With Holliday signed, focus turns to Pujols

With Holliday signed, focus turns to Pujols

ST. LOUIS -- As the Cardinals introduced Matt Holliday as their newest re-acquisition, an air of celebration filled the press conference room at Busch Stadium. In under 24 hours, though, the club's front office gets back to work on matters large and small -- one of them bigger and potentially even more difficult than retaining Holliday's services for seven more years.

By locking up Holliday to a seven-year, $120-million deal, the Redbirds cleared their last major bit of business as far as assembling their 2010 roster. They may yet add a third baseman, or a fifth starter, or help for their bullpen or bench, but Holliday was the biggest piece. Any remaining moves will be complementary.

However, another task looms. Albert Pujols is two seasons away from free agency, and now that Holliday's services are secured, the Cardinals may soon look to re-up their signature player.

"I would say in the not-too-distant future," said the team's principal owner, Bill DeWitt Jr. "He does have two years left, so it's not like he's about to enter Spring Training in his last year. I think the pace will be dictated somewhat by how he feels about it, how he sees things shaping up, and his representatives."

General manager John Mozeliak emphasized that the Cards didn't necessarily have to finish dealings with Holliday and his agent, Scott Boras, before moving on to negotiating with Pujols and his representatives from the Beverly Hills Sports Council. But given that Pujols himself has indicated that the club should square away Holliday before turning to him, it was clear the order in which things would happen.

"I've said this all along on this one," Mozeliak said. "It's going to be something that Albert and his agents and I, we'll know when the time is right. Frankly, when it is right, nobody is going to know about it anyway. It's just going to be something that we would privately want to discuss."

Holliday's deal is worth $17 million in each of the seven guaranteed seasons. However, $2 million of that will be deferred to the years 2020-29, so the present-day value is closer to $16 million a year. That's still a lot. But the Cardinals believe they can carry that salary plus whatever it will take to lock up Pujols long-term -- and it will surely be more than Holliday is making.

"We look at the AAV a little differently than just the gross number, because obviously when you defer, you [reduce] present value and it's a lesser number," DeWitt said. "We think it's a number that we can live with, re-sign Albert and have a really strong, contending team around those cornerstones."

That doesn't mean it will be easy. Any estimate, even a conservative one, places an average salary on a new Pujols deal at somewhere north of $20 million per season. Mark Teixeira makes $22.5 million a year, and Alex Rodriguez averages $27.5 million. They are the two closest analogs for Pujols among currently-signed players.

Thus, if the Cardinals remain at an annual player payroll of close to $100 million, they would be committing 40 percent or more to two players.

"It doesn't really expose you, it just changes your flexibility in certain areas," Mozeliak said. "But it's no different than other years where you've had resources tied up in different positions. This is perhaps 20 percent more dramatic, but it's still something that if you operate under [those] assumptions, you still have 50-plus million to allocate and to complement your club. That's a lot."

As the long, slow dance between the Cardinals and Boras ground through December, the agent specifically tied Holliday to Pujols. He told reporters during baseball's annual Winter Meetings that he believed re-signing Holliday would increase the Cardinals' chances of retaining Pujols. He softened that connection a bit on Thursday, but didn't dismiss it entirely.

"I always felt that the signing of Matt Holliday would help keep any St. Louis Cardinals player, not just Albert Pujols," Boras said.

"[Holliday] is part of the matrix for success for a team. The important thing about what players consider is that Matt is such a, he's just synergistic to what most players want to do, and that's to win and succeed."

That is, in fact, exactly what Pujols has repeatedly said he wants to do. Every time he has answered questions about his contract, he has been consistent. He wants to play for a winner. While it's possible the Holliday contract will hamstring the Cardinals down the road, it surely indicates that the organization is willing to spend money in an attempt to compete.

"Getting a chance to play with the guys on this team that I got a chance to play with for two months, obviously Albert's a huge part of that, but there's other players and people that were part of that decision," Holliday said. "Getting a chance to play and watch Albert, be on the same team with Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright, the list goes on and on. All those guys, and Albert particularly, did weigh in that decision. Hopefully he'll be here for the rest of his career and we can do some damage."

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.