May 2, 2010
Unless you’re completely oblivious to the baseball world, then you’re probably aware of the monster contract that Philadelphia’s Ryan Howard signed earlier this week. You know, the one that will pay him 125MM over a 5-year period, making him the second highest paid player in all of Major League Baseball, at 25MM/year, behind only Alex Rodriguez (27.5MM).
Most people consider Howard to be one of the most pure power hitters in baseball, and I can’t say that I argue with that. He’s averaged over 49 home runs in his four full seasons in the majors, with his best season coming way back in 2006, when he posted a .313/.425/.659 line to go with 58 home runs. That season, he also posted his career high in walks (108) and career low in strikeouts (181). To be noted, his numbers have gone down every season since.
Howard’s extension came as a shock to most in baseball, both for it’s timing (the end of April?) and because of it’s sheer size. But it also brought into question what will in time become a much more pressing matter – how much is Albert Pujols worth per season? This is an intriguing question, most notably because Pujols’ current deal ends after next season.
Pujols, at 30, is easily baseballs most complete hitter. His skill set enables him to hit for both power and average, he consistently has one of the highest on-base percentages in baseball, posts nearly a 2:1 walk-to-strikeout ratio, and compliments it all with enough speed to steal double-digit bases. While it’s tough to pinpoint Pujols’ best overall season, I would point to last season, when he hit to the tune of .327/.443/.658, with 47 home runs, 16 stolen bases, and 115:64 BB/K ratio. I might add that NONE of those stats are career bests for Pujols, but when put together, they represent his best statistical season.
Based on their overall bodies of work, Pujols and Howard are not even in the same ballpark when it comes to their hitting abilities. Sure, Howard will knock 5-10 more home runs per season, but Pujols will walk twice as much, strikeout half as much, and post an average, on-base percentage, and (most importantly for this argument) slugging percentage somewhere in the range of 50-60 points better than Howard. What point am I trying to make with all of these numbers? Pujols, who is actually two months YOUNGER than Howard, is worth multitudes more than the 25MM that Howard received.
The biggest question, then, is how much more? Recently, Alanta Braves manager Bobby Coxed joked that if Howard is worth 25MM, then “Pujols is worth 50MM. Atleast.” While I can’t say that Pujols will get that, I can comfortably say that 30MM/year is a reasonable starting point. As previously stated, Alex Rodriguez currently holds the largest contract in baseball history at 27.5MM/year, and when he and Pujols’ bodies of work are put back-to-back, Pujols again reigns supreme.
While most in baseball will agree that 30MM/year is a good starting point, how much higher than that should the Cardinals, or anyone else, consider offering? Pujols’ situation is a unique one. Never in the history of free agency has a player with his kind resume actually hit the free agent market. A-Rod was just coming into his prime when he signed his gargantuan deal withTexas in 2002; he didn’t have ten years worth of work to back up the money he received. Sure, Pujols may lose some of his speed during the length of the deal, but there are no indications that he’ll lose any of his power or ability to make contact with the ball. Numerous researchers have claimed that Pujols has one of the most pure swings in the history of baseball, and that is something that doesn’t disintegrate over the course of a contract.
There are also some unique outside factors that come into play with negotiations. During the length of his next contract, Pujols will start hitting major career milestones – he’s on pace to hit his 500th career home run roughly one year into the deal, and his 3000th career hit would come roughly five years into the contract, barring him missing significant playing time due to injury. There’s an outside chance that should he stay healthy and the deal be long enough, Pujols could make a run at Barry Bond’s homerun record toward the end of the deal. There are plenty of teams that will willingly pay extra money for the media frenzy that will come with Pujols hitting those milestones in their uniform. Another factor to consider – Pujols is one of two pure hitters (the other being Ken Griffey Jr.) in our generation NOT to be connected with steroids. Even A-Rod admitted to using PED’s after he signed his deal in ’02.
My guess is that Pujols will gardner a contract with an average annual value somewhere in the 33-35MM/year range. Being the fortune teller that I am, this is how I foresee it happening:
Unable to reach an agreement with the Cardinals, Pujols will reach free agency, joining Prince Fielder and potentially Adrian Gonzalez to form one of the greatest first-baseman free agent classes in history. Pujols, of course, will be the the prize of the group. Intent of finally replacing David Ortiz, the Red Sox will offer Pujols a deal somewhere in the 30-32MM/year range over a 7 year period, hoping to see Pujols achieve every major career milestone in Fenway Park. The Cardinals, intent on keeping their home grown prodigal son in a St. Louis uniform, will up the ante and counter-offer with a 34-35MM/year, 8 year contract. They showed in the Matt Holiday negotiations that they’re willing to add extra years to get their man, and they’ll certainly exercise that again to keep Pujols. The Red Sox, seeing that they can get Gonzalez at a cheaper rate, will opt for that route, and Fielder, whose physic seems to get worse every year, will land with an AL team such as the Los Angeles Angels, Texas Rangers, or Baltimore Orioles – all teams that are willing to spend money to get what they want.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how I foresee the winter of 2011-2012 panning out. Ultimately I see the Cardinals anteeing up to keep Pujols in St. Louis, signing him to an 8-year, 280MM dollar contract that will carry an average annual value of 35MM/year. For a player that has kept himself clean while posting a proven track record at the plate, 3 MVP’s, 1 Gold Glove, 5 Silver Slugger Awards, and 8 All-Star appearances to date, it seems to be a fair rate. But ultimately, only time will tell.
I’d like to add that I’m a new writer to this site, and a recent college graduate with a journalism degree. I’m very open to criticism, and hope to see some good convo in the comments of this article!