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No deal at the deadline: where do Pujols and the Cardinals go from here?

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It’s now past the deadline that Albert Pujols set for the cutoff of negotiations with the Cardinals.  For all practical purposes spring training has begun for Pujols and El Hombre will not negotiate during spring training.  So now, aside from another of his usual Hall of Fame-caliber seasons,what does the future hold for Pujols and the Cardinals?

One thing that seems certain is that, unlike your typical big money free-agent-to-be, a trade is not a real possibility.  Oh sure, some people have speculated about one happening, but even they’re not doing it with a straight face.  Pujols has been in the bigs for more than ten years and with the same club for more than five and that gives him the famous “ten and five rights” which require his approval for any trade.  He is on record as saying that he will not, under any circumstances accept one.

And even if Pujols was amenable to a trade, the Cardinals would be fools to make one.  There’s no way they could get anything approaching fair value for him. He’s too close to free agency for it to make sense for any trade parter to empty the farm system for him.  The usual alternative to that — trading for another big contract — makes little sense if you’re the Cardinals given that paying Pujols seems to be an issue right now.  Why pay nearly as much for someone else’s expensive but-nowhere-near-as-good first baseman?  A first baseman who — like, say Mark Teixeira to use an example — likely also has his own no-trade clause and would be certifiably insane to go to St. Louis and attempt to fill Pujols’ shoes.

No, the season is going to play out with Albert Pujols in St. Louis.  A season during which he claims there will be no contract negotiations.

What about that claim?  Personally, I question it.  The parties have already discussed money. They’re nowhere close to a deal, but clearly the Cardinals know what Pujols wants.  Does it make any sense that if the Cardinals were to agree to meet Pujols’ demands his agent wouldn’t answer the call?  Of course not.  What if they were a million dollars short?  Heck, that’s nothing at those prices, so sure Pujols would still listen.  And he likely would if it was a $2 million gap too.  Yes, such small gaps seem unlikely, but the point here is that somewhere between  the current stalemate and a total capitulation by the Cardinals is an offer that Pujols would accept, and his agent would be silly not to hear the Cardinals out on it if the came calling with it.

All of which means that — in my opinion — this deadline that just passed is a soft one.  I believe that there will be, at some point between now and next October, real discussions between the Cardinals and Pujols.  They may not be highly publicized. They may not involve Pujols himself.  But they’ll happen in some way.

And I think a good reason they’ll happen is that Pujols knows that, for as amazing a player he is, the market doesn’t shape up wonderfully for him next fall and winter.  The usual high-bidders — the Yankees and Red Sox — already have first basemen in Mark Teixeira and Adrian Gonzalez. The Yankees also have to keep the DH slot open for Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter to occupy in their dotage.  They’re the only two teams who could write a $300 million check without gambling the franchise.  In short: if not the Cardinals, who else could possibly offer him the kind of money he’s seeking?

Maybe the Rangers would, but as we saw in December with the Cliff Lee stuff, there is a major split between the owner and the front office on how best to spend free agent dollars.  Some have mentioned the Cubs and, boy howdy would they love to steal their biggest rival’s superstar. But Chicago has some major salary commitments already and owner Tom Ricketts has suggested that the payroll will go down, not up, in the future.  The Angels? Heck, they wouldn’t pay Adrian Beltre.  The Dodgers and Mets are broke. The White Sox have Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko under contract.  The Nationals and Orioles are too far from contention to be likely to entice a player of Pujols’ stature. Against that entire backdrop is the fact that Prince Fielder will be a free agent too and, while he’s nothing close to the player Pujols is, he’s much younger and will come much cheaper.  There really isn’t any other obvious choice.

My suspicion: whether talks happen this summer or not, Albert Pujols stays in St. Louis.  He may not get his ten years and $300 million, but he’ll get something close to it.  Or at least something that can be characterized as close to it but which contains all manner of deferred money and other vesting options and incentives for both now and later to make it plausible to claim that he’s getting such a thing even if it’s less in present day dollars. But however the deal breaks down, I think it will be with the Cardinals.  No one else has the need for Pujols like the Cardinals do.  No one else has the money that Pujols wants.

Put differently: even if the passing of today’s deadline is something akin to a living hell, the Pujols-Cardinals match is one made in heaven.  And I have every bit of confidence that the relationship will continue for a long, long time.

And That Happened: Thursday’s scores and highlights

ST. LOUIS, MO - SEPTEMBER 29: Rain falls during a game between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Cincinnati Reds at Busch Stadium on September 29, 2016 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights.

Oh, and here is my take on the idiotic ending to the Reds-Cardinals game which could potentially cost the Giants a playoff berth.

