ESPN is reporting that Albert Pujols and the St. Louis Cardinals will not reach an agreement to extend Pujol's contract before the self-imposed deadline this afternoon. Assuming these reports are accurate and that Pujols remains firm in his stated refusal to negotiate during the season, this makes it a near certainty that the best player in the game will become a free agent.
ESPN does not report what exact offers the Cardinals made, but does speculate that they met Pujols demands for length (presumably between 8 and 10 years), but not for annual value. A "source close to the negotiations" claims, "The Cardinal's offer would place Pujols in baseball's top 10 in salary, but not in the top five in average annual value." For the record, assuming this "top 10" only includes active players, that means the Cardinals offer had an average annual value of somewhere between $19.5 Milllion and $24.9 Million (based on salary stats at Cot's Contracts).
Pujols and his agent are perfectly justified in turning down such an offer, would even be justified in characterizing it as something of an insult. According to FanGraphs calculations, Pujols has been worth more than $25 Million in each of his last six seasons and seven out of his last eight. In most cases, worth significantly more, peaking at $41.7 Million in 2008. But you don't need any such metric to recognize that Pujols is worth substantially more than Ryan Howard ($25 Mil./yr.), Mark Teixeira ($22.5 Mil./yr.), and even Alex Rodriguez ($27.5 Mil./yr.).
The Cardinals are pressuring Pujols to give them a "hometown discount," which is fine, except that he gave them a massive hometown discount with his last contract. I'm not quite clear on why St. Louis believes that it is their right to pay arguably the best player in the history of the game less than his market value for the entirety of his career. Tony LaRussa thinks Pujols is being pressured by the MLBPA. Tony LaRussa should definitely keep his mouth shut. But he may be right. The Union will look weak if the best player in their fold fails to bring home a contract worth at least $250 Million.
The Cardinals need to wake up. The offer they have on the table is clearly unreasonable in an open market. Certainly, they can justify deciding that for a team with their budget, $250 Million just isn't an option. Maybe they are worried about the fact that Pujols would almost certainly have entered into a moderate decline by the end of the deal. Fine. End the negotions. Start bracing yourself for the fact that the Red Sox, Angels, Giants, and Cubs could drive the bidding into the $300 Million range next winter. But don't pretend like you're negotiating in good faith and paint your franchise icon as greedy just because you're unwilling to pay a competitive price.