The United Cardinal Bloggers have been doing our regular roundtable, so I thought I’d spark a little debate with an unpopular question: Is Pujols worth the contract the Cardinals will have to give him? To be honest, my answer would be “yes”, but I thought I’d look at the other side of the equation. With numbers being thrown out like $25 or $30 million for 10 years, you can easily find ways in which the contract won’t work.
While the future Hall of Famer has two years remaining on his contract, signing him has been cause for concern for many in Cardinal nation. In order to preface this question, I brought up a cautionary tale. Frank Thomas may have been a better hitter than Albert Pujols through his age 29 season. Really:
Thomas: .330 BA/ .452 OBP/ .600 SLG/ OPS+ 182
Pujols: .334 BA/ .426 OBP/ .628 SLG/ OPS+ 171
OPS+ normalizes on base plus slugging for league average. Thomas played in a league where it was more difficult to hit than Pujols (due to variables such as baseball parks). While he isn’t anywhere close to the same fielder as Pujols, this comparison shows what a great hitter he was and how comparable the right handed hitters really were.
If Thomas were the Cardinal player instead of Pujols, we would have been talking about signing him to the same contract (or slightly less due to his fielding issues). After Thomas turned 30, he only hit .276/.389/.515 with 264 homers and a 134 OPS+. He had quite a few injuries and performed much worse than before 30.
From 2002-2008 (which would be the last 6 years of a 10 year contract), Fangraphs had Thomas worth $51.2 million dollars. A $25 million a year contract in the last 6 years would be $150 million or a net deficit of ONE HUNDRED MILLION DOLLARS. Mid market clubs can’t eat $16.6 million per year in performance deficits.
Alex Rodriguez is another good comparison for Pujols. In his age 30-33 seasons, he has been worth 102.9 million. Over 4 years, this is worth $25.725 per season (per Fangraphs). What is Rodriguez going to be worth over the next 6 years with regression?
Now you may say that Albert is going to be different. Thomas fell off a cliff in his age 30 season and nobody projects Pujols to fall that much (or any) this season (age 30). Rodriguez is still a great player and has never had Pujols’s contact rate or plate discipline, but you have to realize that Pujols best seasons are probably behind him.
Is Pujols worth 10 years 25 million dollars? Would you sign him for 10 years $30 million? Are you confident he will be worth it? If so why? What would he have to produce over 10 years as a break even? I’d have a tough time going over 10 years at $250 million, and while I’d pay that due to what Pujols has done for the franchise, I think 10 at $230 million is closer to what he will be worth (though he will probably sign for somewhere in between 10 @ $25 million and 10 @ $30 million.
The responses were typically one sided for Pujols, with some wishfull thinking that he will sign a below market contract. Hopefully, our esteemed bloggers are correct…
No offense is meant to anyone, but HOLY CRAP do the Sabermetrics guys overthink this game. Some statistics majors and math camp counselors happen to be fans of the game, concoct a bunch of new statistics to bend reality any way it can possibly be bent, and all of a sudden we need to reinvent baseball. Let’s all take a deep breath, put down the graphing calculators, and have a rational discussion.
1) Frank Thomas is likely a first-ballot Hall of Famer, unless his extensive time at DH takes significant votes away. It should not, because he did put in significant field time as well, but you never know. Regardless, even though I am a staunch opponent of the DH in theory, Thomas really was that good…and he missed a lot of time late in his career. Even if his future offensive numbers are 2/3 what they were over the past nine seasons, Pujols would likely be a first ballot HOF’er too. So they’re good company so far.
2) Based on raw offensive numbers, Thomas and Pujols are a very fair comparison to this same point in their careers. But Pujols is a Gold Glove first baseman who has about 12 games at DH on his resume. Thomas, through his age 30 season, had more than two seasons’ worth of games as a DH. Pujols is the more complete player; that gives him an advantage. Knowing what you know to equal points in their careers, who would be your first pick to start a team: Thomas or Pujols? I’m taking the glove.
3) Thomas broke down physically in the second half of his career. Had he not, the guy could have ended up with 600 or more homers and over 2000 RBI. When the White Sox offered him contracts, they obviously had no idea he’d miss significant time. It’s a risk you take. How much would Thomas have been worth healthy? I mean, he came back to hit 39 homers when he was 38 years old. If Thomas can do it, Pujols can do it, and I’d rather he do it in a Cardinal uniform. The Cards could sign Pujols to a five year deal, and he could be hurt for three of them. But, on the day that deal was signed, would it be questioned as risky? Of course not…at least not until after the contract is up and the backpedaling started (kind of like the Mulder for Haren deal). Regardless, because he is an everyday fielder, I would argue that Pujols has to keep himself in better shape to be more durable. Even if the difference is slight, less risk is still less risk.
