Continued from page 1

Before the first pitch of the season, the first debate of the 2011 offseason is underway.

“Goes on the open market, who knows what he’ll get?” said Cubs right-hander Braden Looper, a former Pujols teammate.

Added Rockies right-hander Aaron Cook: “I’m surprised something didn’t get done. He has the right to become a free agent and get what he wants. I hope for their sake it doesn’t become a distraction.”

The only absolute in the process, it seems, is what the Cardinals will give.

In short, they aren’t prepared to set records. The team’s payroll this season will be between $100 million and $110 million, DeWitt said, noting that the Cardinals lack the revenue streams to keep up with baseball’s biggest checkbooks.

“We’re not the Yankees or the Red Sox or the clubs that have revenues multi-tens of millions of dollars greater than ours,” he said. “How they react remains to be seen. They’re great fans. They’re the best in baseball. To draw the way we draw in a market the size of ours is extraordinary. No one else can do it. Cardinal fans, they step up year in and year out.”

There is no framework for a deal in which St. Louis would get the right of first refusal on any future Pujols offer. Still, the Cardinals believe a deal can eventually get done _ and aren’t fearing that it will turn into a situation where Pujols simply winds up playing for the highest bidder.

“We know what we can do and what we can’t do,” general manager John Mozeliak said. “When you operate in that way, you tend not to make bigger mistakes.”

The closest Pujols came to an appearance at camp Wednesday morning was a sighting of his black pickup with Missouri license plates in the parking lot of the team’s spring training complex.

Pujols was not with the vehicle.

“It really doesn’t matter to us,” said Cardinals pitcher and union rep Kyle McClellan, when asked about the ongoing Pujols contract watch. “It’s none of our business. It’s none of anybody’s business. … The truth is, I’ve never been on the mound and thinking of Albert Pujols’ contract.”

La Russa said Tuesday that he believes Pujols was feeling pressure from the union to “set the bar” with his next deal. The baseball record is Alex Rodriguez’s $275 million, 10-year pact with the New York Yankees.

On Wednesday, La Russa insisted that he’d said too much already _ then, moments later, reiterated his words from a day earlier.

“I said if I was running the union or part of the union, I’m not sure I’d handle it any different,” La Russa said, about two hours before the noon deadline passed.

Union officials have denied pressuring Pujols or Lozano.

Story Continues →