Saturday, Feb. 19, 2011
Posted 11:39 a.m. Updated 6:53 p.m.
By Patrick Mooney
MESA, Ariz. More than 2,000 miles away, Albert Pujols casts his shadow over this entire camp. It is the baseball story that will not go away until he signs his next contract.
The Cubs hadnt gone through their first full-squad workout yet and wont play a meaningful game for another six weeks but there was chairman Tom Ricketts on Saturday morning at Fitch Park, deflecting questions about the best player of this generation.
All I know is what I read in the paper," Ricketts said before addressing the team. "I guess it just has to sit until the end of the season.
Pujols broke off extension talks this week as soon as he reported to Cardinals camp in Jupiter, Fla. Though his representation has said that theyll revisit negotiations once the season ends, it looks increasingly likely that he will hit free agency.
Ricketts once again voiced confidence in general manager Jim Hendry, but theres a belief that approval for the type of deal Pujols seeks would have to come from the ownership level. The Cubs chairman has also specifically mentioned that he would like the front office to become smarter in how it structures contracts.
Im not sure there are parameters that are officially set, Ricketts said. But well be open-minded to what we think is best for the team when that comes up.
In listening to Ricketts across the 16 months since his family purchased the team from Tribune Co., its clear that he believes in statistical analysis and the player-development system. The philosophy isnt unique to Ricketts, but he believes a contracts length is more troubling than its average annual value.
Anyone in baseball would say the length of the deal is often a bigger problem than the amount of dollars, Ricketts said. You have to be very careful if youre going to sign one of those longer deals. If youre going to take a guy on for seven, eight, nine years, you better make sure thats the guy you want.
The Cardinals reportedly discussed a Pujols deal that would be around 200 million for eight years and include a potential ownership stake in the club.
After this season, the Cubs will be shedding several big contracts worth approximately 40 million. First baseman Carlos Pena is using this as a platform year to launch himself back into the free-agent market. The noise wont be turned down any time soon.
How many major-leaguers are there? Like 300? Aramis Ramirez said. If you ask all of them, everybody wants Pujols on their team. But at the same time you got to respect we got Carlos Pena here.
Pujols could retire tomorrow and still be a certain Hall of Famer. But he will be 32 next season and its fair to wonder how his body will hold up through 2020. One freak injury could be crippling to a franchise.
This is just all just speculation. It will be a guessing game right to the moment Pujols holds up his jersey at a press conference in November or December, announcing what might be the biggest deal in baseball history.
Theres going to be a little more financial flexibility at the end of the season than weve had in years past, Ricketts said. Well have to assess the situation when we get there and see whats available.
PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.