Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder: Show Them the Money

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Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder: Show Them the Money
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Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder bat on opposite sides of the plate, Fielder’s voluminous frame on the left and Pujols’ chiseled figure to the right.

Fielder, 27, was born in Ontario, Calif., and was selected seventh overall in the 2002 MLB amateur draft by the Milwaukee Brewers.

Pujols, 31, hails from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and wasn’t bagged in the 1999 draft until the 13th round by the St. Louis Cardinals.

They look nothing alike, speak different native dialects and clearly subject themselves to contrasting dietary regimens.

On the other hand, both play first base for their respective ball clubs, and share an additional commonality that is to be the focal point of baseball media come the last out of the World Series this fall.

The pair will become the two highest sought after free agents in the offseason, and mutually swell from wealthy, to down right filthy rich.

Baltimore, Chicago (Cubs), Los Angeles (Angles), Colorado and Washington are all drooling at the thought of bolstering their respective lineups with either of the thunderous sluggers, but whom would they prefer? 

And what are the odds that either can be resigned by their current club?

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Chances are greater that Pujols re-ups in St. Louis, than for Milwaukee to open up its checkbook for Fielder.

Milwaukee is locked into outfielder Corey Hart for two more seasons, second baseman Rickie Weeks for three, outfielder Ryan Braun until 2020 and has two star pitchers (Shaun Marcum and Zack Greinke) who they would obviously love to sign to long-term deals in the near future.

Remember, the Brewers are financially a mid-market team, who rank 17th in payroll at roughly $85 million for 2011.

Adrian Gonzalez set the bar for first-base bombers when he agreed to a seven-year extension with the Red Sox for $154 million before the season.

Gonzalez was coming off a campaign in which he batted .298, with 31 home runs and 101 RBI for San Diego. Keep in mind Petco Park is widely considered the most difficult place to hit home runs in all of baseball.

At 29, Gonzalez fits between our two sluggers in age, and had a track record of four-straight seasons with at least 30 long balls.  He batted in at least 100 runs three of the last four seasons, with 99 in the other.

Aided by his unscrupulous super-agent Scott Boras, Fielder will presumptively be seeking to surpass Gonzalez’s arrangement in Boston

Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Agent Scott Boras

Currently leading the National League with 59 RBI, and second with 19 homers, Fielder is surely going to make the franchise that goes all in for his services pay through the teeth.

Four-straight seasons with at least 30 homers—he touched 50 in 2007, and became, along with his father Cecil, the only father-son duo to both reach that mark in an MLB season—headlines his resume.  Also worthy of note were the 141 runs he helped plate in 2009.

Although 2010 was a down year for Prince, he still reached 30 home runs and 80 RBI while struggling to the tune of a .261 BA.  Boy, has he come back with a vengeance at just the right time.

Pujols is suffering from the inverse ailment: drooping statistically at precisely the wrong time—his walk year.

After two-straight 40 moonshot seasons—never launching less than 30 in his 10 years—Albert began the season ice cold.  Even with four round trippers and 10 hits in his last 10 games, he is still holding an uncharacteristic .275 BA and .491 SLG.

Before play began this season, there was little debate that Pujols was the top slugger in the game.  A career .329 hitter with a 1.041 lifetime SLG, there was little argument to be made for any other hitter even being in his wheelhouse.

Rob Carr/Getty Images

Naysayers may claim that Pujols is reaching a breaking point where his prime years are behind him, and a gradual decline in production is inevitable.

On the flip side, Pujols has been an extremely resilient hitter for the Cardinals, and until now, never displayed even a hint of slowing down offensively.

By reputation, Pujols is stronger defensively than Fielder, but the various sabermetric tools contend the difference to be slimmer than believed.

Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) from Fangraphs.com places a run value on defensive efficiency, attempting to show how many runs a player saves or allows through fielding.

This season, Pujols ranks fifth with 1.7 runs and Fielder sits 12th at 0.4.

While many defensive calculations can be used to argue for or against either player, it is doubtful that much of the contract negotiations will stray from offensive contributions.

There are whispers that a team could attempt to lure Fielder into a designated hitter role in the American League, but this early in his career, it is speculative at best to think so.

Wins Above Replacement (WAR) is a sabermetric tool that attempts to quantify a player’s total contribution by comparison to an average minor-league or bench player. Without delving into the minutia of the calculations, a WAR of 0 simply means the player is on par with a “replacement level” competitor.

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As we near the mid-point of the season, Fielder’s WAR is 3.2, third among all first baseman, while Pujols checks in at 2.3.

In 2010, Pujols was the top dog at his position by WAR ranking at 7.5.  Fielder, having the worst season of his young career, finished with 3.4 WAR.

And 2009 saw the duo finish first and second in WAR rankings amongst first basemen; Pujols was good for 8.9 WAR, and Fielder 6.4 WAR.

Length of contract shouldn’t be an issue for Fielder’s suitors; any franchise seriously considering an investment in his services will enter the sweepstakes knowing that seven years will be a starting point.

Cardinals GM John Mozeliak couldn’t come to terms with Pujols before spring training, and rumors of El Hombre seeking double-digit years in a deal were rampant.

St. Louis has already breached the $100-million mark for team payroll in 2011, and that includes just under $15 million for Albert.

His next contract will basically double his per-year cost, making it extremely difficult for St. Louis to shuffle its roster without skyrocketing payroll.

Unlike with Fielder’s negotiations, age will be an integral factor.  How many high-performing 40-year-olds are there in baseball?

So, if both players fail to resign with their respective team, who is the better pursuit?

Could either player be lured to the American League, or even to a designated hitter’s role in Fielder’s case? 

Is Pujols’ slow start just an aberration, or the first sign of a gradual degeneration for baseball’s most feared batter?

No matter what the future holds for the ball-crushing duo, only one thing is certain: they are both going to get paid.

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