Nationals 5, Diamondbacks 3: Wilmer Difo hit his first major league homer. Pedro Severino hit his second. No National succumbed to season-ending injuries. So a rare success for Washington in these final days of the regular season.

Yankees 5, Red Sox 1: CC Sabathia allowed one run and four hits while pitching into the eighth inning. It was only his ninth win of the year — his first win in a month — but he lowered his ERA to 3.91. He strike out fewer guys than he used to, walks more and allows more hits. But the fact that he made 30 starts this year and made at least a modest return to form suggests that, maybe, Sabathia still has something in the tank. Not as an ace, of course, but at least as a guy who can give you some respectable innings at the back of a rotation. In other news, the Yankees were eliminated in the middle of this game by virtue of the Orioles beating the Blue Jays. Inevitable, but the mere fact that they staved off elimination until game 159 is pretty impressive given all that has happened this year.

Cubs 1, Pirates 1: You don’t see many ties in baseball. Unless it’s spring training. Or, like, 1912 or something and it gets dark. Thank Mother Nature for the game being called at 1-1. Thank this game having no playoff implications whatsoever for it not being resumed at a later date. It was the first tie in a regular season game since 2005.

Orioles 4, Blue Jays 0: Ubaldo Jimenez and two relievers combined on a three-hit shutout. Jimenez allowed one of those hits in his six and two-thirds innings. The O’s and Jays are tied in the Wild Card standings with Detroit (1.5 back) and Seattle (2 back) the only ones left who can break up their postseason party.

Braves 5, Phillies 2Freddie Freeman‘s 30-game hitting streak ended but the Braves won for the 10th time in 11 games. The Tigers play Atlanta in the season’s final series. A month or two ago that looked like a nice way to end things. Right now, however, there’s a decent chance that the Braves help end the Tigers season. If that comes to pass, please say a prayer for those Braves fans you know who are engaged to grumpy Tigers fans come Sunday. Not, um, that I know any of those.

Twins 7, Royals 6:

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Same.

Cardinals 4, Reds 3: Not sure what else there is to say at this point that I didn’t say here. I dunno, Yadier Molina and Jedd Gyorko hit solo homers. Wheeeeeee.

Rays 5, White Sox 3: Congratulations to Chris Archer for avoiding his 20th loss of the season. Pitcher wins and losses mean little about the skill or prowess of a pitcher, but it’s better not to be the answer to a trivia question like that.

Dodgers 9, Padres 4Joc Pederson doubled twice and drove in three as the Dodgers avoided a sweep. The Dodgers are two games behind the Nationals with three to play in the race for home-field advantage in their division series matchup. Between that and possibly keeping the Giants out of the Wild Card game, they have a lot to play for this weekend in San Francisco.

Mariners 3, Athletics 2: Mike Zunino hit a go-ahead home run in the seventh inning to keep the Mariners alive for at least one more day.

Giants 7, Rockies 2: Johnny Cueto started out a bit shaky, giving up two in the top of the first, but he settled down and didn’t allow anything else in his remaining six innings. It was close until the sixth when the San Francisco pulled ahead, thanks in part to an uncharacteristic defensive blunder by Nolan Arenado. The Giants control their own destiny in the Wild Card, standing a game ahead of St. Louis with three to play.

Indians vs. Tigers: POSTPONED: The leaves of brown came tumbling down

Remember in September in the rain
The sun went out just like a dying amber
That September in the rain

To every word of love i heard you whisper
The raindrops seemed to play our sweet refrain
Though spring is here to me it’s still September
That September in the rain

The idiocy of baseball’s replay system was on full display in St. Louis last night

ST. LOUIS, MO - SEPTEMBER 29: Matt Carpenter #13 of the St. Louis Cardinals scores the game-winning run against the Cincinnati Reds in the ninth inning at Busch Stadium on September 29, 2016 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
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Baseball’s current instant replay system, in place since the beginning of the 2014 season, has experienced hiccups, but it has generally avoided extreme controversy or high profile failures. Last night in St. Louis, however, the replay system failed in spectacular fashion, potentially costing a team a playoff berth.

We wrote about the play last night: bottom of the ninth in a tied Reds-Cardinals game, Matt Carpenter on first base, Yadier Molina at the plate. Molina hits a ball which should’ve been a ground rule double, halting Carpenter at third. The umpires missed the ball bouncing out of play, however, and Carpenter was allowed to run home, scoring the winning run. Due to the noise and confusion of the Cardinals’ apparent walkoff win, Reds manager Bryan Price could not hear the phone call from his video coordinator telling him to challenge the play. By the time the message got to Price, he was told his challenge was too late. Game over.

