Albert Pujols talks break off

Updated: February 17, 2011, 7:54 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

JUPITER, Fla. -- The deadline for first baseman Albert Pujols and the St. Louis Cardinals to reach a new contract agreement passed Wednesday with no new deal, making it likely the three-time MVP will test the free-agent market after the season.

"After spending the last few weeks working toward an extension, we've suspended our conversations with the Cardinals, due to this morning's self-imposed deadline," Pujols said in a statement Wednesday. "Once the 2011 season is over, we hope to revisit those talks."

Pujols arrived at Cardinals spring training early Thursday morning.

Pujols pulled his black pickup into a spot at 7:35 a.m. ET, pulled two boxes and a backpack out of the truck and made the short walk into the clubhouse. "Better than ever," he said, when asked how he was feeling.

A source close to the negotiations told ESPN's Karl Ravech the biggest issue is not the number of years, but the amount of money the Cardinals offered. St. Louis' offer would place Pujols in baseball's top 10 in salary, but not in the top five in average annual salary, the source said.

The two sides have not exchanged contract proposals in about four days, sources told ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney, who first reported that talks had broken off.

"We felt very good about the offer we made," general manager John Mozeliak said.

Sources have previously told Olney that Pujols, who has the right to veto any trade, will not accept any trade going forward.

"We are greatly disappointed at this outcome," Cardinals chairman William DeWitt Jr. said at a news conference. "We will revisit it again following the 2011 season, at which time we will again make every effort to keep him as a Cardinal."

Pujols, a nine-time All-Star, is the only player in major league history to hit 30 or more home runs each of his first 10 seasons -- all with the Cardinals, the franchise he has said in the past he wants to remain with for the rest of his career.

"We're all working together toward a common goal and that is to win a world championship for the city of St. Louis," Pujols said. "The last thing anyone in this clubhouse needs to worry about is what's going to happen to me after the season."

But the sides failed in recent months to reach common ground, raising the possibility the three-time NL MVP may be on the cusp of his final season in St. Louis.

"While both parties were hopeful that an agreement could be reached, a difference of opinion in determining Albert's value simply could not be resolved," Dan Lozano, Pujols' agent, said in a prepared statement.

"The expiration of today's deadline does not eliminate the possibility of Albert returning to the Cardinals in 2012 but simply delays negotiations until the conclusion of the Cardinals' season," Lozano said.

Lozano said Pujols set the negotiating deadline so that he would not distract the organization or his teammates during the season. He said Pujols will not discuss his contract situation with the media in spring training or during the season.

"[Pujols] feels as strongly as ever that this team has the potential to win the World Series. That alone is why he will not permit his contractual situation to become a distraction or take away from his ability to reach that goal," Lozano said.

Pujols will make $16 million this season in his contract's final year, with $4 million of the money deferred with no interest.

Pujols said he doesn't want to negotiate during spring training or the season. The Cardinals say they are open to talks.

"It's not as if he's a free agent at this point," Mozeliak said.

St. Louis said it made an offer at the start of the year and then discussed possible modifications.

"They were lengthy and in depth," DeWitt said of the talks.

Pujols' teammates said Wednesday they can't wait to see him.

"It really doesn't matter to us," said Cardinals pitcher and union rep Kyle McClellan, when asked about the ongoing Pujols contract watch. "It's none of our business. It's none of anybody's business. ... The truth is, I've never been on the mound and thinking of Albert Pujols' contract."

A handful of St. Louis position players were at work ahead of schedule; pitchers and catchers are in camp, and position players aren't required to arrive until Saturday.

St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said Tuesday that he believes Pujols was feeling pressure from the union to "set the bar" with his next deal. The baseball record is Alex Rodriguez's $275 million, 10-year pact with the New York Yankees.

On Wednesday, La Russa insisted that he'd said too much already.

"It was kind of omitted. I said if I was running the union or part of the union, I'm not sure I'd handle it any different," La Russa said, about two hours before the noon deadline passed. "I checked with some of our veteran coaches. It strains credibility a little bit to think there hasn't been any contact or mention. He's too significant."

Union officials have denied pressuring Pujols or Lozano. And McClellan said La Russa's comments did not create an awkward situation for him, even though as the union rep in the Cardinals' clubhouse, he had to take a decidedly different stance than his manager.

"It doesn't really have anything to do with me. I just represent the players," McClellan said. "All I can do is get the facts that I know, that the union's job is to make sure that the players and agents are informed. They're not going to overstep any boundaries and tell anybody what to do. Everybody's a grown man. They can make a decision for themselves."

La Russa said often Wednesday morning that his focus is on spring training and the NL Central, not what will or won't happen with his slugger.

"We don't want to get our minds cluttered as a team," La Russa said. "There's enough to do. ... The competition in the Central and the National League has got our complete attention. And that's just what we're going to think about. You can choose what you think about. That's what we're going to think about."

Mozeliak has said it was not necessary that a deal be signed by noon Wednesday, but the sides would need to have agreed to terms.

Pujols has a .331 career batting average and has averaged 41 homers and 123 RBIs per season. He's also won six Silver Slugger Awards and two Gold Gloves.

Last year he batted .312 with 42 homers and 118 RBIs and finished second in MVP balloting.

"I don't think there's a better guy for us to have on the team," Cardinals second baseman Skip Schumaker said. "He's the face of the franchise. You respect both sides of it. You respect what the Cardinals are doing, you respect the management and what Albert's agent is doing. It's a tough situation, as everybody knows. He's an iconic player."

Before the first pitch of the season, the first debate of the 2011 offseason is under way.

"Goes on the open market, who knows what he'll get?" said Cubs right-hander Braden Looper, a former Pujols teammate.

Added Rockies right-hander Aaron Cook: "I'm surprised something didn't get done. He has the right to become a free agent and get what he wants. I hope for their sake it doesn't become a distraction."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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