By The Associated Press
JUPITER, Fla. — The St. Louis Cardinals and representatives for Albert Pujols have agreed to a 24-hour extension to reach a new contract out of respect for Stan Musial.
The Cardinals Hall of Famer will be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in Washington on Tuesday and general manager John Mozeliak said Monday the club did not want to distract from Musial’s special day. Chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. and Mozeliak will accompany the 90-year-old Musial to Washington.
Pujols’ agent, Dan Lozano, originally set a Tuesday deadline, the first workout day for pitchers and catchers in Jupiter, Fla. Mozeliak said the new deadline is noon (EST) Wednesday.
Pujols is due to make $16 million this season in the final year of his contract, with $4 million of the total deferred without interest.
The 31-year-old Pujols is seeking a contract, perhaps as long as a decade in length, that would make him one of the highest paid players in the major leagues and allow him to retire as a Cardinal.
Even if a deal can’t be reached by Wednesday, the Cardinals were hopeful of keeping the All-Star first baseman. Numerous times the last few seasons and again at last month’s Winter Warmup fan festival in St. Louis, Pujols has expressed his desire to stay with the Cardinals.
Pujols is the only player in major league history to hit 30 or more home runs in his first 10 seasons, belting 42 with 117 RBIs last year while finishing second in MVP balloting behind the Reds’ Joey Votto. He’s had 100 RBIs all 10 seasons, has scored 100 runs in all except one season, finishing with 99 runs in 2007, and has drawn 100 walks in each of the last three seasons.
DeWitt has referred to Pujols as “irreplaceable,” but he would be 41 at the end of a 10-year contract and presumably not nearly so productive.
Mozeliak would not characterize the tenor of the negotiations, sticking to an agreement about keeping the process private.
“Given the timing of everything we will remain quiet at this time,” Mozeliak said. “I don’t want to lead people on or characterize something one way or the other. Our approach has been pretty consistent since Day 1 and that’s to allow this to be done in a confidential state. Given we are only 48 hours from the deadline I’ll remain that way.”
Mozeliak said there was no frustration from the Cardinals’ side.
“No, not at all,” he said. “It’s a process. It’s an iconic player. When you experience going through this you learn a lot. Frustration isn’t coming from us.”
Neither Mozeliak nor manager Tony La Russa expect the Pujols situation to become a distraction if an agreement is not reached.
“Part of the big leagues is dealing with distractions,” La Russa said. “Every club has them and the clubs that give into them are soft and weak. The clubs that are strong put the distractions where they belong, which is not to be distracted. Whatever the distractions are, our club is not going to have that excuse.”
Outfielder Matt Holliday said recently that he didn’t expect the situation affect Pujols’ play.
“I think it could be more of an annoyance to him than necessarily a distraction to the team,” Holiday said. “I’m sure he’ll grow tired of answering questions if he has to.”
Pitchers and catchers worked out for the first time Monday at Roger Dean Stadium. La Russa said he didn’t mention the Pujols situation when he spoke with the club.
The manager said he’d spoken with Pujols, but is staying out of the contract issue.
“I don’t give Albert advice that is unnecessary,” La Russa said. “Albert is very smart, very compassionate in everything, whether it’s his profession or his personal life. He knows how to handle himself.”
AP Sports Writers R.B. Fallstrom in St. Louis and Ron Blum in New York contributed to this report.