By David Wilhelm
Iconic St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols on Thursday morning agreed to terms on a 10-year contract with the Los Angeles Angels.
The deal is worth an estimated $250 million and will enable Pujols, who turns 32 on Jan. 16, to become a designated hitter toward the end of the contract, if necessary. The contract includes a full no-trade clause.
"Albert has been a special player in this organization since the moment he was drafted over 12 years ago," Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak said in a team-released statement. "His accomplishments on and off the field have been spectacular. I wish him well in the next phase of his career."
Less than two hours after coming to terms with Pujols, the Angels signed left-hander C.J. Wilson to a five-year contract reported to be between $75 million and $77.5 million.
Wilson, the top pitcher on the market, was 16-7 with a 2.94 ERA last season for the Texas Rangers_the team the Cardinals defeated in a seven-game World Series.
"It's a very exciting day for the Angels community and Southern California as a whole," first-year Los Angeles General Manager Jerry DiPoto said on the MLB Network. "We're talking about an iconic offensve player for his generation, and we're talking about an ace pitcher who has been on a (American League) championship team."
DiPoto said Pujols called him Thursday morning to inform him of his decision to leave the Cardinals and join the Angels.
DiPoto said he and the Angels don't perceive Pujols as being a player on the decline, even though Pujols' on-base percentage dropped for the third consecutive year and he failed to hit .300 for the first time.
Pujols and the Miami Marlins were in serious negotiations until Wednesday afternoon, but talks broke off after the Marlins signed left-hander Mark Buehrle to a four-year, $58 million contract.
The Buehrle signing seemed to give the Cardinals an edge in re-signing Pujols, but the Angels moved in with a contract offer that led Pujols away from the Cardinals.
The Cardinals' final offer was believed to be for nine years and about $220 million. It was reported that the contract would have had an option for a 10th year.
Pujols batted .299 with 37 home runs and 99 RBIs in 147 games last season. He closed his 11-year Cardinals career with a .328 average, 445 homers and 1,329 RBIs in 1,705 games. He won the National League Rookie of the Year award in 2001, NL Most Valuable Player awards in 2005, 2008 and 2009 and Gold Glove awards in 2006 and 2010.
"We are disappointed that we were unable to reach an agreement to keep Albert Pujols in St. Louis," Cardinals Chairman and CEO Bill DeWitt Jr. said in a statement. "Albert is a great champion and we will always be thankful for his many achievements in a Cardinals uniform, as well as his contributions to the St. Louis community.
"I have the highest regard for Albert both personally and professionally, and appreciate his direct involvement in this process. 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."
Cardinals third baseman David Freese, the Most Valuable Player in the World Series, sounded off on Pujols' departure on Twitter: "Blessed to have played and won a world series with Albert. Now it's time to win one without em. New challenges. New opportunities."
Without Pujols, the Cardinals are expected to move Lance Berkman to first base. Allen Craig, however, who was expected to take over for Berkman in right field if Pujols departed, is recovering from knee surgery and will not be ready for the season opener. Craig's return could be delayed until May or perhaps June.
Could the Cardinals use some of the money they earmarked Pujols and instead try to lure another free agent or two to St. Louis?
Mozeliak said recently that Milwaukee first baseman Prince Fielder would not be an option if Pujols left, but with Craig injured, have the dynamics changed?
Fielder, 27, could command a deal similar to the one given Pujols. Fielder is durable, having missed just one game over the last three years. Last season, he batted .299 with 38 homers and 120 RBIs.
Another player that might intrigue the Cardinals is Minnesota outfielder Michael Cuddyer, who batted .284 with 20 homers and 70 RBIs in 139 games last season. Cuddyer, 32, has played his entire career with the Twins.
Philadelphia shortstop Jimmy Rollins, 33, still is on the market. Rollins was reported to be close to re-signing with the Phillies earlier this week, but the former NL Most Valuable Player remains available and would be a viable option for the Cardinals since they have only Tyler Greene in-house and have indicated no desire to re-sign Rafael Furcal.
Rollins batted .268 with 16 homers, 63 RBIs and 30 stolen bases in 142 games last season. He won the MVP award in 2007 when he batted .296 with 38 doubles, 20 triples, 30 homers, 94 RBIs and 41 steals in 162 games. He scored 139 runs and had a career-high 212 hits.
The Cardinals and Pujols failed to reach agreement on a new contract before the start of spring training in February. Pujols cut off all in-season negotiations and completed the final year of his seven-year, $100 million deal he signed in February 2004. Pujols made $16 million last season.