Albert Pujols. (By Jeffrey Phelps, AP)
By Bob Nightengale, USA TODAY
DALLAS - The telephone rang at 7:30 in the morning Thursday in room 1882 of the Tower Building at the Anatole Hotel.
It was Albert Pujols, who uttered the words to agent Dan Lozano that would dramatically change baseball's landscape.
"The Angels," he said, "are the ones tugging on my heart."
Pujols agreed to a stunning 10-year contract for $254 million with the Los Angeles Angels, shocking fans and front offices from Anaheim to St. Louis to Miami and beyond.
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Pujols, who had three contract offers worth in excess of $200 million - including $275 million from the Marlins and $210 million from the Cardinals - wound up with the second-largest deal in baseball history, concluding one of the most titillating negotiations since the advent of free agency nearly 40 years ago.
Angels owner Arte Moreno, who purchased the franchise for $183 million in 2003, committed to spend nearly twice as much money in two hours Thursday for Pujols and Texas Rangers left-hander C.J. Wilson (five years, $77.5 million) than he did for the entire franchise.
What follows is a behind-the-scenes look at how the deal came together based on interviews with more than a dozen scouts, front office executives, player agents and players close to Pujols. Many requested anonymity due to the sensitive nature of some material.
Frustrated by Cards
Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly participated in Pujols' charity tournament Saturday. They had become friends over the years and Mattingly sensed something was awry in Pujols' relationship with the Cardinals' front office.
"There was a frustration there," said Mattingly, who grew up a Cardinals' fan in Evansville, Ind. "You could just sense something was wrong. He was getting frustrated by it.
"I hoped he would stay in St. Louis because he's such a legend there. He's like [Derek] Jeter and Cal [Ripken], but I also knew he would go where his heart would take him. People talk about the money, but I knew he would be following his heart."
Pujols' frustration stemmed from two years of not being able to come to an agreement with the Cardinals on a long-term contract extension and sensing the team didn't view him as a priority. He helped the team to the World Series championship this season in the final year of an eight-year, $116 million deal.
They made an offer in February worth about $195 million for nine years. Pujols, who wanted a 10-year deal, declined. They agreed to shut down negotiations until the season ended, but when free agency opened on Oct. 30, the Cardinals took the offer away and supplemented it with much shorter-term deals. Pujols, people said, almost felt as if the team was daring him to leave.
In came the Marlins, who wined and dined the three-time NL MVP. They took him to Joe's Stone Crab Restaurant in Miami and showed him the sights. They gave him a tour of their new ballpark, with pictures of Pujols wearing a Marlins' uniform beamed to the video boards and TV sets through the stadium. They also put their dream 2012 opening-day lineup on the scoreboard, with shortstop Jose Reyes, who would eventually sign a six-year, $106 million contract, batting leadoff and Pujols hitting cleanup.
The Marlins were relentless. They kept increasing their offer. Again. And again. When they arrived Sunday at the winter meetings, they expected to be leaving town with Pujols.
Just to make sure, they offered the richest contract in baseball history at 10 years for $275 million. There wasn't a penny deferred, and with incentives and factoring in no state tax in Florida, the deal could be worth nearly $300 million.
But Pujols wasn't ready to commit. The Marlins had stuck to their club policy and refused to give him a no-trade clause. Pujols also was aware that incumbent shortstop Hanley Ramirez was troubled by having to move to third base for Reyes. And despite a pair of World Series titles, the Marlins' franchise has all of the tradition of a strip mall with six winning seasons in 19 years.
The Marlins thought Pujols might agree on Monday, knowing their offer blew away the Cardinals' deal. Maybe it would have happened. But another team stepped in and ruined Miami's plans. The team, which refuses to be publicly identified, offered Pujols a 10-year, $225 million deal. Pujols was intrigued. If he didn't return to St. Louis, this team might be the perfect fit.
Then on Tuesday the Cardinals offered Pujols a contract potentially worth $210 million but for nine years, with a 10th-year option that would kick in if he met performance thresholds. It was an improvement over their previous proposals but still short of what else was on the table.
