Mozeliak described a situation over the previous days and hours during baseball's annual Winter Meetings in Dallas in which the Cardinals did what they could to try to re-sign the erstwhile free-agent first baseman, who flourished during his 11 seasons in St. Louis.
"It was a very fluid situation," he said. "One that there was a lot of give and take, a lot of ups and downs. Yesterday was the most dramatic day of all in terms of really focusing in on the negotiation, and I was notified this morning, and that's when I knew it was directionally going the wrong way."
The general manager did not give details about the Cardinals' offer to Pujols. He termed it a "robust offer."
Asked if the Cardinals went as far as they could in extending a contract offer, Mozeliak said, "Absolutely. And beyond."
When he was asked if he knew they were competing against an offer in the range of $250 million, Mozeliak said, "We had no idea. When we looked at this process, it wasn't about what the market was doing as so much as what we could do. Everybody who was very close to this process knew we were stretching and putting ourselves in a situation that was becoming a little uncomfortable, but one that we were trying to do and thought was worth it."
He later added: "This situation was extremely fluid. There were a lot of things going back and forth at a rather quick pace, too, yesterday. In terms of looking at change or how much were they different, there were significant subtleties, though, that were baked into this that I think was where we felt we were starting to push ourselves in a place maybe we couldn't be. But we went ahead and tried and it didn't work out."
Mozeliak was surprised when he heard the reported winning bid of $250-260 million.
"When I heard that number, I said, 'Wow,'" Mozeliak said. "That's big."
The general manager spoke with Pujols on Thursday, but not about his new contract.
"I did speak with Albert earlier," Mozeliak said. "We didn't get into contracts or terms or anything like that, it was just wishing well and sort of reflecting back on his time here. It was a very pleasant conversation and one that I think we both felt good about."
Pujols helped the Cardinals win the World Series twice and was selected to the All-Star team 10 times. He hit 445 home runs, drove in 1,329 runs, batted .328 with a .420 on-base percentage, .617 slugging percentage and won two Gold Glove Awards.
The challenge for Mozeliak and the Cardinals was how much the organization could, and should, pay Pujols, who turns 32 in January, and for how long.
"It's hard to quantify iconic value or superstar value," he said. "We tried. When you think about the 11 years he had here as a player, that's what we were trying to encompass and allow to keep growing. We were hopeful that it would be something that, at the end of this contract, he would have been a Cardinal for life with a happy ending, but there was certainly some risk when you talk about those types of years."
Mozeliak will now turn his attention to what is next for the defending World Series champions.
He said the Cardinals have got their "irons in the fire now" and will be active going forward in free agency, with the possibility of making trades in the next few months.
"I think we have a pretty good idea of what we want to see happen now," he said.
Mozeliak said he has already talked to Lance Berkman, whom the Cardinals re-signed to a one-year extension in September, about a potential move to first base next season. Berkman, who turns 36 in February, was an MVP candidate in his first season in St. Louis after hitting .301 with 31 home runs and 92 RBIs.
Allen Craig could take over for Berkman in right field, though Craig is expected to miss the first month of the regular season due to knee surgery.
Mozeliak should have money freed up to pursue players through free agency. Pujols made $16 million during his last season in St. Louis.
"It does create some flexibility for the organization," he said. "We knew that was a possibility, so that's what we'll do, we'll look to redeploy those resources."
Among the areas the Cardinals could look to try to fill are shortstop, second base, first base, outfield and the bullpen.
"We don't have a ton of holes to fill, so when we focus on what we want to do with these resources I feel comfortable we can accomplish that," Mozeliak said.