ST. LOUIS — Albert Pujols repeatedly has said he wants to spend his entire career with the St. Louis Cardinals. Staring at a spring training deadline for contract negotiations, the team chairman remains hopeful the three-time NL MVP will get his wish.
Pujols declined Sunday to provide any kind of update on negotiations. His agent has said he will cut off talks at the start of spring training if an agreement is not in place, and general manager John Mozeliak confirmed the deadline on Saturday.
A representative of Pujols' agent stood to the slugger's left and deflected questions on the topic at Sunday's news conference before the first baseman held a two-hour, sold-out autograph session at the team's Winter Warmup.
"Do you want to bring all that into the clubhouse all year, like you guys have been doing the last couple of years?" Pujols said. "No. I respect my teammates more than this contract.
"That's why you have to set some deadline on this, and that's it."
Neither side would offer a sense of how the talks are going. At one point, Cardinals media relations director Brian Bartow stepped in and said Pujols' agent had set ground rules for the news conference.
Chairman Bill DeWitt said the Cardinals' payroll for next season projects to "well above $100 million," which is the highest ever for the franchise and includes $16 million for Pujols' option year. DeWitt said Pujols was irreplaceable, both as a talent and as the face of the franchise.
"That's all wrapped into one. He's an iconic player because he's such a great player," DeWitt said. "He's proven year in and year out that he's one of the greatest players to play the game.
"He's never had a bad year and has lifetime totals that are incredible. You can't go out and find an Albert Pujols."
DeWitt said the best word to characterize the Cardinals' stance was hopeful.
"We want him to be with us," DeWitt said. "Until something happens one way or another, there's not a lot to say beyond that."
Manager Tony La Russa said he'd stay out of the talks.
"I'm not going to say a word," La Russa said. "Let them work it out."
Signing free agent Lance Berkman to a $8 million contract signaled a willingness to spend after the Cardinals missed the postseason three of the last four years.
"Sometimes you have to seize the moment, and we did," DeWitt said. "You go for it."
Pujols led the National League with 42 home runs last season and won his first league RBIs title with 118. He also tied Matt Holliday for the team batting lead at .312.
"If the Cardinals want to say something in the paper and talk about our business, then they can say something," Pujols said. "Myself I think I'm more professional than that.
"If we want to get something done, we'll get it done and everybody's going to know when we get it done."
No deal by the start of spring training would not necessarily mean Pujols will be moving on. The Cardinals could sign him after next season and DeWitt expressed confidence that Pujols would not let it affect him on the field.
"If we don't sign him in the next four weeks, that doesn't mean he's not going to be a Cardinal," DeWitt said. "We'd love to sign him tomorrow, or whenever."
Pitchers and catchers report to Jupiter, Fla., on Feb. 13 with the first workout the following day. The full squad is due into camp by Feb. 18.
"Obviously it's something the organization probably doesn't want hanging for the whole season," Berkman said. "Clearly you're talking about the best player in baseball, probably the best hitter in the history of baseball.
"I'm not sure how you go about taming that tiger."
Pujols noted that speculation regarding his future, and whether the Cardinals are willing to pay top dollar for the three-time NL MVP, has been swirling for several years. The Cardinals have four other players making more than $10 million a year in outfielder Holliday and pitchers Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright and Kyle Lohse.
"You guys have the opportunity to be writing about this over the last two years," Pujols said. "So what else is there to say? I think everybody knows I want to be a Cardinals and what else is there to say?"
The three-time NL MVP, who turned 31 on Sunday, has played his entire 10-year career in St. Louis. Pujols was to be honored as co-man of the year along with Wainwright at Sunday night's dinner for the St. Louis chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America.
Pujols says he's in better shape than in recent seasons when he was hindered by injuries, and excited about the changes the team has made. Pujols underwent surgery on his right elbow after the 2008 and '09 seasons.
"I feel great," Pujols said. "Hopefully I can stay healthy all year."
Tony La Russa quickly put Matt Holliday's concerns to rest.
Holliday said at the St. Louis Cardinals' winter warmup Sunday that he'd play wherever the team needed him, but wanted to know by spring training so he'd have enough time to adjust to a position switch. He assumed he'd be in left field and newly acquired Lance Berkman would be in right, but said he'd be willing to move.
"Yeah, I'd like to know, I think just for repetitions sake," Holliday said.
At his own news conference later in the day, La Russa said Holliday is his left fielder, period. And that Berkman would get the job done in right.
"Lance will make the routine play out there, there's no doubt in my mind," the manager said. "That's where he's going to play, and Matt doesn't have to make a change."
La Russa said Holliday first made the offer to switch positions at the trade deadline last season, if the Cardinals were able to swing a deal.
Berkman, who'll be 35 next month, has been primarily a first baseman the last four years but has dropped 20 pounds in preparation for a return to the outfield.
La Russa dismisses the perception that the Cardinals are making a concession defensively to get Berkman's bat in the lineup.
"We're not giving up the routine play, that's what you worry about," La Russa said. "He's got a hell of a bat and he's going to be an average, at least, outfielder.
"I don't feel like we're conceding anything."