Albert Pujols Contract Deadline Passes: What's Next?

Joel KochSenior Analyst IFebruary 17, 2011

PITTSBURGH - SEPTEMBER 21:  Albert Pujols #5 of the St. Louis Cardinals hits an RBI single against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the game on September 21, 2010 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Here we are, twelve hours after the comet named Albertageddon crashed down. The shock waves from the impact wasn't nearly as large as was expected, but still, it registered at least a three on the Richter scale.

Now, we move forward. What will happen in the next eight months before Pujols officially hits free agency and the three months following that (you honestly think agent Dan Lozano will jump at the first offer?)

There is a lot of speculation. And by a lot, I'm talking about enough speculation to fill the Grand Canyon and have enough to spillover to cause a rock slide. Yeah, it really is that much.

There's so much that goes into this whole ordeal. Ask anyone, they'll tell you. People that don't like baseball have made it a crusade to offer their insight.

There's the money aspect. People think $300 million is too much for one player, especially when commoners are out of work. Even President Barack Obama took a small shot at that fact when he told the crowd at the White House that Stan Musial was the first player in baseball to make a $100 thousand salary, then laughed.

There's the years aspect. Pujols will be 32 when the 2012 season starts. A ten year contract would end when Pujols is about to turn 43. He might not be Julio Franco. Pujols might not be able to play that long.

So who's side do we take? Who do we believe?

That's what we decide here. All of this is my insight. I've listened to those with real knowledge of the situation (Joe Strauss) and those who think they have real insight (Ken Rosenthal).

Pujols wants a ten year contract and $300 million. Is that a reasonable number?

The answer, like most, is not clear-cut black and white. Yes, it is reasonable. No, it is not reasonable.

Pujols is coming off a now eight year contract worth $111 million, with deferred payments coming soon. That contract was a steal then and its a bigger steal now. Pujols took a discount, despite that many will say it was "market value" then, when he signed that contract.

Sure, the market has erupted in recent years, but it was big then. Think of the major signings from when Pujols was arbitration eligible the first time.

Miguel Tejada signed with the Orioles. Vladimir Guerrero signed a deal with the then Anaheim Angels. Bartolo Colon signed his big deal with the Angels too. Ivan Rodriguez went to the Detroit Tigers. Kevin Millwood re-signed with the Philadelphia Phillies for $11 million.

It wasn't like the market was weak. Then, of course, it exploded the next off-season with the Carlos Beltran signing, then that was followed by the Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Lee signings before 2007.

Pujols and the Cardinals came close to having their arbitration hearing before Pujols signed his new deal. Pujols wanted $10.5 million and the Cardinals countered with $7 million. You read that right, even then Pujols wanted 50 percent more than what the Cardinals were offering.

Instead of the hearing, the two sides settled on a deal that paid Pujols $32 million over his three arbitration years and $79 million over his first five years of free agency (minus deferred payments).

If that deal hadn't been signed, you can guess that Pujols would have won his hearing hands down. Coming off of a batting title, a 37 game hit streak, leading the league in hits, runs, doubles, his first 40 home run season, and 114 career home runs you don't lose with that resume.

Take that $10.5 million and add on $4.5 million for the raise he would have gotten the next year, and that's $25.5 million. Another 50 percent increase, and that's $48 million over his three arbitration years. That's more than he made in his first three arbitration years PLUS the salary he earned in what would have been his first free agency year.


Now Pujols wants what he's worth. You can't really blame him.

But, then again, you can. 

Yes, Pujols signed a MAJOR club-friendly contract, but that was for his prime. On this side of thirty, you don't make $30 million a year unless you're on the juice (oh, hi A-Rod). It just doesn't happen. Sabermetrics run rampant now in baseball. Older players just don't produce as much as younger players. Its a fact now, not a theory.

Even Pujols' production will fall off sometime. It might be seven years from now, but even then, you're on the hook for $120 million to a player that can't produce. That's how you get in trouble as a franchise.

Pujols wants his money and the Cardinals want to give it to him, just on their terms. They want to pay for the production that Pujols will put up during the contract, not the numbers he has put up.

Its understandable. I don't think anyone really blame the Cardinals for sticking to their guns.

The next big issue here was the amount of salary tied up. At $30 million a season, the Cardinals won't have a lot of wiggle room with Holliday's $17 million salary tacked on and Wainwright's big options coming up.

The finances have to be right.

You can't just give out a huge contract in hopes it will be right then and stay right the whole way. Look at how other teams have done.

Ask any Chicago Cubs fan who they want to get rid. Besides Kosuke Fukudome, Soriano pops up a lot. His contract is a huge albatross to the Cubs. Soriano's production was good for a couple of seasons, but has fallen off greatly. Same with Lee in Houston.

Beltran with the Mets is a contract they aren't too wild about anymore and haven't been for a couple of seasons. Vernon Wells was a big weight on the Toronto Blue Jays payroll before he was move to the Angels.

Jayson Werth will be a burden in just a couple of seasons in Washington*. Add to that the Michael Young fiasco in Texas and Gil Meche had to retire to get the Kansas City Royals out from underneath that burden.

