Albert Pujols and his Upcoming Contract
February 9, 2011 § 6 Comments
Albert Pujols’s contract has been talk-radio fodder in St. Louis and nationwide for many months. All of us Cards fans know the situation by now, but just in case, I’ll break it down in quick bullet points.
- Pujols is entering the option year of his 7-year, $100 million dollar contract that he signed after the 2003 season. He’ll be paid about $16 million for the 2011 season.
- Much like the Cleveland Cavaliers with LeBron James, the Cardinals would ideally like to get an extension done NOW, so Pujols doesn’t hit the free market after the upcoming season.
- However, Pujols wants his money, reportedly $30 million a year over 10 years. A whopping $300 million.
- Unlike Cleveland and James, the Cards and Pujols have to spend much more time negotiating the extension. Because baseball’s salary structure pretty much doesn’t exist, Pujols can basically sign any length of contract for as much money as the Cards are willing to give him whereas in the NBA, the most the Cavs could offer James was the max, which was a 6-year contract worth about $110 million.
- In other words, if baseball had the same salary cap structure as the NBA, and many people including myself would like to see that, the Cards would have already offered Pujols the max deal, which would theoretically be about 6 years, $160 million (putting him on par with A-Rod). After that, all the pressure would be on Pujols to sign the contract, and he would be the villain if he decided not to sign it and instead played out this season — with massive Carmelo-like distractions — and tested free agency.
Unfortunately, this is baseball, and Pujols, the undisputed best player in baseball over the past 10 years, wants to be paid like the best player in baseball over the past 10 years. Not only that, Pujols and his agent Dan Lozano, say that they will refuse to negotiate once Pujols reports to Spring Training, meaning the Cardinals have a week to get a deal done.
As you can see above, Pujols’s previous salaries have not exactly been commensurate with his wildly successful production during the past 10 years. Once again, because baseball’s salary structure is so fucked up, baseball teams can pay really young major league players very little money over the first three years of their contracts. Pujols made $1.7 million over three years, which is a bag of peanuts and a slap on the ass compared to what he would’ve grabbed on the open market. Then, after the 2003 season, Pujols was eligible for salary arbitration, (if you want to bore yourself reading about arbitration, click here), but instead of going through that process, he signed a 7 year, $100 million contract with the Cardinals with a club option for 2011. Obviously, the Cards picked up that 2011 option because you’d have to be brain-dead not to.
At the time, many baseball pundits claimed that the Cardinals were getting a pretty sweet deal signing Pujols for that 7 year, $100 million contract, which ran through his prime — ages 24 to 31. I thought the same, and upon further review the Cards got a significant hometown discount. Just look at those stats. Pujols, right now, is the all-time leader in OPS (on-base + slugging percentage) among right-handers. (The only players ahead of him, in order, are Barry Bonds, Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams and Babe Ruth.) He reached 400 home runs faster than anybody in baseball history, he’s walked nearly 300 more times than he’s struck out in his career, and he’s racked up awards — six silver sluggers, two gold gloves and, of course, three (should be five) N.L. MVPs. Before Pujols entered the league, no player in major league history had ever put together five consecutive seasons of at least a .300 batting average, 30 home runs, 100 RBI and 100 runs scored. Pujols put together six consecutive seasons like that in his first six seasons in the league. In fact, Pujols would still have that streak going had he scored just one more run in 2007.
His swing is bulletproof, which makes Pujols so incredibly consistent that it’s scary. In case he wasn’t perfect enough, Pujols also plays magnificent defense, serves as a great teammate according to almost everyone he’s played with, and genuinely cares about the game. He also runs a large-scale foundation that helps fund Down Syndrome research. (He adopted his wife’s daughter, who has Down Syndrome.) He even became a U.S. citizen and scored a perfect 100 on the test.
Basically, Pujols is the perfect face of any franchise, and he happens to be ours. The Cards drafted him in the 13th round (!!!) in 1999, groomed him and quickly realized they got a huge steal. In the 2003 off-season, after Pujols provided them with three excellent seasons, the Cards again got a steal by signing him to a contract that was probably worth $40 million less than it should’ve been.
I can keep analyzing Pujols’s contributions and stats forever, but the main question is this: Should the Cards make up for this last contract and show Pujols the money?
My answer is no. Not if it’s 10 years, $300 million, hell no.
Even 10 years, $240 million is pushing it. Remember, the contract won’t kick in until Pujols is 32 years old, if he’s not actually older. (The age conspiracy has to be mentioned. I think Pujols was born in 1980 like he says, but then again, the Dominican Republic isn’t exactly known for its stellar record-keeping.) Now that steroids are presumably out of the game, players’ statistical drop-off is happening when it’s supposed to: age 35. No longer will you see players like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens put up astronomical stats at age 38, 40 and even 42. It’s just science. No matter how well Pujols takes care of himself, I can’t see him possibly being nearly as productive as he presently is past the age of 37. That’s if we’re being generous.
Do we really want to be saddled with a $150 million player from 2017-2021 whose stats consistently decline each year? It’s easy to say yes now, but if we sign Pujols to a 10 year, $300 million contract, we’ll probably have to front-load it, so that the Cards aren’t too crippled at the end of his contract. That means it could look something like this:
- 2012: $38 million, age 32
- 2013: $37 million, age 33
- 2014: $35 million, age 34
- 2015: $33 million, age 35
- 2016: $30 million, age 36
- 2017: $29 million, age 37
- 2018: $27 million, age 38
- 2019: $26 million, age 39
- 2020: $24 million, age 40
- 2021: $21 million, age 41
Obviously that’s a crude breakdown, but still, look at that contract. There’s no way to hide that $300 million over 10 years unless the Cards put Pujols on the Bobby Bonilla plan (which would still cripple us and make the Cards’ front office look stupid). One way or another, a 10 year, $300 million dollar contract will cripple the Cards unless Pujols truly is a machine and/or robot that can keep up his production for 10 years. I’m going to side with logic and science and say that he won’t and therefore the Cards’ max offer should be 7 years, $190 million. No matter how we distribute the $300 million, Pujols will be overpaid the last five years of the contract, and if we front-load it like I proposed above, then the Cards will have absolutely no financial freedom during the first five years. That’s what you call a lose-lose. The Cards shouldn’t have to apologize for paying Pujols less than market value his whole career. Pujols signed the contract, after all.
It would be nice, though, if the Cards bent to Pujols’s will a little bit and made him a significant long-term offer that makes him not only the highest paid player in baseball but also makes him feel appreciated. And if Pujols truly wants to win like he says, then he will continue playing with the only organization he knows — which has finished with an average record of 90-72 since Pujols started playing here in 2001, has made the playoffs six of those 10 years and has a solid foundation in place (Holliday, Rasmus, Wainright, Carpenter, Garcia and pitching prospect Shelby Miller) to make a serious run at the playoffs for the next few years at least .
Both sides need to realize that it’s in their best interests to remain together, and like any good negotiation, both sides need to give in to the other. Seems to me like Pujols is going to have to give in a little more.