St. Louis Slugger Albert Pujols's Contract Deadline Passes With No Deal

The St. Louis Cardinals made Albert Pujols

what they said was their best offer.

It wasn't enough.

So get ready, baseball: Pujols seems headed for the open market

next fall.

The deadline Pujols set for the Cardinals to reach a new

contract agreement passed Wednesday with no deal, making it likely

the three-time MVP will become a free agent after the World Series.

The Cardinals said they will respect Pujols' wishes and not request

more talks during the season, unless their first baseman

surprisingly changes his mind.

"A difference of opinion in determining Albert's value simply

could not be resolved," said Pujols' agent, Dan Lozano.

The Cardinals would not reveal their offer, though it was

believed to be somewhere around $200 million for eight years,

possibly with an opportunity for Pujols to obtain an ownership

stake in the franchise once his playing days are complete.

When - and if - talks resume, it's unclear if St. Louis will

increase its offer to Pujols' liking.

"We explored a number of different things in the negotiation,"

Cardinals chairman William DeWitt Jr. said at a news conference.

"Without getting specific in what those were, there was discussion

about other things that could be part of the contract. ... You can

be sure that we explored a number of different avenues."

Pujols will make $16 million this season in his contract's final

year, with $4 million of the money deferred with no interest. A

nine-time All-Star, Pujols 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's previously said he wants

to remain with for the rest of his career.

Now, that hardly seems like a lock.

"I don't think there's a better guy for us to have on the

team," Cardinals teammate 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."

Pujols is expected to be in Cardinals' camp on Thursday, two

days ahead of when position players were asked to report. Lozano

said Pujols does not want to discuss his contract status either now

or during the season.

Nor, for that matter, does St. Louis manager Tony La Russa.

"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."

Already, there's buzz around baseball on where Pujols could go.

A big-spending club like the Red Sox, Yankees or Angels? Perhaps

the rival Cubs? The Texas Rangers?

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.

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.

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'm not really concerned about having any issues with Albert

in the short-term, or in the long-term for that matter," Mozeliak

said. "In terms of the fan base, I hope they understand and

recognize that we put a very strong effort out there to try and get

something done."


AP Sports Writer Rick Gano in Mesa, Ariz. contributed to this


(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)