*Werth is a quality player, but he wasn't worth what he received. I haven't driven in 100 runs in a season either. Maybe Washington will give me $100 million? In all seriousness, Werth is a quality player and person. He was my cousin's personal catcher in high school. Coincidentally, you can make the argument that if my cousin wasn't such a good pitcher and scouted so heavily, Werth may never have been scouted either. That's an argument for another day though.

What I'm saying is that long-term contracts rarely turn out well for players that are in their 30s. General managers are enamored with past production and believe that a player can keep it up, even when they're bodies are slowing down. They let sexy numbers overrule their logic and make mistakes.

Athletes might be finally tuned machines, but you can't fight Father Time. The more games/at-bats/pitches you play/take/throw, the more wear and tear you add to your body. Add that with the natural progression your body goes through as you get older, and you're never the same.

Its fact, not theory.

That's what this contract deadline was about. Pujols wanted to be paid for what he has done and what he will continue to do. The Cardinals wanted to pay Pujols for what he will do, and that won't be what he has done.

Lets also remember that Pujols' right elbow is a linguine noodle. It could pop at any time, despite optimism on Pujols' and the Cardinals part.

Besides all of this opinion, and yes it is all opinion. Everything I said is my opinion on the matter. Your opinion may differ from mine on long-term contracts. Your opinion about whether Pujols' current contract was market value or a discount could be different than mine. You might think his elbow is 100 percent. Its all out opinion.

The teams that could make a run at Pujols is not opinion. Its fact, something that is a recurring theme if you couldn't tell.

There are 29 other teams in this league, despite what ESPN says.

Here is a comprehensive list of every team. How this list breaks down is this: the American League teams are first, then National. It is grouped by division. In parenthesis is the team's chance. Everything after the colon is why they're chance is what it is. Fair is 50-65 percent chance; Good is 66-85, Great is 86+; No chance is 0; Doubt is anything between 0 and 50.

As Super Mario says, "letsa go!"

AL East

Texas Rangers (Fair): New ownership is finally in place and the need for a first baseman is pressing. Chris Davis is a left-handed Mark Reynolds without the ability to hit home runs every time he does make contact. Mitch Moreland is a role player. The only problem is money. Adrian Beltre just signed, Josh Hamilton will need a long-term deal soon, and Elvis Andrus is a stud who needs a long-term deal. The money won't be there unless the new owners are ready to take the payroll to new heights.

Oakland Athletics (Doubt): Billy Beane isn't afraid to make surprise moves, but the A's just don't have the salary available. All of their young pitchers will be making a lot of money soon, not to mention that the A's could be division favorites with Pujols, but lack any real depth at other positions. A new stadium is needed for any kind of income to come, even with Pujols in town. And California? A Dominican native raised in Kansas City won't go that far west.

Seattle Mariners (No Chance): The Mariners have the money, but have a hard time getting players to come that far north. Like the A's, Pujols won't go that far from home.

Los Angeles Angels (Fair): There's a chance the Angels could make a play. I've downplayed their chances, but it could happen. Arte Moreno likes to spend money recklessly, but the fact of the matter is that the Angels have a lot of salary to pay and star pitchers who need long-term deals. Sure, those massive contracts are gone in four years, so it could happen, but doubt exists.

AL Central

Minnesota Twins (Doubt): Justin Morneau could be moved to DH, but with Mauer already locked up on a big deal and a payroll that has already reached critical heights up north, there's not a good chance it happens.

Chicago White Sox (No Chance): Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko are under contract and can only play two positions: 1B and DH. Funny, Pujols plays those positions. Pujols has played 3B and LF in the past, but that elbow won't allow it.

Detroit Tigers (Doubt): Miguel Cabrera is better suited as a full-time DH, but with newly signed Victor Martinez on-board, it makes it much more difficult. Martinez is not a full-time catcher, and a Pujols signing would make him just that. Could it happen? Oh yeah. The Tigers like to spend, but I doubt it.

Cleveland Indians (No Chance): The Indians are rebuilding. They're farther from contending than any team with Jimmy Claussen as their starting quarterback. Not even in MLB 2011 The Show could this happen.

Kansas City Royals (Doubt): Believe it or not, it could happen. The Royals have a stacked system and could compete in 2012 or 2013. Add Pujols to the mix, and a 2012 contention is a real possibility. Pujols grew up in Kansas City, but the money might not be there. Could happen, but doubt exists.

AL East

New York Yankees (No Chance): Not even doubt exists. Despite people believing the Yankees will be there, not even the Yankees can make it work. Look, Mark Teixeria and Pujols are gold glove first baseman. Neither will DH. Teixeria will "say" he'd take some DH at-bats if it meant signing Pujols, but Pujols won't. He wants to play first base. And with Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter's twilight years right around the corner, DH needs to be open. Let's not forget that the Yankees already have a $180+ million payroll and CC Sabathia will likely opt-out and get a new, higher contract with the Yankees. The money, Ripley's Believe it or Not, won't be there.

