I would be surprised if those discussions with MLB don’t continue, notwithstanding today’s comments about implementation. As I’ve said, fundamental changes to the game are going to be an uphill battle, but the lines of communication should remain open.”

“My understanding is that MLB wants to continue with the replay changes (2min limit) and the no-pitch intentional walks and the pace of Game warning/fine adjustments.”

Clark’s response isn’t anything too shocking. Manfred’s accusation was pretty baseless, but it’s behavior to be expected of a commissioner who comes down on the side of the owners over the players almost always.