Monday, February 21, 2011

Albert Pujols

Albert Pujols is one of the best players in major league history and seemingly bound to be a free agent at the end of this season. The Cardinals, despite an enormous negotiating advantage, never really managed to come close to signing him despite all expectations suggesting that he would, "Of Course," stay a Cardinal for life. So this brings into question where he will sign next year, and more importantly will he be worth the upper limit of those deals. Pujols is set to make around 300 million over 10 years to outmatch A-Rod's contracts a few years later, and clearly with every inferior First Baseman making loads of money he wants to be the best paid amongst those as well. The rapidly declining Ryan Howard is still in the 20 million per year part of his deal just prior to going into the 5/125 ridiculous deal that he's already signed to. He has been worth roughly 1/3rd of what Pujols has been worth over the same time period.

Pujols has put up a 331/426/624 line for his career to this point, he leads all active players in every category, and has put up 73 WAR according to baseball reference. Apart from clearly being the best offensive player in the league since 2004 he's also the premier defensive first baseman in the league and has yet to show any sign of decline on either front. Now, he is going to be 32 at the start of his next deal but Hall of Fame upper echelon type players do not decline as rapidly as their pedestrian Teixeira, Howard, and Adrian Gonzalez counterparts, while he might only be worth say 45 WAR for the rest of his career by the current measure and scaling for inflation that does make him worth somewhere around 10 years/250 million. There's also at least some mild chance that he will hit another 400 HR and eventually surpass Bonds or A-Rod for first place on the all time list. Hank Aaron, for the last 10 years of his career put up a 285/371/538 line and hit 357 HR, and with all due respect to the legend was never quite as good as Albert Pujols has been to this point in his career, Aaron's OPS+ in the first 10 years of his career was 157 (still excellent), well short of Pujols' 172.

The primary comparisons for Pujols at this point seem to be Babe Ruth and Ted Williams, also known as the two best players in major league history, while he probably won't reach their levels of production barring some head enlargement  he might still outdo their relatively shorter careers due to longevity and could feasibly continue to play well past 35. The last 2 years of a ten year deal may look bad for Pujols but all of the production to that point should justify a long contract. However I'm sure he would also take a shorter, 35/year type of deal if some team is truly worried about how The Machine will decline late in his career. As it looks right now he will retire as a top 10, possibly top 5 or top 3, best player in major league history with well over 3000 Hits and 600 Home Runs (800 within reach) and he certainly deserves to be rewarded for it.

While greediness is a common attribution to some successful athletes I don't think if you're the best player in the world without any question it is particularly greedy to be the best paid player in the sport, assuming Pujols plays well in his contract year (perhaps even better than he has done to this point) he should be rewarded for it. Though he fell just, inexplicably, short of winning a 3rd straight MVP he could easily win one this year or certainly finish 2nd for the 5th time (most in major league history) and there doesn't seem to be much argument for not granting him an eye popping extension.

The question then is who is there to pay for Pujols' services, both the Yankees and Red Sox have locked up first base for some time, though both of their first basemen are demonstrably inferior to Pujols so you could argue they can still pay for Pujols just for another edge. The most likely, and most logical location seems to be the Cubs as discussed in this fantastic article, as they do have money to spend and to acquire the indomitable Pujols from their most hated rivals. That would swing the NL central to their favor for years to come, and while the race may be contested this year I do not think it would be as close in the later portion of the deal. I suppose technically the Nursing Home Yanks would be a better destination with the potential for more profit but I still say the Cubs grant him the best opportunity to extend his career, remaining in the inferior league in an extremely favorable Ballpark with worshipful fans rather than ravenous ones. Either way Pujols' late career should be just as interesting to watch as his current one. Without further adieu: The best Home Run I've ever seen (Have to click a subsequent link)

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