Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
MESA, Ariz. — If the St. Louis Cardinals don’t want to get anything done with slugger Albert Pujols’ contract, Cubs ownership Saturday didn’t rule out the possibility of getting involved.
It was the first sign of any substance suggesting the Cubs might be legitimate players for Pujols if — or when — he becomes a free agent next fall.
Chairman Tom Ricketts, in Mesa to address the Cubs on the first day of full-squad workouts today, said all he knows specifically about the Pujols situation is ‘‘what I read in the paper.’’
But even in a season in which the Cubs’ major-league payroll has been cut by about 10 percent from 2010, Ricketts said ownership is open to a potential mega-contract if the player and the length of the deal are the right fits.
‘‘There’s going to be a little more financial flexibility at the end of the season than we’ve had in years past,’’ Ricketts said. ‘‘We’ll have to assess the situation when we get there and see what’s available. The fact is, we’ll be open-minded to what we think is best for the team when that comes up.’’
That might be as soon as the end of this season, when first baseman Carlos Pena’s one-year deal is up and when nearly $40 million might fall off the books in three players alone (Kosuke Fukudome, Carlos Silva and Aramis Ramirez, although Ramirez has a team option for 2012).
Pujols, 31, reportedly turned down a Cardinals offer said to be in the neighborhood of eight years and $200 million, with a possible ownership stake after retirement. Now that he has reported for spring training in the final year of his contract, Pujols said he plans to have no contract discussions again until after the season.
‘‘How many major-leaguers are there?’’ Ramirez said. ‘‘If you ask all of them, everybody wants Pujols on their team. But at the same time, we’ve got Carlos Pena here, and you’ve got to respect your teammate. . . . But to answer your question, anybody would like Pujols.’’
Whether it will take the 10 years and $300 million Pujols is rumored to be seeking or something between that and the offer the Cardinals made might be the difference in whether the Cubs decide to become serious pursuers.
‘‘It’s particularly important when you look at the length of some of the contracts being offered for the bigger stars of the game because those are big, big, big commitments,’’ Ricketts said. ‘‘The length of the deal is often a bigger problem than the amount of the dollars.
‘‘You have to be very careful that if you’re going to sign one of those longer deals, if you’re going to take on one of those guys for seven, eight, nine years, you better make sure that’s the guy you want.’’
Pujols is definitely the guy his would-be teammates want.
‘‘I hope if he doesn’t sign with the Cardinals, he signs with us because everybody knows [what] Pujols [can do],’’ said Cubs left fielder Alfonso Soriano, who’s halfway through an eight-year, $136 million deal. ‘‘We’ll see. We’ve got to focus on what happens this year with this team.’’
On that point, Ricketts suggested first-half attendance might affect whether general manager Jim Hendry has much room to add to the payroll around the trade deadline in July.
‘‘You always have to have the ability to do something midseason, but a lot of that depends on the economic factors for the first few months of the year, too,’’ Ricketts said. ‘‘We know that what you do at the deadline is important, and we’ll try and leave flexibility for Jim.’’
As for specifically keeping an eye on Pujols, Ricketts said: ‘‘I don’t have any insights or thoughts with any of that situation. All I know is what I read in the paper. I guess it will just have to sit until the end of the season.’’