Cardinals turn attention to Albert Pujols
MILWAUKEE -- Now that the World Series victory parade is over and the St. Louis Cardinals have filled their managerial vacancy, general manager John Mozeliak is turning his attention to his top offseason priority -- signing nine-time All-Star and three-time MVP Albert Pujols to a long-term contract.
Baseball sources said Mozeliak expects to meet with Pujols' agent, Dan Lozano, before the end of the general managers' meetings in Milwaukee this week. The two sides are about to learn whether they have more common ground than last winter, when talks broke down with no deal and Pujols entered his free agent "walk" year.
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"Dan and I have touched based with one another, but we haven't had a face-to-face (meeting) or anything of that nature," Mozeliak said Tuesday. "At some point, we will. Our goal is to try to find a way to keep Albert Pujols, and that's what we'll focus on as we move forward."
The Cardinals may have at least one serious competitor for Pujols.
The Marlins invited Pujols to their new ballpark last week. One source said the Marlins brought in about 10 players for the event to help recruit Pujols and make the organization's interest clear.
Mozeliak acknowledged that Pujols is a valuable commodity to the franchise both for his performance on the field and what he has come to symbolize to the city of St. Louis since his rookie year in 2001.
"I don't think we need to divorce ourselves from that," Mozeliak said. "The fact is, he's an iconic player. He's been the face of this organization for a long time. To deny that or fail to recognize it, I just don't think you're looking at it through the proper set of lenses."
Pujols and Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder give teams two dominant middle-of-the-order options in free agency this winter. Fielder's agent, Scott Boras, met with Brewers GM Doug Melvin on Tuesday.
Pujols, who turns 32 in January, rebounded from a slow start and a midseason wrist injury to hit .299 with 37 homers and 99 RBIs. He also tied a record shared by Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson with three home runs in Game 3 of the World Series.
Cardinals manager Tony La Russa retired after the season. One baseball source said that while Pujols was "surprised" by the team's decision to replace La Russa with Mike Matheny, who has never managed at any level, Pujols likes and respects Matheny personally. The Matheny hiring is not expected to play a major role in Pujols' decision to re-sign with the Cardinals or leave St. Louis.
Pujols also has a close relationship with long-time third base coach Jose Oquendo. The team expects to make a decision soon on whether he will be a part of Matheny's staff.
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The Texas Rangers and Chicago Cubs are among the other big league teams that have been mentioned in speculation as potential suitors for Pujols this winter. According to one report, the Cardinals offered Pujols a nine-year, $210 million deal before talks broke off last February. But a person familiar with the negotiations said St. Louis' proposed outlay fell short of that total and the Cardinals never topped the $200 million mark.
As the Cardinals stormed back from a 10½-game deficit to make the playoffs, then beat Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Texas to win their second title in six years, there was speculation that the feel-good vibe from the team's late run might help entice Pujols to return to St. Louis. But Mozeliak declined to speculate on the impact the World Series victory might have on Pujols' decision-making process.
"It's a question that needs to be asked of Albert," Mozeliak said. "As an organization you would like to think, intuitively, that having success makes people want to return to that model or that team. But I can't speak for someone else."
Jerry Crasnick is a senior MLB writer for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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