UPDATE: No mystery: It’s just the Marlins and Cardinals for Albert Pujols

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12:57 AM: Jon Heyman chimes in, tweeting that “a good number of executives still seem to think Marlins will win Pujols derby.” The Palm Beach Post’s Joe Capozzi was told that the Marlins are “very confident” they will land the three-time MVP.

12:48 AM: ESPN’s Jim Bowden and the Palm Beach Post’s Joe Capozzi are among those reporting that it’s strictly down to the Marlins and Cardinals. Capozzi reports that the Marlins have not set a deadline for Pujols to accept their offer, but that Pujols may make a decision before sunrise anyway.

11:47 PM: Our own Drew Silva brings word that Bob Nightengale of USA Today was just a guest on KMOX in St. Louis and said that the Angels are NOT the mystery team for Pujols. Neither are the Rangers or the Giants, by the way.

We may also have to eliminate the Cubs from the equation, as Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe hears that they are “definitely not in.”

11:43 PM: Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com talked to two Angels’ executives who “seemed shocked” that they were being mentioned as the mystery team for Pujols. Meanwhile, Scott Miller of CBSSports.com is “highly skeptical” that the Angels are the third team in the mix.

And finally, courtesy of Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune, here’s a picture of some Marlins’ writers staking out Jeffrey Loria at a shoeshine stand. It’s that kind of night.

10:58 PM: Sorry to spoil the party, everyone, but these talks may drag on into tomorrow. Joe Frisaro of MLB.com hears that while the Marlins would like a resolution, it’s unlikely to happen tonight.

By the way, we have a new horse in the race. Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com reports the Angels are pursuing Pujols and are having “ongoing conversations.”

10:14 PM: Joel Sherman of the New York Post was told by a “person involved” in talks that the Cubs are “definitely in” on Albert Pujols. It’s not clear whether they have improved their offer (or are the “mystery team” mentioned by Bob Nightengale earlier) but Sherman was told that they at least want to “make life miserable” by bidding against their division-rivals.

9:22 PM: The Marlins just emerged from their meeting with Pujols’ agent Dan Lozano. According to Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com, Marlins president David Samson said there’s “nothing to report.”

9:11 PM: Strap in, everyone. We could be nearing the end-game. Jayson Stark of ESPN.com hears that the Marlins expect a resolution on their bid for Pujols — one way or the other — by the end of the night.

8:47 PM: C’mon, you knew a mystery team would get involved sooner or later. According to Bob Nightengale of USA Today, Albert Pujols has received three 10-year contract proposals exceeding $200 million. We already know the Cardinals and Marlins are in the mix, but it appears a third unidentified team has joined the bidding.

Nightengale hears that the Cubs have made an offer, but it’s for less than 10 years. Let your imagination run wild.

8:33 PM: Joe Capozzi of the Palm Beach Post was told by a source that the Marlins and Albert Pujols’ agent, Dan Lozano, have been together in a meeting for the past half-hour.

7:48 PM: Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com was told by sources that the Marlins met with Dan Halem of the commissioner’s office earlier this evening to discuss matters relating to a possible contract for Albert Pujols.

This is potentially very significant, as Andy Martino of the New York Daily News notes that he is Rob Manfred’s No. 2 in charge of approving contracts. No word on the exact nature of the meeting, but Miami’s proposed contract could potentially include deferred money.

7:14 PM ET: We could be approaching a resolution to the story that has taken the Winter Meetings by storm.

Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak confirmed to B.J. Rains of FOX Sports Midwest that they made a new offer to Albert Pujols’ agent Dan Lozano earlier today.

No word on the exact terms, but the Cardinals’ offer from earlier this year was reported to be somewhere in the range of $198-210 million over nine years. The Cardinals didn’t intend to budge from that, but their hand was forced after the Marlins boosted their offer to 10 years late last night.

According to Andy Martino of the New York Daily News, the standing offer from the Marlins is believed to be worth $220 million over 10 years. St. Louis has been asked to match and Miami is said to be “pushing” for a resolution tonight. We’ll continue to track the latest here throughout the evening.

Red Sox owner: “spending money helps”

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The other day Rob Manfred said, as he and other owners have said often in the past, that there is no correlation between payroll and winning. He said that defensively, in response to criticism of the slow free agent market of the past two offseasons.

As we have noted in the past, Manfred is not being honest about that. While, yes, in any given year there can be wild variation between payroll and win total — the Giants stunk last year, the A’s won 97 games — common sense dictates otherwise. What’s more, a recent study has shown that there is a pretty strong correlation between winning and payroll over time. Yes, you can fluke into a big season with a low payroll — Deadspin compared it to a cold snap occurring during a time of climate change — but if you want that “sustained success” teams claim they want, the best way to ensure it is to spend more money over time.

If you know anything about baseball labor history, though, you know well that the Commissioner and the owners will continue to mischaracterize the dynamics of the business as it suits them. Mostly because — present lefty sportswriters notwithstanding — very few people push back on their narratives. Fans tend to parrot ownership’s line on this stuff and, more often than not, baseball media acts as stenographer for ownership as opposed to critic. That gives owners a far greater ability to shape the narrative about all of this than most institutions.

Which makes this all the more awkward. From David Schoenfield of ESPN:

In apparent contradiction to his own commissioner, Boston Red Sox owner John Henry said Monday that, while there is not a perfect correlation between a bigger payroll and winning, “spending more money helps.”

Which is right. The correlation is not perfect — teams can spend a lot of money on a bad team if given the chance and a low payroll team like the Rays can bullpen their way to 90 wins — but you’re way more likely to win year-in, year-out if you’re spending than if you go cheap all the time and hope for a miracle season.

Which is not to say that Henry is some labor activist owner. He and his fellow front office officials have a long history of backing the league office on just about everything that matters and will no doubt do so with labor matters in the runup to the next CBA negotiation. The owners tend not to have a solidarity problem.

But Henry does seem to draw the line at peddling baloney, which is a shockingly necessary thing when the league and the union’s relationship turns acrimonious.