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Pujols' exact zero hour remains unclear

Pujols' exact zero hour remains unclear

Pujols' exact zero hour remains unclear
JUPITER, Fla. -- As Albert Pujols' arrival at Spring Training approaches, so does his self-imposed deadline for getting a contract extension done. However, it's not entirely clear exactly when that deadline is.

General manager John Mozeliak acknowledged in January that Pujols' agent, Dan Lozano, has informed the club that Pujols has no desire to have negotiations stretch beyond his arrival at Spring Training. And the slugger is reportedly set to arrive at Roger Dean Stadium on Wednesday. However, Mozeliak said Saturday that it has not been made clear to him exactly when zero hour would be.

Asked whether a deadline kicked into effect upon Pujols' arrival in Florida, or when he first begins to work out, or at midnight on a particular day, Mozeliak acknowledged that he was uncertain.

"Honestly I don't know at the moment," he said. "I'll know when I need to know."

That underscores the fact that while the Cardinals certainly understand the urgency on Pujols' part, there's certainly no indication that the club would shut down talks for as long as the slugger's camp is willing to continue.

However, there's also no indication that any momentum has built up. Mozeliak declined to characterize the pace of talks in a conversation with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, with the paper reporting that the GM cited the "sensitivity" of the interaction between club and agent. Both Mozeliak and Lozano have pledged not to give updates on the negotiations, and have stuck to that promise almost without exception.

Still, whether the actual drop-dead, zero hour is midnight on Feb. 15 or the morning of Feb. 16 or some other time before or after, it's clear that pressure mounts with each growing day. Mozeliak's appearance at the team's Jupiter facility on Saturday was his first of the spring, though principal owner Bill DeWitt Jr. has been around for some time.

If no deal is reached this spring, of course, it's not necessarily the end of the line for player and club. The Cardinals would still have an exclusive negotiating window that lasts until five days after the end of the World Series. And as was displayed a year ago, even missing out on that timeframe doesn't have to mean no deal. St. Louis signed Matt Holliday after he reached free agency in the winter of 2009-10.

Moreover, the market remains somewhat undetermined. Andy MacPhail, the president of baseball operations for the Orioles, seemed to express some skepticism on Thursday regarding just how much Pujols could make if he becomes a free agent.

The Baltimore Sun quoted MacPhail from a Q&A at the Baltimore School of Law Sports Symposium, commenting on what could be a wide-open market for first basemen next winter. MacPhail was specifically asked whether Pujols would represent the kind of "perfect storm" of a player for whom Baltimore would bid aggressively in free agency.

"There is this assumption that because this guy got [a huge number] and this guy got [an even bigger number], Albert Pujols has to get [a salary bigger than both]," the Sun's Orioles Insider blog quoted MacPhail as saying. "Well, what if there are no bidders? What if the music stops and there are no chairs? Let's say Pujols signs with St. Louis. Where does Prince Fielder go? Do you want to make that bet on Prince Fielder at $20 million per [year] as opposed to [Mark] Teixeira? I'll be honest with you, the likelihood of us stepping out to the degree that [Pujols] is looking at, for any one player, is remote at best.

"I read that he's looking for $30 million a year, and I just can't see how that's going to happen. Now, I'm management. I'm not ownership. I make recommendations. I don't own the team. But I just think with what you have to do, I can't see it."

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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