Still Pujols wanted to return to St. Louis.
It was at this time that Pujols eliminated the Marlins, and by late Tuesday it was a two-team race between the Cardinals and the mystery team. A few hours later, though, the phone rang in Lozano's suite, and it was Angels general manager Jerry DiPoto wanting to talk.
"About who?" Lozano said, who also represents free-agent shortstop Jimmy Rollins and outfielder Carlos Beltran.
"We want to talk about Albert Pujols," Dipoto said.
Lozano was stunned. The bigger surprise came at 9 the next morning. The Angels offered a 10-year contract for about $250 million. The deal included incentives that could make it worth nearly $280 million. No deferred money. And a full-no trade clause. Yes, they were serious.
Moreno, who watched the Angels fall short in recent years trying to lure free agents Carl Crawford, Mark Teixeira, Adrian Beltre and CC Sabathia, took the reins. He made two impassioned calls to Pujols. He told Pujols that they planned to also sign Wilson. They weren't going to stop being aggressive in the market until they won a World Series championship, their first since 2002 and first under Moreno.
Pujols told Lozano that he and his wife, Deidre, would pray on their decision that night.
'Is this for real?'
Lozano sat in his suite at 1 in the morning Thursday with his three-member staff, watching ESPN and munching on potato chips. He had been so busy Wednesday that he didn't even shower until 4 p.m. and never left the hotel during his four-day stay. He went to bed expecting Pujols to call at some point Thursday but figured it would take days to finalize a deal.
The phone call from Pujols came at 7:30 a.m. Five minutes later, Lozano called DiPoto, who had been up most of the night finalizing Wilson's deal. The rookie GM broke the news to his front-office staff, a group that's been together for less than two months.
"We just looked at each other," said Angels assistant GM Scott Servais, "and said, 'Is this for real?' ...I mean, everybody assumed, especially during the World Series, that he would stay in St. Louis. We were all so tired it was surreal."
The next calls were made to the mystery team's GM and to Cardinals GM John Mozeliak, who was stunned. He hurriedly packed his suitcase, left his suite and headed to the airport without telling most of his staff.
"We are disappointed that we were unable to reach an agreement to keep Albert Pujols in St. Louis," Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt said in a prepared statement a couple of hours later. "I would like our fans to know that we tried our best to make Albert a lifetime Cardinal but unfortunately we were unable to make it happen."
At a news conference later, Mozeliak said he talked with Pujols: "It was simply about wishing well and reflecting back on his time here. It was a very pleasant conversation and one we both feel good about."
He would not comment on the Cardinals' offer.
"I'm not going to get into terms. I can assure you it was a robust offer."
The news of the signing broke at 8:59 a.m., just minutes before the annual Rule 5 Draft. The room full of baseball scouts and executives was stunned. Mets GM Sandy Alderson, who was in a similar spot spot 11 years ago when Alex Rodriguez signed a record 10-year, $252 million deal (since broken by Rodriguez at $275 million) with the Rangers at the same hotel, was incredulous but not nearly as outraged as in 2000.
"There must be a strain of legionnaires' disease in here," Alderson said. "I think every club that has signed a 10-year contact has regretted it. But, of course, only one other team has."
While just about everyone else was numb, the Angels were delirious. Outfielder Torii Hunter and right-hander LaTroy Hawkins, who agreed to a free-agent deal on Wednesday, were working out with Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan in Frisco, Texas. Hanrahan took a break to check his phone, saw the tweet messages announcing the Pujols deal and walked over to show Hunter and Hawkins. They immediately raced to their phones.
"I had 65 text messages and 12 phone calls," Hawkins said. "I mean, this just came out of nowhere."
And they were gone
Lozano, who had an 11:50 a.m. flight back to Los Angeles, didn't have time to celebrate. To prevent a mob scene with the media in the lobby, he and a staff member were taken by hotel security to a service elevator that led them to the loading dock where a cab was waiting.
And they were gone.
"This is something that changes a franchise,'' Dipoto said, "and something that changes a community. This is more than just getting a great baseball player.''