Heads They Win, Tails Everybody Else Loses

by on May 26, 2011 · 4 comments

I’m not afraid to admit when I’m wrong, and I don’t have an issue with changing my opinion based on new information.  Where the Albert Pujols contract extension/non-extension is concerned, there are no new facts or even decent speculation, but I’ve come to a new conclusion after some serious contemplation.  I’ll admit that I was wrong all along about my initial theory, and I’ve revised it…a lot. 

The whole circus isn’t the rabbit (Pujols) being pulled out of the hat.  It’s about the magician (Lozano) pulling the rabbit out of the hat.  Follow along for a moment, because I’m it takes a bit of time to unwind this whole thing.  Albert practically exudes old school loyalty, and it is truly one of the things fans in St. Louis appreciate about him.  That’s a double-edged sword (more on that later).  On one edge, you have his loyalty to his agent, Dan Lozano.  When Lozano left the Beveral Hills Sports Council to start his own shop, he obviously did so with Albert’s blessing/assurance that he’d have the backing of the best player in baseball.  If you have the patience to do some Google searching for AP quotes about Dan, you’ll find buried dozens of pages deep a few bits about how close the two men really are (better yet, read the @PujolsBio).  In truth, Lozano is a member of Albert’s close, inner-circle of friends, and Albert is incredibly loyal to that circle of friends. 

As a matter of fact, I believe that he’s loyal enough to Dan to want to see his good friend succeed at being one of the best agents in the baseball business.  Are you starting to see where this is going?  If you start with that singular premise, think of how you would draw up the basic design plan for making that happen.

  1. Lozano starts his own shop. 
  2. Lozano has conversations about an extension well before Albert’s contract expires, but those conversations yield nothing.  Both sides say and do the right things.
  3. Albert says and does the right things while taking some heat for not signing a contract extension.
  4. A completely arbitrary, artificial deadline is set with very strict rules about speaking in public.  Both sides adamantly adhere to the rules.
  5. The deadline passes with nothing accomplished.  Albert keeps insisting that Dan is acting completely on Albert’s behalf and in his best interest while at the same time distancing himself from the negotiations.  Dan and John Mozeliak both say and do the right things.
  6. The regular season starts, and the negotiating window is already closed.

Mission accomplished for Dan and Albert.  Why do I say that?  They have basically conspired to do exactly what they needed to do in order to ensure that Dan succeeds at being a super agent.  It’s pure genius in so many ways.  It’s a coin flip.  If it comes up heads, they win.  If it comes up tails, everybody else loses.  The whole point was to push this cart all the way to the free agency self-service checkout lane.  Here’s how it works.

  1. If Albert reaches free agency, he’s bound to receive offers from other teams.  At the very least, he’s going to receive interest from 28 other MLB teams plus the Nationals.  If the Cardinals bid the highest, then Dan looks like a winner, because he’s managed to finagle the most money from the home team.  Albert is a winner in that situation, because Dan is the target of most of the vitriol of most of the hometown fans, and Albert returns as the conquering hero and likely remains a Cardinal for life.  As a bonus, he gets to keep building more restaurants with crappy ceiling tiles that may or may not appear to be falling down on patrons. 
  2. Let’s say that Albert reaches free agency, and he receives interest/offers, and 1 or more teams offers a substantial amount that is really worth considering.  Albert can take the money and run, and we’re talking about amounts of money that I like to measure in terms of that mathematical term “truckloads”.  Alternatively, he can spurn the money, and take less money to stay in St. Louis.  He will then become an even greater icon in the city, and people will be even more willing to overlook the ceiling tiles that may or may not appear to be falling down on patrons.  Dan will still look like a winner, because he will have managed to procure huge offers for his client AND make his client a hometown hero for life (and who doesn’t want to be a rich, good guy?)
  3. Of course, there is always the chance that a coin will lands on its side.  That wouldn’t be a complete disaster for Dan and AP, either.  Would an “off” season really scare people away or force them to scuttle the plan?  I don’t think so.  Keep in mind that this plan has been in motion for quite a while now.  In many ways, it has already succeeded, because Dan has already picked up several high profile clients.  Just recently he added some guy named Alex Rodriguez.  Heard of him?  It probably won’t matter, because A-Rod is likely playing out his last contract, but just being able to put the name out there when selling his services probably doesn’t hurt much, either.  What about Jimmy Rollins?  No, a sub-par season wouldn’t be devastating to Albert or Dan.  At worst, the backup plan is probably for Albert to simply return to the Cardinals which is probably where he wants to be anyway.  Dan still wins, because he’s already gone toe-to-toe with the Cardinals over a contract extension for AP.  It takes nerve not to take the quick money and run.  Everybody in baseball is watching, and it can’t be easy to pass up the quick payday.  Aces and eights.

