ST. LOUIS - A little more than a month after losing icon Albert Pujols to the Anaheim Angels, Cardinals chairman and principal owner Bill DeWitt Jr. spoke at length about the topic Sunday for the first time.
Speaking before he was cheered on stage during a public appearance at the Cardinals' Winter Warm-Up charity event, DeWitt expressed his disappointment over losing Pujols but said there wasn't much the club could have done differently.
"You can only do so much for a given player and compete year in and year out," DeWitt said. "It's not, 'Is he worth 'X' or, 'X times two',' it's how much can I afford one player and put together a team that's going to be competitive. That's the whole jigsaw puzzle that all teams have. Some have more capacity.
"You get to a certain point financially and to certain limits where it can be hard to manage but having said that, we hoped he would take our offer and come back. It was a very strong offer as you all know but one that we felt we could still compete with over the long term."
DeWitt reflected on the morning Pujols decided to join the Angels, detailing his phone call with general manager John Mozeliak and what the club needed to do to move forward.
He also discussed the contract process, beginning with the talks in Spring Training and the eventual final hours at the Winter Meetings in Dallas.
"I think we put our best foot forward in the spring with a very strong offer," DeWitt said. "We stretched and did about as well as we could do there. It didn't happen. I can't look back and say I wish we had done this or that because we couldn't have (gone any further)."
The Cardinals offered Pujols a nine-year proposal before Spring Training started worth a reported 195 million. When the season ended and Pujols hit free agency, the Cardinals offered a new five-year, 130 million proposal.
Public comments from both Albert and wife Deidre indicated they felt disrespected by the five-year contract, despite it being worth more money per season (an annual average value of 26 million) than the longer deal they offered previously.
"I think they made it clear that the initial offer they weren't happy with," DeWitt said. "But it was really in response to where we had been in the spring with a longer contract with a lower AAV. We got a sense that maybe shorter with a higher AAV might have some merit but clearly they were looking longer the whole way, but until you explore those things you are never really sure.
"We explored shorter (years) with a higher AAV, longer (years) with a lower AAV and he obviously got very long (years) with a high AAV."
Reports in the days following Pujols' signing with the Angels indicated the Cardinals were reluctant to include the personal services contract - tying him to the organization for years after his playing contract ended - that he received from Anaheim.
DeWitt declined to say whether or not the concept was included in their offer but did say, "We discussed a personal services contract as well. It was something that was brought up and I think those who actually engaged with albert and his representative talked about a personal service contract."
He also detailed the negotiations final days, recalling direct conversations he and general manager John Mozeliak had during conference calls with Pujols, his wife and agent Dan Lozano on the phone.
Among the topics discussed was Pujols' place in team history and the hope that he could strengthen that importance by remaining a lifetime Cardinal.
"Mo' and I both made it clear with him how much we wanted him back," DeWitt said. "As I have on occasion, I talked about the great history and tradition of this franchise and how important he has been in the success we've had and the continuity of him playing here, what it would mean for the Cardinals. We did convey that message directly."
Of Pujols' final decision, DeWitt said, "I'm sure the fans, like we were, were disappointed that Albert won't be back but given the realities of the game today and free agency, you never know when a player goes to free agency and particularly a player of that caliber.
"While it was disappointing, you understand it was a reality of baseball and I think everyone in St. Louis would have liked to have him back but we weren't able to make it happen."
The Cardinals used the money allocated for Pujols to re-sign shortstop Rafael Furcal and sign outfielder Carlos Beltran to a two-year contract.
With Adam Wainwright returning to the rotation, the Cardinals figure to be just as good - if not better - as they begin their title defense in 2012.
"It worked out about as good as we could have hoped," DeWitt said.