ST. LOUIS -- In advance of Major League Baseball's 2018 Winter Meetings, which open Monday in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., MLB.com is highlighting each club's most memorable Winter Meetings in recent history. For the Cardinals, that requires a look back at 2011, when their negotiations with Jose Pujols reached an
ST. LOUIS -- In advance of Major League Baseball's 2018 Winter Meetings, which open Monday in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., MLB.com is highlighting each club's most memorable Winter Meetings in recent history. For the Cardinals, that requires a look back at 2011, when their negotiations with Jose Pujols reached an end.
Days of discussion, negotiation and calculation ended abruptly for the Cardinals on the morning of Dec. 8, 2011. A front-office group that had monopolized the Winter Meetings spotlight suddenly found itself ducking out of the Hilton Anatole hotel in Dallas unceremoniously.
That rushed departure served as the endpoint to what had been a frenzied 42-day period dotted with elation, frustration and widespread change. With little time to soak in the magnitude of their improbable World Series championship run, the Cardinals found themselves faced with organization-altering decisions.
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They were tasked with replacing a Hall of Fame manager, as well as deciding how to proceed with a franchise player. Attempts to negotiate a contract extension with Pujols over the previous year had been unsuccessful, but the Cardinals arrived in Dallas still hopeful that a deal could be reached.
Pujols did, too, though he was also freely testing the free-agent waters. By that point, he had already traveled to Miami to hear the Marlins' recruiting pitch.
"I'm going to be prayerful about it," Pujols said at the time. "Whatever decision I make hopefully is the best decision I make for my family and the fans and everybody."
When the Winter Meetings opened, Pujols had already received formal offers from both the Cardinals and Marlins. There were indications that other interested clubs were also looming.
For the Cardinals, there were various opinions about how to proceed strategically. Pujols had already rebuffed their nine-year, $198 million offer just before Spring Training, and there was some organizational hesitancy about the length of a contract for a player who was about to turn 32 years old.
Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr. and general manager John Mozeliak met with Pujols' agent, Dan Lozano, on the first full day of the Winter Meetings to discuss how to move forward. A day later, the Cards tendered a revised offer to Pujols. It was later reported that the offer was worth in excess of $200 million over 10 years, though not all guaranteed.
Conversations continued over the next day, with Pujols even getting on the phone with DeWitt to gauge how much the organization wanted him back. What the Cardinals didn't know about, though, were all the discussions happening elsewhere. And the sequence of events that followed came fast and furious.
On that same Tuesday the Cardinals made an offer to Pujols, the Angels gave one that was even bigger and bolder -- a 10-year agreement worth $240 million, plus lucrative performance and milestone incentives and a $10 million personal services agreement.
By Wednesday, the Marlins had bowed out of the pursuit, leaving Pujols to weigh two potential destinations. The next morning, he woke up with a decision made.
Lozano called the Cardinals to inform him that his client would decline the organization's final offer. Pujols' career in St. Louis was over, just hours before the Winter Meetings ended.
"It's a disappointing day, but it's a day that we knew was a possibility," Mozeliak said after hustling back to St. Louis. "I think his 11 years here will always be seen as historic. I don't think today is the day to look at it negative. ... That's a great run."
"We tried our best to make Albert a lifetime Cardinal," added DeWitt. "But unfortunately, we were unable to make it happen."
Two days later, while being introduced in front of Angels Stadium, Pujols said his decision came down to "the way [Angels owner Arte Moreno] made me feel."
It was nonetheless a jarring departure for the Cardinals, who also lost Jeff Luhnow, then the team's president of player procurement, to the Astros on the same day Pujols agreed to terms with the Angels. Pujols had spent 11 seasons in St. Louis, won three National League Most Valuable Player Awards and been a member of two World Series championship clubs.
The Cardinals quickly pivoted to sign outfielder Carlos Beltran, and they went on to make the postseason each of the next four seasons. The organization also capitalized on the Draft pick compensation it received. Those two extra picks were used to take Michael Wacha and Stephen Piscotty in the 2012 MLB Draft.
Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.