Yes, I’m making a big assumption about where Albert wants to be, but that’s the other edge of the double-edge sword of loyalty I mentioned earlier.  As much as Albert has tried to talk about being neutral about the negotiations, it’s really hard to believe that he wants to be somewhere other than St. Louis.  His personal branding is tied to St. Louis.  If he goes to one of few other cities than can afford a big, long-term contract, he would become just another star player.  He’d no longer be the same guy, and the cocoon of privacy he enjoys in St. Louis wouldn’t be the same, and he knows it.  Listen closely to him talk some time.  Does he sound like a guy ready to leave his friends, church family, and neighbors behind for the next 6-8 years to play baseball somewhere else?  I don’t think so.  I don’t know Albert, but I do know people, and most people don’t relish the idea of uprooting their families for a job move that they don’t absolutely have to make. 

Could the Cardinals force his hand by making a stupid, low-ball offer?  Sure.  Are they collectively that dumb?  I don’t think so.  There is an institutional memory there that probably prevents such things from happening.  If not, then I imagine that Red, Whitey, Lou, Stan, and a few other guys would probably show up at 700 Clark Street carrying baseball bats to have a “chat” with the management team.  You know….just to make sure something like the Khalil Green incident never happens again. 

Maybe I’m completely wrong about this.  Maybe.  We’ll all know eventually, but I’m fairly confident that this is still more about Dan than it is about Albert.  Albert is going to get paid.  This is more about how much Dan is going to get paid over the long haul.  I actually think that the Cardinals had this figured out and were going through the motions all along.  There probably was a magic number, but it was probably a number that they figured no team in baseball was willing/able to hit.  I’m good with that.  If ever there was an argument for front-loading a contract, maybe this is it.  Then again, I’m glad I’m not the guy who has to make that call, because I probably wouldn’t be very popular in St. Louis, but that’s a whole other blog topic.

Follow gr33nazn on Twitter for more ideas so crazy that they might just be right…..or completely senseless.

Cardinals fan since I could hold a fishing pole steady. Accidental blogger. Opinionated. I could care less about what you think of me. Constantly confounded, bemused, and confuzzled (ie I'm a pc and a mac). I'm an IT infrastructure analyst with a penchant for breaking tech toys. I ate a sabermetric primer for breakfast. I love playing "All-powerful GM of MLB". The 2010 Cardinals represented a good, practical definition "cognitive dissonance". The 2011 version got by on duct tape and a prayer, and I'm fine with that. They just need new tape for #12 in 12.
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Tara May 26, 2011

You know, I’ve thought Lozano was a big part of the equation all along. What you’ve proposed wouldn’t surprise me! Albert leaving St. Louis just doesn’t make sense. Doing whatever it takes to help out a friend, however, sounds just about right.

Dennis May 26, 2011

Thanks for reading, Tara. I’m certain that I’m not the first person to consider Lozano a big part of the equation here. If I happen to be even close to the target on this, I’ll simply be even more impressed with Albert as a person than I already am. It would also mean that he never had any plans to leave Stl. That works for me just fine.

Tara May 26, 2011

That’s the thing that has had me scratching my head a little with the whole thing — I’ve always been SO impressed with Albert Pujols the person, even more so than the player, that it doesn’t make sense that he’d be the kind of guy to back a team into a corner, make ridiculous demands, willingly sign with a division rival, uproot his family…the whole shebang. So I’m curious to see how it works out in the end, hopefully in a way that does, in fact, leave me more impressed with him!

Dennis May 26, 2011

You are definitely not the only one waiting to see how it turns out.

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