ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Mark McGwire's retirement announcement came at the perfect time for the St. Louis Cardinals, even if they didn't appreciate the way the news was delivered.
On Monday, general manager Walt Jocketty, manager Tony La Russa and the rest of the front office convened in Phoenix for annual organizational meetings. Though still a bit in shock to have learned of McGwire's future via fax, at least they can begin discussing ways to spend the resulting $30 million windfall.
McGwire did his best to soothe ruffled feathers by telephoning general manager Walt Jocketty ON Monday night, a day after the news broke. The fax arrived at Busch Stadium late Sunday night, so the team didn't see it until Monday morning.
"I just hope that how this has been handled over the course of the past 24 hours, I think we'll get through that real quick," team president Mark Lamping said. "I think everyone would agree that as we look back on Mark's contributions to St. Louis that we celebrate all the things he did for this franchise."
Team spokesman Brian Bartow said McGwire apologized to Jocketty, saying the announcement was supposed to be made Monday after he returned from vacationing in Mexico. McGwire said the public relations firm he hired jumped the gun.
"It happened a little sooner than he thought," Bartow said.
McGwire, who retired after two injury-plagued seasons, walked away from a $30 million, two-year contract extension he agreed to last spring but never signed. Among the options to replace the 38-year-old McGwire is a player who's done it successfully once before: Jason Giambi.
Giambi, who has admired McGwire since their days together in Oakland, replaced Big Mac on the Athletics in 1997 when McGwire was traded to St. Louis.
Giambi won the AL MVP last season and could win it again this season after hitting .342 with 38 homers and 120 RBIs. But the Cardinals will probably have to compete with Oakland and the big-spending New York Yankees to bring in Giambi and it might take as much as $20 million a year.
Giambi's agent, Arn Tellem, said he expects 6-to-8 teams will be in the running for his client, who's vacationing out of the country. Tellem has had one conversation with Jocketty.
"It's early at this point. It's just beginning," Tellem said.
Another possibility at first base is Tino Martinez, a free agent after winning four World Series titles in six years with the Yankees. The Cardinals also could move NL Rookie of the Year Albert Pujols to first base and sign an outfielder like Moises Alou.
Pujols wasn't sure how McGwire's retirement would affect his future. He started at four positions last year, including 31 at first base.
"It doesn't matter where I play," Pujols said. "I just want to be in the lineup every day and do the best I can for my team."
On the other hand, the Cardinals might prefer keeping costs down a bit. The payroll was $74 million last year and projects to $80 million this year, with 22-game winner Matt Morris, among others, due for a large raise.
Jocketty said last week that he's trying to reduce the payroll to $70 million, which would leave next to nothing even with McGwire's departure.
McGwire batted .187 in his final season with 29 homers and finished with 583 career homers, fifth on the all-time list. He was the single-season home run king for three seasons after hitting 70 in 1998, waging a season-long race with Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs.
Barry Bonds broke McGwire's record this season, hitting 73 homers.
"I got close to him when we shared the home run race," Sosa said in a statement. "He must have a good reason for his decision.
"The way he declined the money from the Cardinals so that they can bring someone else in to replace him ... that's a class act. I will never forget him."
Teammates were shocked at the news, no matter how it was delivered.
"I was like, 'Oh my God,"' Pujols said at a news conference to honor him as NL Rookie of the Year. "I heard a lot of rumors, but I never thought it was going to happen."
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