With the beginning of spring training, baseball is slowly working its way back into the main sports news feed. The big story this week was the deadline for contract extension negotiations between Albert Pujols and the St. Louis Cardinals. Pujols said months ago that he would not continue to discuss a new contract with the Cardinals once spring training started. If the sides could not come to an agreement by Wednesday, the Cardinals would have to wait until the off-season to attempt to resign their star.

He did not say he would not talk to the Cardinals after the season. He did not say he would never resign with the Cards if a deal wasn’t in place by his report date. He did not say that he would hold the failure to complete an agreement against the Cardinals front office either during the season or when he becomes a free agent in the fall. He just said he would not negotiate once the job he is paid to do officially began.

Naturally the sports media went bat shit over all of this.

They reported breathlessly, live from the Cardinals spring training facility as the deadline approached. They floated rumors about what the Cardinals were offering and what Pujols wanted. They speculated about Pujols’ motivation and character. They skipped over nine months of baseball and began breaking down what team he will sign with for next year, since he clearly is done in St. Louis.

Manager Tony LaRussa didn’t help matters by throwing bombs at the players union, claiming they were forcing Albert to ask for a maximum contract. Never mind the fact that as the best player in the game, HE’S FREAKING WORTH IT. 1

I point this out not to argue that none of this was news, because it certainly was. The best player in the game is in the final year of his contract with a team he has spent his entire career with. That alone is a big story. Spending his entire career in a medium-sized, borderline large baseball market city adds intrigue to how the process will progress.

But every major media outlet, with ESPN as always the worst offender, seemed intent on turning this into LeBron’s Decision 2.0. The coverage has been completely over-the-top in relation to the reality of the situation. That reality is that Pujols is still under contract for the up-coming season. He’s not threatening to sit out part of spring training until he gets an extension. He hasn’t said a word about this being the Cardinals only chance to resign him and if he hits the open market in November, they might as well not bother calling his agent. All he wanted to do was create a window in which they could talk extension, and then set it aside until the season was over. But ESPN, Yahoo!, and the other major sports sites did all they could to turn this into a dramatic, dire situation.

Pujols has handled the situation fantastically, saying all the right things and affirming his commitment to the Cardinals this season and his desire to stay there for the remainder of his career. I haven’t paid as much attention to what the Cards’ front office has said, but it seems like they are handling the situation well, too. Neither side is trying to embarrass each other or find some dark angle that will provide them leverage.

Yet we’ve heard rumors of lowball offers from the Cardinals reported as fact. When those rumors were debunked 24 hours later, the headlines were much smaller. You get the feeling that Pujols’ wife could take a trip to LA to visit a friend and there would be ESPN reporters following her, insisting that she was searching out places to live once her husband signs with the Dodgers or Angels.

We don’t know where Albert Pujols will play next year. It’s fine to speculate. That is news. But making something that won’t begin to happen for nine months, and from which we won’t see the effects for over a year, a bigger story that everything that will happen between now and then is just a chase for headlines and page views.

If I had to guess, I say Albert stays in St. Louis. I think he wants to. The Cardinals almost have to keep him. I believe both sides will find a way to make it happen. He may not get the $300 million he allegedly wants, but he’ll come close. People keep saying that the Yankees and Red Sox are out of the running because they already have Mark Teixeira and Adrian Gonzalez. I say not so fast. The Yankees will have no trouble finding a spot for the best bat in the game and for them money is not an issue. And if the Red Sox thought they had a legitimate shot at Albert, they would find a place for him, too. The biggest thing those teams have are not their massive revenue streams, but the chance to win. If Albert doesn’t resign in St. Louis, it will be because he sees his chance to win another World Series being with the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Angels, or another franchise. Not just because they can offer more money than the Cardinals.

One last comment on Pujols. I love the rumors, which have jumped to many national baseball sites, that the Royals might go after him. Please. Despite going to high school and college in KC and batting about .800 in Kaufman Stadium, he’s never showed any particular interest in going back there to end his career. It’s another nice story to spend some time day dreaming about in February, but if David Glass is going to spend $300 million on free agent talent next fall, he’s going to spend it gathering up 5-6 players to fill out the spots the team’s farm system can’t. And he’s not spending $300 million dollars.

  1. Tony has always been cantankerous, but he’s turning into a grumpy old man of historical proportions. When’s the last time he said something good about anything, other than getting your pets spayed and neutered?