Pujols is the best player in the game. So far, he’s the player of the century. “Worth” is a very subjective term. No matter what he makes on this next contract, it will be way too much to play a game for six months out of the year. But when you have a player who is the face of the franchise, universally recognized as the best player in the game, a pillar of the community, and wants to be a Cardinal for life, how can you question his worth with advanced statistics that only a small percentage of fans understand? Plus, who’s to say the Cards’ farm system doesn’t produce the next Roger Clemens, Mariano Rivera, and David Wright? If you draft and develop well, you can afford to “overpay” a player or two if they are the pieces you need to win. The Texas Rangers paying A-Rod $250 mil was ridiculous because it handcuffed them from building a good team. I’d say the Cardinals are in a much better position to contend long-term than the Rangers were in 2001. And I really don’t think Pujols will even make it to the open market, where he certainly would get 8-10 years at $30 mil. per year. I expect his 2011 option to be exercised before the end of this year, and I expect the Cards to sign him for 8 years guaranteed with a couple of options and somewhere in the mid- to upper $20 mil range with money deferred. And he will be worth every penny.
C70 at the Bat www.cardinal70.com
I agree with most of what Chris said, at least to the comparisons of Frank Thomas and Albert Pujols. For all of Thomas’s exploits, he was never considered the best player in baseball. Maybe that’s because of the juicing of his contemporaries or more to the fact that he was mainly a DH, even when he was playing first. So while I understand Michael’s point in pairing the two, I don’t think AP will go down the same road.
There are a lot of times where the cost/benefit analysis must be done, that trying to decide if Player X is worth Y dollars is a cold and calculating process that doesn’t always satisfy the fanbase. The tough decisions do have to be made for the good of the team.
That said, I think there are times where the factoring of underpayment or overpayment have to be put aside, and Pujols is one of those cases. Not only would the Cardinals lose the best player in baseball, a hole that would take 2-3 people to fill, but they also lose an asset to the community. They lose the chance to have the next Stan Musial, a player that is completely identified with the Cardinals from start to finish. They lose a chance for something special.
Think of what Pujols has given to the team. The first years of his career, the Cards got MVP performance for league minimum cost. Even his 10 year deal that we are reaching the end of hasn’t seen him be a costly bauble but an undervalued contributer. After what he’s done for this team, for what he’s done in the community, for the free publicity and positive press that he brings to the club, how exactly do you overpay him?
I think that Pujols will take less than what he could get to stay here (if they get things done before the ‘11 offseason). I think it’ll be a creative contract, perhaps one with a perpetual option in the vein of what Tim Wakefield had in Boston. It should have a personal services contract on the end of it, so they can pay him $20 million to just be Albert and it won’t count toward the payroll that year. I expect a contract around $27 million or so a year. But, in my opinion, the team has to do it. Losing him will be much more costly.
Stan Musial’s Stance: http://stanmusialsstance.com
Before I get to my thoughts on signing AP to a long term deal, let me make a comment on Sabermetrics, because I think people miss the forest for the trees. The whole point of Sabermetrics, at least to me, is to try and convert Qualitative statements into Quantitative data. It’s easy to say Albert Pujols is good, but much harder to define how good. The stats bubba with a sabermetric bent trying to develop that quantitative data pursues a noble goal. Where the SABR disciple sometimes loses his way is when he/she puts all his/her faith in the numbers alone. I agree with Chris here in spirit. But I diverge because Sabermetrics is a TOOL, albeit a powerful tool, in player analysis. If I was a team deciding whether to allocate an enormous amount of my limited resources to one player, I most definitely want all the hard data I can find, or develop, to guard against making a bad investment (a la Vernon Wells and Barry Zito).
Back to AP. We all want him to stay a Cardinal until he retires, and he is absolutely the preeminent RH hitter in baseball today. With the amount of payroll already tied up in Holliday, Carpenter, and Wainwright, I’m not so sure they have the financial resources to pay AP what he’s worth on the open market. Additionally, I think signing AP to a 10 year big money contract would be suicide. Anyone think Pujols will hit at 41 the way he hits today? I don’t.
They ought to be looking at a 6 or 7 year deal max with options after Albert turns 36. Basically the structure deal I had hoped they’d sign Holliday to. It will probably take upwards of $25M a season to retain his services. Paying that kind of moolah through his age 35 season I can see. Paying that kind of money beyond that, just to keep him in St Louis, I think is foolish.
At the risk of appearing a shameless self-promoter, my thoughts on the attempted quantification of Albert Pujols are well documented in my post, The Power of Pujols.
Pujols is an anomaly. Which by definition means he defies conventional methods of measurement. This obviously poses problems when it comes to assigning monetary value to the guy now and for the future.
But Frank Thomas? Seriously? While clearly an extraordinary hitter, Frank Thomas is no Albert Pujols. Dude, Thomas was a DH for a reason. If he were remotely close to the first baseman Pujols is, he’d have been an actual first baseman. Defense, people. We’re talking about the entire other half of the game. Not whether or not he can hit a slider thrown left-handed in a day game. Furthermore, how many times has AP been brushed back, scowled at his prey, and promptly gone yard? Is there a stat for that? How many clutch hits? How many extra bases does he take each year? How many butts has he put in the seats of the new ball park? How much attention has he brought to the oft-neglected Saint Louis skyline? Look, I don’t expect to Bill DeWitt to take out a second mortgage on his mother’s house, but…….actually, you know what, I do. Because unless you have access to and are using every statistic that applies, there is always a human element that cannot be nailed down. And let’s not forget to look at these stats:
Cardinal ownership is turning a small coin. Pujols is the best player in the game and I have no problem with him being paid appropriately by a very profitable organization. If only to appease a very supportive fan base. If Pujols takes an unforeseen turn into egomania, becomes demanding or distastefully greedy, well then, his value takes a hit and we should consider letting him walk. But until that day, pay the man.
