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Albert Pujols' new contract is the worst MLB free-agency deal from 2012.
As contracts get larger and larger, baseball fans will see bigger mistakes. Deals like this look great in the short run but can cripple franchises for years to come.
Albert Pujols is baseball's most successful, consistent player of the 2000s. His wins above replacement (WAR) has been elite since his rookie season. From 2003-2008, Pujols averaged no less than eight WAR, which is valued at $40 million on the free-agent market. He will help the Angels in 2012 and 2013, perhaps enough to win the World Series. But at what long-term price?
Pujols began to regress in 2009. His WAR has dipped from 9.1, to 9.0, to 7.5, to last year's 5.1, which was by far the worst of his career. Although 5.1 WAR is impressive, it is not enough: Pujols would need to maintain that performance over all 10 seasons to live up to his contract.
Pujols' performance trajectory is very concerning. Baseball players usually peak from 27-31. Pujols' career arc was different: He peaked at age 28 in 2009 and began regressing significantly at age 30 and 31. Elite players typically experience that level of decline at ages 33 or 34, which is concerning given long-standing doubts about the ability to verify Pujols' actual age. If his career trajectory is any indicator, the Angels may well be paying him until he is 44.
Worse, if Pujols continues to decline by one to two WAR per year in 2012 and 2013, which is his current rate of regression, he will be a $15 million-per-year player when his back-loaded contract kicks in and he will start earning $30 million per season. How much will that contract restrict the Angels' spending for years to come?