02/10/11 5:21 PM EST
Greed not at heart of Pujols, Young dramas
Contract talks, trade drama part of the game for solid players
By Alden Gonzalez / MLB.com
That's how you can sum up the final days before the official start to Spring Training, as two big-ticket items linger on the agenda -- The Extension of Albert Pujols and The Trade of Michael Young.
Two totally separate circumstances never seemed so similar. Both -- for the sake of team morale and good spirits -- should be resolved before Spring Training, but neither seems to have a clear resolution in sight.
"Greed" is a word often used in situations like these, but often shortsightedly.
Since Pujols and Young are wealthy athletes in a quest for more -- be it riches or playing time -- many baseball fans and media types have a hard time feeling any sort of sympathy because they can't relate. So instead, they wonder why seemingly small sacrifices can't be made for the sake of closure and stability.
They'll say Young -- because he's 34, and also because he's owed $48 million over the next three years -- should keep quiet and accept any role given to him by the Rangers. And they'll say Pujols should tone down reportedly outlandish salary requests for the hometown Cardinals.
But Pujols and Young aren't wrong in making their demands. And they shouldn't be blamed -- at least not entirely -- for what has become a potentially awkward situation with their respective teams.
Think about it: What if Young's situation were yours?
Say you were a longtime key figure at your company who always met or exceeded expectations. What if, after your company's most successful year, your boss acquired a replacement at your position that lessened your role in the process? Would the amount of money you made keep you from feeling insulted, disrespected and overlooked? Wouldn't you be upset?
Young is the longest-tenured Ranger, the de facto leader in the clubhouse and a very consistent producer over the last eight years -- .308 batting average, .355 on-base percentage, 138 homers and 700 RBIs. He moved from second base to shortstop, then -- rather begrudgingly -- from shortstop to third base, and each time he switched positions, the Rangers were better for it.
This proposed move, which would have Young serve as an everyday designated hitter and glorified utility player, is ideal for the Rangers again. Adrian Beltre -- signed to a six-year, $96 million contract this offseason -- is far better defensively, and having Young in the lineup with him gives Texas one of the game's best offenses.
But Young, like so many star athletes, is very prideful. He still feels he can be an everyday player, has little interest in being typecast as a DH, and he apparently felt his club owed it to him to show a little more faith.
To that effect, Young said Monday: "I want to be traded because I have been manipulated and misled in the process, and I'm not going to take it anymore."
I don't blame the Rangers for allocating additional money to improve the product on the field. But this situation could've seemingly been handled differently. They could've made sure Young was completely sold on being a DH before making their big move, and if he wasn't, either dealt him or backed off on signing Beltre. Making the move, then proclaiming Young would still play every day, then listening to other offers, then trading for Mike Napoli -- a right-handed-hitting catcher who can also DH -- seemed a bit messy and inconsistent from afar.
Pujols' situation has been harder to gauge because it has been kept out of the public, but the silence has been deafening.
What has been reported by multiple publications is that Pujols seeks a deal at least similar to the record 10-year, $275 million contract Alex Rodriguez currently owns. Sure, A-Rod's deal -- signed when he was 32, by the way -- may go down as one of the most generous and ill-timed in baseball history. But contractual values are almost always assigned on a comparative basis -- be it through arbitration or free agency -- and with that being the case, Pujols has every right to desire being baseball's wealthiest player.
He is not only the face of the Cardinals; he has become the face of baseball as it moves past the steroid era. But his current deal doesn't account for that.
Pujols' expiring eight-year, $116 million contract carried an average annual value less than those of Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Beltran, Barry Zito and so many other inferior players. The Cardinals, of course, shouldn't be penalized for negotiating a savvy baseball contract, but Pujols shouldn't be criticized for looking to max out on his own brand, either.
With all the leverage he now possesses as he enters his walk year, it's simply good business to threaten free agency if he doesn't acquire the deal he seeks.
Of course, mentalities like these have made a resolution for Pujols and Young seem rather hazy.
Young's contract, partial no-trade clause and age, coupled with where we are in the offseason, has made it difficult to picture the Rangers getting significant returns without eating a significant amount of money in the process. On Thursday afternoon, sources told MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan the chances of Young being dealt were not good.
And partly because the Cardinals are slated to have at least $48.125 million -- and as much as $68.375 million -- tied up in six additional players for the 2012 season, both sides are reportedly far apart on an extension, with Pujols' self-imposed deadline now six days away.
It's a shame, because in both scenarios, club and player belong together. Who knows, maybe something can be worked out and Spring Training can center only on baseball for the Rangers and Cardinals.
But if it isn't, player greed shouldn't be the main culprit.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and 'The Show,' and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.