Contracts aside, Albert Pujols and Robinson Cano were destined to be linked together forever in the annals of baseball history as a pair of future Hall of Fame players and the best players at their respective positions during a generation.
For the two Dominican-born stars, contract status can't just be put aside; it's the one thing fans, media and baseball observers now cling to when comparing and contrasting special hitters that hit the free-agent jackpot to the tune of 10-year, $240 million deals.
Yes, Pujols and Cano both left their original teams for identical life-changing deals. Both those teams—the St. Louis Cardinals and New York Yankees—allowed their best player to depart without countering with the biggest offer on the market.
Dig deeper and the comparisons don't stop: Both Pujols and Cano left for AL West teams, did it in their early 30s and were universally viewed as hitting machines who could rake regardless of venue, market or paycheck.
In the third season of Pujols' deal with the Los Angeles Angels, fans of the Seattle Mariners are hoping their newest superstar doesn't become the next big-ticket item to flop in the AL West. As strange as it is to say about one of the best players in the history of the sport, Pujols' plight in Los Angeles is not one for Cano to emulate.
Luckily for Mariners fans, he likely won't.
Despite the similarities—from background to seemingly robotic hitting ability—Cano isn't Pujols. He wasn't as prolific before signing a mega-deal, but his career trajectory paints the picture of a star hitter poised for more success in the aftermath of riches.
On the surface, the Angels and Mariners made the same mistake: overpaying for a star offensive player based on past accolades and focusing on impulse rather than reasoning.
During a profile of Cano for GQ, Daniel Riley lumped Cano's new pact in with recent big-money mistakes of the past, including Pujols.
Per Riley's piece: "The only contracts in the same conversation—A-Rod’s $275 million, Albert Pujols’s $240 million—had at least been given to the moment’s biggest star, and yet they were still considered irreparable mistakes."
While the parallels are impossible to ignore, the player—not the situation within each front office—is what ultimately justifies the enormous cash outlay. For the Angels, two consecutive seasons without October baseball isn't all on Pujols' shoulders.
Instead, the downward slope of an immortal career is an indictment of the Angels front office.
By guaranteeing the former Cardinals star $240 million after the 2011 season, it was clear what the Angels were buying: a sterling track record.
Upon arriving in Anaheim, Pujols owned the following career statistics: 1.037 OPS, 445 HR and 86.4 WAR. By any measure, he was one of the most prolific players in the history of professional sports, let alone baseball.
Of course, if the team had taken a long, hard look at his final three years in St. Louis, real questions would have surfaced about a player that was in clear decline.
|Albert Pujols: Year-By-Year Decline|
Sure, the numbers were still sterling and near the top of league leaderboards. But compared to the early portion of Pujols career, they were disappointing and worth far less than $200 million.
Now, as injuries and decline have set Pujols back further—setting up a potentially awkward scenario, as the three-time MVP will reap the rewards of salary increases every season for the next eight years—there's fear that Cano will become a similar mistake for Seattle.
This is where the comparisons should stop.
In theory, Seattle may regret allocating so much to one or two players—along with Felix Hernandez's $175 million deal—but any near-future buyer's remorse in the Emerald City won't stem from Cano's production.
Unlike Pujols at the time of the massive contract, Cano isn't declining.
In fact, the former pinstriped slugger has been remarkably consistent over the last three seasons.
|Robinson Cano: Consistent Excellence|
To put those numbers into perspective, consider the respective WAR ranks for both Pujols and Cano in their last season prior to free agency.
During the 2011 season—Pujols' walk year in St. Louis—he posted a 5.3 WAR. That mark was good for 23rd among position players. Some players who were more valuable that season: Alex Gordon, Pablo Sandoval and Curtis Granderson, per Baseball-Reference (subscription required).
During the 2013 season—Cano's walk year in New York—he posted a 7.6 WAR. That mark was good for fifth among position players. Only Andrew McCutchen, Josh Donaldson, Mike Trout and Carlos Gomez were more valuable, per Baseball-Reference.
Both the Angels and Mariners paid for greatness, but only one team signed a player still possessing the requisite skill set to post game-changing numbers and day-to-day excellence during the early portion of the respective mega deals.
Lucrative, long-term contracts to players over 30 are poor investments. Using that as the baseline, it's likely that the Mariners will regret the $24 million owed to Cano in his age-40 season.
However, comparing his first at-bats in Seattle to the disappointment that Pujols quickly became in Los Angeles is patently unfair for a player that is still hitting like a star, dominating his position and good enough to carry the Mariners lineup.
It's easy to compare backgrounds, contracts and generalize the plight of superstars, but the connection isn't perfect when it comes to Pujols and Cano.
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