Boston Red Sox (No Chance): That's right. Neither big behemoth will be in on Pujols. They might kick the tires, to which Lozano will use as interest to drive up the price, but the Red Sox won't be in either. Adrian Gonzalez is in the same boat as Teixeria. He's a gold glove first baseman and won't DH. Pujols won't DH for a better chance to win in Boston.

Tampa Bay Rays (No Chance): They just let Carl Crawford walk. No way they have the cash available to sign Pujols.

Baltimore Orioles (No Chance): The Orioles were in it to win it with Teixeria a couple winters ago, but that was a special circumstance (he was from Baltimore). No special circumstance exists with Pujols, and if the Orioles had $30 million to spend, they would have offered Guerrero $8 million right away.

Toronto Blue Jays (Doubt): The Blue Jays obviously have money to spend, but Pujols isn't in their plans. It would push Adam Lind to DH, a role he's best suited for, and give the Jays the offense they need to win. But, the Blue Jays don't want to get involved in free agency for big years. They want to develop their own stars and give them big deals. So there's a chance, but not a big one.

NL West

Arizona Diamondbacks (No Chance): The Diamondbacks have no money. Their budget will never fit Pujols.

San Diego Padres (No Chance): They do need a first baseman after dealing Gonzalez to the Red Sox, but they had to deal Gonzalez because they weren't going to be able to afford him after he hit free agency. Will that have changed in a year? No.

San Francisco Giants (Doubt): Despite popular opinion, the Giants are not big players. First and foremost, Brandon Belt could be a star in the making. Aubrey Huff is signed for two season. Sure, both could move to a corner outfield spot to make room, but in that big park, it probably isn't the best idea. More importantly, though, is that Jonathon Sanchez, Matt Cain, and Tim Lincecum need long-term deals. Not even Barry Zito and Aaron Rowand's expiring contracts can pay those big salaries. Oh, Pablo Sandoval will need one too. Buster Posey. Yeah, he could use one. No money, but who knows. Brian Sabean did sign Zito to that laughter of a deal.

Colorado Rockies (No Chance): Pujols would go nicely with Troy Tulowitski and Carlos Gonzalez, but with Todd Helton and his salary entrenched at first base, there's no room.

Los Angeles Dodgers (No Chance): Frank McCourt's money problems won't be magically solved by next winter. The Dodgers have a better chance of seeing Bigfoot than signing Pujols.

NL Central

St. Louis Cardinals (Great): Pujols already has a legacy here. A foundation for a contract offer has already been set. That's work that they don't have to make up, just improve upon. The chances of a reunion is strong.

Chicago Cubs (Good): Would Pujols leave for the Cubs? Possibly. Its still close to home and the Cubs will have the money and the roster space to accommodate Pujols. The only thing that could prevent a signing is that Pujols will leave St. Louis in a good light, unless something comes out that Pujols had no intention of re-signing with the Cardinals. When you leave in a good light, you don't sign with the enemy. That's how you get booed and ruin your goodwill. Pujols isn't stupid, but if the money's there, he could be paid to be stupid.

Milwaukee Brewers (No Chance): If they can't sign their own first baseman for $180 million over eight years, no way they'll sign Pujols for $300 million over ten.

Cincinnati Reds (No Chance): You might have heard of their first baseman. His name is Joey Votto and he's officially the second best first baseman in the National League. No room here, even if it is Walt Jocketty running the show.

Houston Astros (No Chance): The team is for sale, but Ed Wade and Drayton McLane, especially McLane, like to make stupid, incoherent moves. Don't count them out, but there really is no chance.

Pittsburgh Pirates (No Chance): lolz.

NL East

New York Mets (No Chance): When you're being sued for $1 billion dollars and you're hoping your All-Star closer doesn't finish 55 games so you can get out from under his contract, you don't sign players to ten year deals or for $300 million.

Atlanta Braves (No Chance): Freddie Freeman is a stud. Sure, they can move him to RF, but Tommy Hanson needs a contract and the Braves never seem to have the money to make big moves.

Washington Nationals (No Chance): Two big-time prospects and an improving farm system, not to mention the best (and most underrated) third baseman around in Ryan Zimmerman, but Adam LaRoche is under contract. Even if they could trade him, Pujols wants to win. He won't win in our nation's capital any time soon.

Florida Marlins (No Chance): They're moving into a new stadium and could use the fan-fare, but the Marlins won't spend more money on a Pujols contract then they've spent on payroll combined in the last six years.

Philadelphia Philles (No Chance): They're trying to shed money as it is and Ryan Howard locked in. 

So lets add all of this up. There are 20 "No Chance," six "Doubt," two "Fair," one "Good," and one "Great."

None of the fair, good, or great chances were the "big market" teams of the Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies, Mets, or Dodgers. Those teams usually drive the prices for free agents, and when they aren't involved, prices drop.

The two fair teams are on the low end.

That means that only the Cubs and Cardinals truly have any shot at signing Pujols.

Why is there any worry again?


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