JUPITER, Fla. | The deadline for Albert Pujols and the St. Louis Cardinals to reach a new contract agreement passed Wednesday with no new deal, making it likely the three-time MVP will test the free-agent market after the season.
“We are greatly disappointed at this outcome,” Cardinals chairman William DeWitt Jr. said at a news conference. “We will revisit it again following the 2011 season, at which time we will again make every effort to keep him as a Cardinal.”
Pujols, a nine-time All-Star, is the only player in major league history to hit 30 or more home runs each of his first 10 seasons — all with the Cardinals, the franchise he has said in the past he wants to remain with for the rest of his career.
But the sides failed in recent months to reach common ground, raising the possibility the three-time NL MVP may be on the cusp of his final season in St. Louis.
“We felt very good about the offer we made,” general manager John Mozeliak said.
Pujols will make $16 million this season in his contract’s final year, with $4 million of the money deferred with no interest.
Pujols said he doesn’t want to negotiate during spring training or the season. The Cardinals say they are open to talks.
“It’s not as if he’s a free agent at this point,” Mozeliak said.
St. Louis said it made an offer at the start of the year and then discussed possible modifications.
“They were lengthy and in depth,” DeWitt said of the talks.
Pujols said through his agent, Dan Lozano, that he does not want to discuss his contract status publicly when he arrives at camp or during the season.
“He is not only the best player in baseball, and on his way to having a Hall of Fame career, but an iconic figure in sports,” Lozano said in a statement . “The expiration of today’s deadline does not eliminate the possibility of Albert returning to the Cardinals in 2012, but simply delays negotiations until the conclusion of the Cardinals’ season.”
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. The team expects him to arrive Thursday, and teammates say they can’t wait to see him.
“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.”
A handful of St. Louis position players were at work ahead of schedule; pitchers and catchers are in camp, and position players weren’t required to arrive until Saturday.
St. Louis manager Tony 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.
“It was kind of omitted. 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. “I checked with some of our veteran coaches. It strains credibility a little bit to think there hasn’t been any contact or mention. He’s too significant.”
Union officials have denied pressuring Pujols or Lozano. And McClellan said La Russa’s comments did not create an awkward situation for him, even though as the union rep in the Cardinals’ clubhouse, he had to take a decidedly different stance than his manager.
“It doesn’t really have anything to do with me. I just represent the players,” McClellan said. “All I can do is get the facts that I know, that the union’s job is to make sure that the players and agents are informed. They’re not going to overstep any boundaries and tell anybody what to do. Everybody’s a grown man. They can make a decision for themselves.”
La Russa said often Wednesday morning that his focus is on spring training and the NL Central, not what will or won’t happen with his slugger.
“We don’t want to get our minds cluttered as a team,” La Russa said. “There’s enough to do. … The competition in the Central and the National League has got our complete attention. And that’s just what we’re going to think about. You can choose what you think about. That’s what we’re going to think about.”
Pujols has a .331 career batting average and averaged 41 homers and 123 RBIs. He’s also won six Silver Slugger Awards and two Gold Gloves.
Last year he batted .312 with 42 homers and 118 RBIs and finished second in MVP balloting.
“I don’t think there’s a better guy for us to have on the team,” Cardinals second baseman Skip Schumaker said. “He’s the face of the franchise. You respect both sides of it. You respect what the Cardinals are doing, you respect the management and what Albert’s agent is doing. It’s a tough situation, as everybody knows. He’s an iconic player.”
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