The lack of a replay review in that situation was huge. The call would’ve, without question, been overturned if it were reviewed. If that had occurred, there is a possibility that the Cardinals would’ve lost that game, putting them two games back of the Giants with three to play. Instead, they were gifted a win and are now one game back with three to play. At the very least, this will cause the Giants to have to play one more meaningful game this weekend than they might’ve otherwise had to, in turn giving them one less game to rest players and set up their pitching staff for the Wild Card game. It could also, of course, prove to be the difference between them making the Wild Card game and going home after Sunday’s finale against the Dodgers.

If this comes to pass, Major League Baseball will no doubt characterize Thursday night’s events as a freak occurrence. Just one of those things that you could never predict and thus could never prepare for. If you don’t buy that they’ll admonish you that this outcome would’ve occurred the same way had it happened before replay was instituted in 2014 and, hey, we’re doing the best we can. If you’re still not satisfied, baseball will ignore you and pivot to the fans who care less about it, casting the replay failure as a charming and memorable historical event, a la Merkle’s Boner, the Pine Tar Game or Don Dekinger’s blown call at first base in the 1985 World Series. One which, however bad it seemed at the time, is poised to become just another chapter in baseball’s grand history, ready for highlight reels and preroll ad-sponsored video clips. Baseball will turn the page on this, so why can’t you?

Don’t buy any of that. Not for a second. Don’t buy the notion that this was some sort of freak play because freak plays are, by definition, unforeseeable. And while the narrow specifics of last night’s replay failure in St. Louis may not have been predicted, the weaknesses and vulnerabilities of instant replay as implemented were foreseeable from the moment baseball idiotically decided to use a challenge system to initiate replay reviews.

We sharply criticized the use of a challenge system for instant replay in baseball at the time it was adopted in August 2013. Indeed, we sharply criticized a challenge system almost a year earlier when it was merely suspected that baseball would go in that direction with all of this. The reasons were pretty straightforward. Conceptually speaking, it should not be the responsibility of managers to correct the mistakes or oversights of umpires on the field, which is what a challenge system requires. Moreover, a challenge system, and its rules limiting the number and manner of challenges, subordinates getting the call right to strategy and gamesmanship with respect to when and how to use the arbitrary number of challenges granted, and that makes zero sense when the point is to simply correct mistakes.

The problems with a challenge system were not all conceptual, however. Some were practical. In January 2013, Mike Port, who served as Major League Baseball’s vice president in charge of umpiring between 2005 and 2011, talked about how managers were the weak link in a challenge system, saying “you would be amazed how many managers, coaches, and players are not conversant with the rules.” He might’ve added, as others have, that managers cannot possibly see everything that happens on the field from their vantage point, including balls hit to the boundaries. As a result, the notion that a manager can always instantly and knowledgeably pop out of the dugout to challenge a call is unrealistic. He’s going to need some help.

Which is why every team hired a video coordinator, sitting in the clubhouse watching the plays, ready to call the manager in order to tell him when to challenge and when not to. This arrangement solved one problem — the manager’s inability to see it all — but created others. For one thing, it creates potential inefficiencies and inequalities, with some clubs inevitably having more savvy or highly-skilled coordinators, giving them an edge that fair and impartial umpiring would never have created. For another, it necessitated the use of technology — video and phone lines — and technology can always fail. Just as it did last night when Bryan Price’s phone could not be heard over the roar of the crowd in a pre-playoff frenzy.

It was a technological failure that last night’s crew chief, Bill Miller, implied could’ve been fixed if Price had “made eye contact” or something but, hey, he didn’t, so the game was over. When baseball first announced the challenge system in 2013, John Schuerholz, tasked with defending it, said that it would create “a happy balance that will retain the uniqueness and charm of baseball.” I suppose there’s something “charming” about the need for a major league manager to have to gaze into the eyes of an umpire in order to get a blown call corrected, but one would hope that, in 2016, there are better ways to handle things.

Of course it was obvious that there were better ways to handle it in 2013 when Major League Baseball came up with this dumb system. Baseball’s managers, who did not want a challenge system, knew it. Baseball’s former umpire chief knew it. Even dumb bloggers in their mother’s basement knew it. In 2013, baseball had carte blanche and the support of everyone in the game to institute a system that got calls right. They chose, however, to go with a system that, by definition, does not have getting calls right as its sole objective and by necessity limits the ability for calls to be reviewed in the first place due to managers not being omniscient and omnipresent and due to technological limitations.

For want of a nail the shoe was lost. For want of an answered phone call, a playoff spot might be too. It never had to be this way, but baseball wanted it this way. If the Giants end up sitting at home next week rather than playing the Mets in a Wild Card game, I’m pretty sure they won’t be comforted by whatever baloney Major League Baseball dishes out to tell everyone why this is all OK.