Blame the guy who hired the messenger. I’m nearly the last person on Earth who would normally consider defending sports agents, because I don’t exactly consider them to be the last bastion of altruism. Agents represent clients. More precisely, agents attempt to represent their clients’ interests. They do a lot of other things such as bail them out of jail and help explain the “outside-in” approach at two-fork restaurants, but that’s another story. The primary function of the agent is to represent the professional athlete at the negotiating table, because that’s where the big money is made (or not made).
That’s where the agent for Albert Pujols, Dan Lozano, comes into play. He represents Albert, but he also provides a face at which fans may direct anger while Albert remains above the fray. Albert can decline to comment when asked questions about ongoing negotiations, because such things are being handled by his agent. It’s almost as if he’s simply an innocent bystander. He’s akin to a conscientious objector to his own contract extension, because he doesn’t even want to comment on it. He’s free to act as though he has a complete distaste for the process, and it is completely out of his hands. He can’t possibly affect the outcome. He’s said as much himself. He’s basically acting like he’s persona non grata in this discussion, except for the fact that he isn’t.
He’s actually the driving mechanism behind it. Do you really think that Lozano is the “tail wagging the dog” here? Could he possibly convince Albert that he has to command 7 truckloads of money instead of 6? Probably not.
That’s fine, because that’s exactly how the system has worked for years and years. It’s exactly how Derek Jeter‘s agent, Casey Close, handled the contract situation with the Yankees. That negotiation turned into a real fiasco, but Jeter distanced himself from it all the way up until it was time to step to the podium to say “thanks”. The Yankees’ front office took a lot of heat, and Close was vilified as well. As for Jeter, he’s back at SS for the Bronx Bombers with a fairly plump contract and maybe a bit of a chip on his shoulder.
Will something similar happen in St. Louis with Pujols? Maybe. Maybe not. However, the door is certainly open to some interesting possibilities that haven’t been discussed a lot. What will happen if Pujols and Lozano overplay their hand and eventually head for free agency? Will Albert be under immense pressure to put up some monstrous individual statistics in 2011? If he falls off even slightly from the .312/.414/.596/1.011 with 42 hr and 118 rbi from 2011, will potential suitors be hesitant to offer something in the neighborhood of 8 yrs / $240M or whatever his asking price will be? Probably not.
Lest you begin to think that I’m holding the Cardinals blameless in all of this, I’ll put that notion to rest right now. If the team really wants Albert to stay, they simply have to meet the asking price. Unfortunately, the team has the unenviable confluence of expiring contracts and arbitration status changes coming up AFTER the 2012 season. That potentially means that 2012 could be an prohibitively expensive season even without some very big decisions being made regarding key players like Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia, Colby Rasmus, and Adam Wainwright. Responsibility for that situation falls completely on the front office for failing to stagger contracts and/or sign Albert to an extension previously. Could a Pujols extension result in a domino effect that results in restructuring and/or creative deals for other players? Just a thought.
The more I interact with baseball fans in general, the more impressed I am with both their passion for the game/team and their baseball savvy. The majority I’ve spoken with have indicated that they are fine with the team paying AP up to $30M a year for as many as 6 or 7 years but no more than that. Even the biggest Pujols fans I know have drawn a line in the sand with regard to what they consider a reasonable contract offer. Maybe that message has made its way through to the team’s front office already. If it hasn’t, then maybe it should.
As for me, I’m already tired of the rhetoric.
TIDBITS: For what it’s worth, I’ve been harping on the theme that private negotiations favor Albert’s position. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it, because I believe that’s true for nearly every player. If the player does not re-sign, and fans have no real record of the give-and-take during negotiations, then how do they evaluate the team’s effort?
MORE BITS OF TID: Lozano has already locked horns with Walt Jocketty this off-season and done quite well. He managed to procure a 3 yr / $38M deal for Joey Votto without giving up up any of Votto’s free agent years. Basically, he secured guaranteed money in exchange for the team getting cost certainty. That’s potentially a really good deal for Votto, and he’d have to put up MVP-type numbers for 3 years to make it a good deal for the Reds. If this is representative of Lozano’s capabilities and patience at the negotiating table, then it’s easy to understand why the Cardinals haven’t reached an agreement with AP yet.’
Like it? Tired of the rhetoric as well? Find me on Twitter, and we’ll bemoan the power of the Lozano!