I too will run the risk of self-promotion, but I presume we have all written about this subject at one time or another. I actually brought it up in a previous UCB Roundtable, during the 2008 off-season.
I’m going to take off the stat hat for a minute, and go with the bleeding heart fan response.
In a city that so blindly ties themselves to the Cardinals, for many different reasons, Albert Pujols stands out among the current players as a beacon to which everyone and everything gravitates. He is the current center of the Cardinal Nation, and is in the process of writing his name among the immortals to have worn the Birds on the Bat. He has an opportunity to do so while wearing that hallowed uniform for the entirety of his Major League Baseball career.
You just don’t let a guy like that walk.
Yeah, I know that the statistics and history bear out that feeding him a big pile of cash for a ridiculous number of years has the potential to hamstring the team in the later years of the contract. I’m fully aware that Pujols can (and may well yet) probably find a larger payday outside of St. Louis. But Albert Pujols *IS* the Cardinals right now. Would folks still pack Busch III if he were allowed to sign elsewhere after 2011? Probably, eventually.
But if you’ll allow me to engage in some hyperbole for a moment… Would you want to be the ownership group that let one of the greatest players in Cardinals franchise history (if not MLB, by the time he’s done) walk? Nevermind the cost. He means that much to this franchise, to this city. Anheuser Busch sold out. Companies and residents continue to leave the City of St. Louis. Will Pujols be the next entity to find better pastures elsewhere?
I don’t think Bill DeWitt’s group plans to allow that to happen, not on their watch. Defer money, get creative with the deal, as Pip suggests – just don’t let him walk for nothing. At least if you can’t re-sign him, trade the guy!
I think the Cards will ultimately re-sign Pujols. I think they may have been sandbagging for the last couple of seasons on payroll because 1) they could, in the NL Central, 2) they were aware this Pujols deal was on the horizon, 3) if not, isn’t Pujols the kind of guy worth taking a loss on for a few seasons?
My big question: if Pujols is true to his word of wanting to finish his career in St. Louis and is willing to take a deal for $20-22mm per year, arguably below current market value, will the MLBPA allow it to happen? Remember that the Players’ Association stepped in a few years ago when Alex Rodriguez appeared headed to Boston, but his contract wasn’t favorable enough for the PA’s liking.
Pip, Fungoes http://fungoes.net
How is considering how much Pujols’s future worth “overthinking”? Given that it’s probably a $100-million decision, if anything is worth thinking about, it’s his future contract. The surest sign of how *irrational* we are about this topic is that we start name-calling over merely posing the question.
As Daniel and Chris have noted, the statistical comparisons of Pujols and Thomas are perhaps insufficient, but mostly because of fielding, which granted is no small thing. But given their wOBA through their age-29 seasons — .436 and .447, respectively — it’s difficult to argue that Pujols is a better hitter. The point that I think Michael is making here is salutary: As fans we tend to think that players — especially great ones — aren’t subject to the laws of science, specifically aging. And in that, Thomas should make us pause and dispassionately consider how neither Pujols is above the effects of aging and decay. Thomas’s latter-career physical breakdown is more the rule than an exception. The simple reality is that by the time Pujols’s current contract ends, we likely will have seen his best, and not only will he fail to improve, he’ll actually get worse. True, worse is a relative term: Even diminished, Pujols is still better that most players (as Thomas was). But there’s a lot of money between “better than average” and $30 million a year. As much as Cardinal fans clamor for the team to “do whatever it takes” to keep Pujols a Cardinal for the rest of his career, given their treatment of past players who made considerably less money, I seriously doubt their ability to graciously endure a player whose declining production increases the disparity between his value and his pay and quite possibly inhibits the team’s ability to win.
I propose something a bit radical (big surprise, I know): If, as Pujols, claims, it’s not principally about the money but on being part of a competitive team, the Cardinals can honor their superstar with a lifetime contract, but one whose value is based on Pujols’s actual current performance (and not his past) and that allows Pujols to opt-out if the team is no longer competitive. For example, Fangraphs estimates the three-time MVP to have a free-agent value of between $32 and $35 million in 2010. If he were to sign such a contract extension/restructure this spring and performed as expected, his salary for 2010 would be between $32-35 million (rather than the $16 million he is currently to receive). As he went on playing, his salaries might be something like $30m, $25m, $20m, $15m, $11m, $7m, etc. That would represent good faith on his part: He would be paid approximately what he was worth (at least on the playing field, which, granted, is only part of his total value). For the Cardinals’ part, they would provide a clause whereby Pujols could become a free agent if they, for example, had back-to-back losing seasons (or three of five, etc.). Will it happen? Of course not. But come 2011, both parties — either Pujols, due to a career-threatening injury, or the Cardinals due to the siren song of east-coast dollars — may find themselves wishing they would have.