Pujols' Lobbying for Manny Unrealistic

The new National League Most Valuable Player would like to play with free-agent Manny Ramirez, but the money doesn't make sense. In related news, Albert Pujols has to pass up playing winter ball as a tune-up for the World Baseball Classic.

In an article that first appeared in the Dominican Republic daily El Caribe, St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols disclosed he lobbied General Manager John Mozeliak to sign free agent outfielder Manny Ramirez, late of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Pujols' comments were also picked up by ESPN, with the specific quote being, "Of course I proposed to sign Manny Ramírez. Who does not want to have him on your team?"

The realistic-sounding reply Pujols received was reportedly as follows: "The manager (John Mozeliak) told me that if he (Manny) signed then he would have trouble negotiating with me."

Pujols' original seven-year contract runs through 2011, with the final season a team option. Many observers believe the Cardinals are at least a year away from opening discussions on an extension with their long-time star and 2008 National League Most Valuable Player.

Ramirez and his agent Scott Boras are reportedly looking for a minimum of two years at $25 million per year for the free agent's services. At least as importantly, a huge signing like Manny would upset the Cardinals' carefully-designed salary hierarchy.

St. Louis has a long-standing practice of ensuring their top stars earn the highest salaries on the club. This was reportedly one reason the club renegotiated and extended Chris Carpenter's contract prior to the 2007 season. At the time, they were serious contenders to sign then-free agent hurler Jason Schmidt at the current market price, an amount considerably higher than Carp's salary at the time.

Pujols is in a comparable position today, set to earn $16 million in each of the next three seasons. These are the final years of Pujols' seven-year, $100 million deal signed in early 2004, representing a substantial bargain in today's market.

To exceed Manny's asking price in each of the next two years could tack on as much as an additional $10 million per year to Pujols' take. This could set the effective cost to the Cardinals of signing Ramirez at $35 million per season – an unreasonable amount.

In addition, the jury is still out as to the effectiveness of Pujols' recent nerve relocation surgery on his elbow. If a more serious procedure such as ligament replacement is deemed necessary later on, the now-28-year-old could miss up to an entire year of play.

If you were the Cardinals, would you want to pay Albert $16 million for a lost season of post-surgery rehab or $26 million to do the same?

In conclusion, while Pujols' interest in Manny is understandable and admirable, it seems unworkable for the Cardinals.

Winter ball surprise squashed by elbow surgery Pujols also made the news on a related front back home this weekend when he disclosed to the Cibao Gigantes that he would not be able to play winter ball for the club in his Dominican Republic homeland.

The club's website published a story stating that a tentative agreement had been in place for the first baseman to compete for Cibao in the final ten games of the winter ball season as a tune-up for his participation in the World Baseball Classic, scheduled in March.

This agreement reportedly included tentative permission from the Cardinals for Pujols to play, depending on his medical condition. The Gigantes state they planned to keep the agreement under wraps initially, unveiling the surprise later in the winter ball season.

However, the club now acknowledges that Pujols' recent elbow surgery has nixed the Cibao part of the player's winter/spring plans. The Dominican Republic winter regular season only runs through December 21, with the last ten games starting on December 10 – a schedule seemingly too aggressive for the recovering player.

Though it is only of a small benefit, Pujols could potentially start play a bit later if the Gigantes were set to take the league crown. In that case, they would play into January as part of the annual Caribbean Series, but that is far from assured.

Pujols does apparently expect to play for his homeland in the WBC, which will require him to miss several weeks of 2009 spring training. Recent reports from the Cardinals are that Pujols is expected to be fully recovered from his October surgery by then.

On Monday, a high-ranking Cardinals official did confirm to me that there were discussions with Pujols about playing winter ball, though it is now moot.

Josh Jones also contributed to this report. Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net.

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