The Cardinals' Albert Pujols set a deadline for negotiating a new contract with the team as the day he reported to spring training, which will likely be tomorrow.
Today, it's been reported the deadline has been reached, and no deal is in place. This tweet from ESPN's Buster Olney is quoted in that link:
Sources: Pujols contract talks are over. Deadline will pass without a deal. Have not been proposals swapped in last 100 hours or so
It's still entirely possible that Pujols will re-sign with the Cardinals after the season is over, but I would expect him to hold fast to his promise not to negotiate during the year. If he thinks there won't be a distraction because of this, he's likely wrong -- pretty much every reporter from every town the Cardinals visit is going to want to know where he's going. He doesn't have to answer, of course.
So the question is: where's he going to wind up? If he leaves St. Louis, there's a very short list of teams with which he would sign and can afford him. You can probably cross the Yankees and Red Sox off the list -- between guys like Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Adrian Gonzalez, those teams already have very expensive players filling positions (1B and DH) that Pujols can play.
The Dodgers are in turmoil and cutting payroll. The Angels just took on Vernon Wells' deal and don't seem in the mood for another one. The Mets? Not after the Bernie Madoff/Fred Wilpon mess they've gotten themselves into.
There aren't many other high-profile, major market teams left that might be a fit, though perhaps the Giants might take a flyer, especially if they make it back to the playoffs this year.
Kenny Williams loves to make splashes and take risks -- but he's got Paul Konerko under contract for three years and Adam Dunn for four. That leaves both 1B and DH filled on the South Side for at least that long -- there's no place for Pujols there even if Jerry Reinsdorf would spend the money.
So what about the Cubs? They have a number of expiring contracts coming off the books after this year, including Kosuke Fukudome, Carlos Silva, Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Pena -- who Pujols would replace at first base. Although signing Pujols to the deal he's rumored to want -- 10 years, $300 million -- would take a huge chunk out of the Cubs' payroll every year, here's why it's a good risk.
First, Pujols is on target to be the greatest righthanded hitter in baseball history. It's possible he can take a run at the HR record, as well as several other career marks. We're talking about someone who will be spoken of in the same breath as Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Ted Williams and Willie Mays.
Second, it's time for the Ricketts family to make a big splash in building the team. What better way than to sign the best player of his generation? Not only that, it would be a huge tweak to the Cubs' biggest rivals in St. Louis -- it would take Cardinal fans years to get over this.
And finally, although it's no guarantee, the Cardinals have made the playoffs seven times in Pujols' 10 seasons, won two pennants and the World Series once. Cubs fans would take that for the next ten years. Sure, Pujols would be getting older and toward the end of the deal, would not be the dominant force he is now. But he is the type of player -- like Ted Williams and Stan Musial -- who can still be one of the best players in the league at age 40.
Pujols isn't a fan of Wrigley Field and its facilities -- he said so last year. But the Ricketts want to improve those things, and the promise of that might be enough to lure him to the North Side, as well as the money, which would be money well spent. It's not a complete no-brainer -- there's risk spending that much money. But Pujols is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. For Tom Ricketts and the Cubs, signing him might be the way to the championships Cubs fans have desired for decades.