Dear St. Louis powers-that-be:
What could you possibly be thinking?
Today, you let the contract deadline for signing Albert Pujols to an extension pass. If reports are correct, you didn’t even put anything close to a viable offer on the table. The reliable Ken Rosenthal speculated that the deal was for somewhere between $19 and $21 million. That would have made Mr. Pujols somewhere around the tenth highest paid player in baseball and only the third highest paid first baseman.
Albert Pujols. The third highest paid first baseman in baseball. As owners and general managers, I would assume that you watch your own players. If you did, it would seem that you would realize that not only is Pujols the best first baseman in baseball, he is the best hitter in baseball.
Of course, maybe you saw something that the rest of us did not. He did have a down year last season: after finishing as the major’s overall leader in OPS three of the four seasons between 2006 and 2009, he fell all the way down to fourth last season.
The Cardinals seem like a progressive organization, so I’ll throw a few stats your way. Pujols has led the National League in WAR for six consecutive years. He ALREADY has a higher career WAR than every active player not named Alex Rodriguez. By this measure, the 30-year old Pujols has had a more productive career than future Hall of Famers Derek Jeter, Chipper Jones, and Ken Griffey Jr. He is the youngest player in the top 30 in career WAR of active players.
He led the NL in OPS+ in three of the last five years and has finished no lower than third since 2003. He has led the league in Runs Created three times since 2003 and has never finished lower than sixth. He is the best active defensive first baseman in the majors according to the Range Factor statistic. By literally any measure, he is the most dominant player in the majors.
But suppose you aren’t in to any of those crazy acronyms and you want to stick to the traditional stats. Joe Posnanski helpfully points out a few numbers to put Pujols in historical context. Through ten years in the league, Pujols ranks first all-time in home runs, second in runs, and fourth in RBIs. He has won three MVP Awards and two Gold Gloves.
All of this while making just short of $97 million in his career. In the same time frame, A-Rod (the only other player in the discussion for best major league hitter) has made $266 million. I wanted to find a first baseman that got paid more between 2001 and 2010 than Pujols that would shock the conscience, so I went with Jeff Bagwell, who made $100 million over the course of the decade. Bagwell retired in 2005.
Twenty-four players will make more than Pujols this year, one of whom (Matt Holliday) is a Cardinal. The best player in the majors is the second highest paid player on his own team. There is no doubt that over the past decade St. Louis has gotten a ridiculous bargain with Pujols.
By itself, the current bargain contract doesn’t necessarily mean that the Cardinals should sign Pujols. This isn’t charity work – it’s a business and the Cardinals should not have to pay extra for services already rendered. However, it has to be a factor that goes into the negotiations. Pujols will (correctly) feel under-appreciated. He wants to get paid on his next contract based on the bargain first contract. Someone will give him that money and it is nonsensical to think otherwise.
There are any number of reasons why the organization has decided to lowball Pujols. He will be 31 when his next contract starts. Assuming he has a standard career, he will start trending down by the third or fourth year of his contract, so from a financial standpoint, those last however many years will not be worth the investment. Additionally, rumors are that the organization lowballed him because the biggest spenders (Yankees, Red Sox, and Phillies) are set at a first base. And $30 million a year for ten years is a lot for any player, no matter how great.
All of these excuses are ridiculous. The team just needs to pay the man.
I’m not from St. Louis, so take all of this with a grain of salt. But the way I understand it, no player has meant more to the city since Stan Musial. Here in Minneapolis this offseason, the Twins had to re-sign hometown hero Joe Mauer or risk a fan mutiny. If Pujols and St. Louis are anything close to that, the Cardinals organization should sign Pujols at whatever the cost.
I don’t think the Cardinals’ analysis on the Yankees, Red Sox, and Phillies is correct. Yes, those three teams have Mark Teixeira, Adrian Gonzalez, and Ryan Howard at first base…but with a player like Pujols and a bajillion dollars to spare, you sign first and ask questions later.
But let’s assume the Cardinals are right that none of those three teams would make a play. That leaves the Angels, but I can’t imagine they would make a play after taking on the Vernon Wells contract and with fan favorite Kendry Morales already occupying first base.
The Mets are likely to try to sign Pujols, especially with somebody named Ike Davis playing first. I would imagine that the Mets will head into the offseason ready to spend money, although they are so bad that they might want to spread money out among more positions.
Then there is the team that will emerge as the favorite: the Chicago Cubs. Uh oh. The Cubs won’t even have a first baseman under contract for 2012 (they signed Carlos Pena to a one-year deal this offseason). The monster contracts of Kosuke Fukodome, Carlos Silva and Aramis Ramirez (with a $2 million buyout) will all end after this season. They will have plenty of money to spend and they will want to spend it.
Can you imagine the carnage if Pujols signs with the Chicago Cubs? Take it from a Packer fan: it was excruciatingly painful when a washed-up Brett Favre played with the rival Vikings for two seasons even though Green Bay had a better quarterback. You might as well take that times ten if an in-his-prime Pujols signed with the rival Cubs for ten seasons, leaving St. Louis with a major hole at first base.
So well done Cardinal management. You could have signed Pujols with no competition. You might have overpaid but now you stand to lose so much more. Now that Pujols will become a free agent, you will be either forced to a) overpay him more than you would have this offseason; or b) risk losing one of the greatest players of all-time in his prime, potentially to your rival. I think we call that “backing yourself into a corner.”
Baseball Fans Everywhere