JUPITER, Fla. -- With a deadline staring them both in the face, neither the Cardinals nor Albert Pujols blinked.
Contract negotiations between the team and its superstar came to an end on Wednesday morning, more than an hour before the slugger's self-imposed 11 a.m. CT Wednesday deadline. Thus, as he has said, he will break off all contract talks until after the season ends so that any discussions would not become a distraction.
"It was for that reason," Pujols said in a statement Wednesday evening, "that we came up with a deadline. I hope that the media are respectful toward my family, my teammates, coaches and the Cardinals Organization in honoring this request."
A Major League source confirmed that talks had ended late Wednesday morning, and the club formally announced the news at 10:58 a.m. CT. General manager John Mozeliak and chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. addressed reporters at 11:30 a.m. CT at the club's Spring Training complex in Jupiter.
"I have the utmost respect for Mr. DeWitt, Mo and the rest of the Cardinals Organization," Pujols said in his statement, "and the path that these negotiations have taken, will not impact our relationship moving forward in any way."
Pujols had reportedly sought a 10-year deal, with some outlets reporting that he wanted $300 million over that span. SI.com reported on Tuesday night that the Cardinals had offered an eight-year contract worth less than $30 million per year, but likely more than $25 million per year, while the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the club was "weighing" a guaranteed eighth year as of Wednesday morning.
Both sides have steadfastly declined to discuss specific details of the proceedings in the media, and Mozeliak and DeWitt held to that stance on Wednesday.
"We felt very good about the offer we made," Mozeliak said, "and we felt that it recognized his iconic status and it also still allowed us to put a successful club out there. So as we sit there and reflect today, I certainly believe that we made every effort to try to get a deal done."
Pujols was expected to be in the Jupiter area on Wednesday, but according to a club official, he does not intend to report to camp until Thursday. The formal reporting day for Cardinals infielders and outfielders is Friday, with full-squad workouts beginning Saturday.
Pujols' agent, Dan Lozano, said in a statement that the impasse does not necessarily mean the end of his client's career with the Cardinals.
"At the beginning of this process, Albert decided a timetable needed to be established in which we would negotiate," Lozano said. "We exchanged proposals with the Cardinals during that time. While both parties were hopeful that an agreement could be reached, a difference of opinion in determining Albert's value simply could not be resolved.
Highest-paid players in the game
Below are the highest-paid players in the game for each season since Nolan Ryan became baseball's first $1 million man. The salaries listed represent the average annual value of the guaranteed portions of each contract, including signing bonuses.
Ken Griffey Jr.
*Canseco signed an extension in June 1990 that averaged $4.7 million over five years. But because of the deal's $3.5 million bonus, which was added to his $2 million salary for 1990, he earned $5.5 million that year.
Sources: Wezen-ball.com, December 2009; Baseball-Reference.com; The New York Times
"Albert's production over the last 10 years is nothing short of historic. 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. 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."
It appears exceedingly likely that Pujols will at least reach free agency. Mozeliak dismissed out of hand any notion that attempting to trade Pujols could be a viable option.
"It is not," Mozeliak said. "It's something that the ownership group and management, we discussed, and we really feel like he's part of our organization, we're excited to have him part of our organization in 2011, and we feel like having him a part of our organization for 2011 will help us ultimately achieve our goals. So it's not something we would even consider."
The Cardinals did leave open the option of negotiating during the year -- if Pujols wanted to. Mozeliak and DeWitt said they would not pursue new talks, but that if Pujols and Lozano approached the club, they would be open to further conversations. However, Pujols has made it clear both this winter and last year that such a possibility is exceedingly unlikely.
At least two more stages of the process remain. The Cardinals still have one more opening, as clubs maintain exclusive negotiating rights with their own free agents until five days after the World Series ends.
After that, Pujols would become a free agent if he were still unsigned, at which time the club could find itself to be the highest bidder. That was the situation last winter, when Matt Holliday re-upped after hitting the open market.
"We tried last offseason, so maybe the third time will be the charm," DeWitt said. "But as one becomes a free agent, obviously that's a point at which you either go some other direction or stay with the Cardinals. I'm not saying there wasn't urgency, because there was."
There was no indication throughout the process that the two sides ever got particularly close. However, Mozeliak said he did not believe that the process had been in any way counterproductive or that either side emerged with hurt feelings.
"I would say the tone through this whole process was positive," Mozeliak said. "Obviously each party, each side had different goals. That's what we were trying to work on to align. ... I don't think any bridges were burned in this process. As you look to next year, I don't think we put ourselves in a bad position. When that time comes, we'll revisit it."
Pujols will receive $16 million in 2011, the final season of a deal that will end up paying him $111 million over eight years. He is quite certainly in line for a raise from that, but the question is how much and for how long. Mozeliak and DeWitt acknowledged that letting Pujols hit the open market carries the risk that another club could bid so high that the Cardinals could not match it.
However, the converse is also true. It's possible that the open market might not be as welcoming as Pujols and Lozano hope. And whether bidding is soft or aggressive, at least there will be clarity. It seems that both Pujols and the Cardinals are curious to see exactly what other clubs would be willing to pay for the slugger's services.
"Once he's in the free-agent market, he can then weigh the market versus where we are, and I think that's probably one thing that he wants to see," Mozeliak said. "And so it would give him an idea of what other teams would value him as."
DeWitt and Mozeliak both indicated that they felt the Cardinals would have a fair shot at signing Pujols if he reaches free agency. But DeWitt said that there is no understanding or agreement that the Cards will have a right of refusal or a chance to match any competing offer.