NEW YORK (Reuters) - The St. Louis Cardinals have until Wednesday to reach a deal with Albert Pujols and if they miss the slugger's deadline they will have to wait until after the season to keep him from hitting the free agent market, the club said Monday.
Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said that if no deal was reached with Major League Baseball's top player, talks between the team and Pujols agent Danny Lozano would come to an end Wednesday at noon.
Pujols, 31, a three-time National League MVP who has also been MVP runner-up four times in his 10-year career with the Cardinals, set the deadline so he could focus his attention on the upcoming season without distraction.
Last season Pujols led the National League with 42 home runs and 118 runs batted in.
The Cardinals would still have exclusive negotiating rights with the nine-time All-Star from the end of the season until five days after the World Series.
The Dominican first baseman, who will make $16 million this season, was believed to be seeking a contract along the lines of the deal Alex Rodriguez signed with the New York Yankees after the 2007 season -- 10 years for $275 million.
Mozeliak said the original Tuesday deadline set by Pujols was pushed back partly out of respect for Cardinals great Stan Musial, who will receive the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom at the White House Tuesday.
The Cardinals GM indicated that if terms with Pujols were agreed to, the club would be given time to work up the contract for signing, Major League Baseball's website (www.mlb.com) said.
(Writing by Larry Fine; Editing by Steve Ginsburg)