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Wilbon: The Cubs have to go after Albert Pujols

Feb 18, 2011, 3:02 PM EDT

St. Louis Cardinals v Cincinnati Reds Getty Images

Michael Wilbon has a column up over at ESPN today in which he implores the Cubs to go after Albert Pujols in free agency.

It’s fine as far as it goes, but I tend not to like arguments that basically come down to “how big it would be!” for team X to sign player Y and about how players are “iconic.”  I suspect that the idea of franchises “making statements” and adding “credibility” to the team is one that gets talked about by writers approximately 1000 times more than it does in real front offices.

One comment he makes, though, has me thinking:

Asking whether the Cubs really should go after Pujols is like asking whether a team should have taken Lou Gehrig at a similar stage of his career. The notion that Pujols would be overpaid in the final two or three years of a 10-year-contract ignores the fact that he’s been underpaid — not just the first few years, but over his entire career so far, even this coming season at $16 million. Every single at-bat of Pujols’ career suggests he has four to five Hall of Fame seasons left, by which time the Cubs could have won, at long last, a World Series.

Icon status aside, do you go 8-10 years for the Gehrig/Pujols player if you may only get five good years?  I’m trying to think of examples in which someone has been burned on the tail end of a long term deal but the general assessment was “it was worth it anyway.”  Maybe that will happen with A-Rod.  I suppose it could happen with Todd Helton.  Anyone else? Any candidates?

The risk stuff on a long term deal for Pujols is probably the more interesting to me than even the “where might he end up if not in St. Louis” question.  I’m someone who is probably too risk averse in life.  It’s just my disposition. But I also understand the argument which holds that avoiding risks often locks in the downside of something in a far more certain way than taking the risk ever would.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained, you know.

Pujols might be the one guy I’d take five great years for even if there’s a great chance he gets old fast later and doesn’t earn his considerable keep.  But it’s not an easy call.  Which is why it’s probably a good think I’m not the GM of a baseball team.

  1. apbaguy - Feb 18, 2011 at 3:10 PM

    Wilbon was ok years ago before the ESPN money allowed him to quit his POST gig. I used to talk to him in the gym in Northern Virginia occasionally, and he was always approachable. That said, he’s a basketball and football guy foremost, and while showing his Chicago fanboy roots is no crime, you are right to call out the lack of even superficial analysis of the risks of a 10 year deal for Pujols to the Cubs. Basically, the “thinking” is more like an owner who sees his team as a real-life fantasy team, like Big Stein used the Yankees before Gene Michael’s corrections. “Let’s buy up the big names, because, they’re BIG names”.

  2. indyralph - Feb 18, 2011 at 3:14 PM

    I just don’t see how Pujols becomes a Cub and here’s why: Albert has built up an incredible amount of goodwill with the fans of St. Louis. If the Cardinals don’t re-sign him, the fans will give him every possible benefit of the doubt, and focus blame mostly (or singly) with Cardinals’ management. The only exception? Albert signs with the Cubs. Then this could turn into a LeBron-like PR debacle where Cardinals fan realize that it truly was only about the biggest pay day. I think it takes a huge number of dollars over the next best offer to buy away the PR risk of such a move. And the next best offer is likely to be pretty damn big.

  3. jasonc2300 - Feb 18, 2011 at 3:17 PM

    (Every columnist everywhere): The (every single team) have to go after Albert Pujols

    There, that should save some time.

    • dodger88 - Feb 18, 2011 at 3:33 PM

      Agreed – if Pujols does indeed hit the open market you have to think that every team will at least speak internally about making an offer. We’re not talking about just any big name free agent. Of course there is risk giving anyone a large and long contract but if you are ever going to make an exception, I say Pujols is the person you look at.

      No one can predict how he will age but if anyone has the chance to remain consistent at a top level (Hank Aaron comes to mind as he hit 40 HR at age 39) it’s Pujols. Whether you have a 1B already (Yanks, Bosox, etc), have $$$ problems (Dodgers, Mets, etc), have been losing for years (Rotals, Pirates) and so on and so on, you have to at least consisder making an offer.

  4. eriknatsfan - Feb 18, 2011 at 3:32 PM

    Anyone have a read on whether the Nationals have the money, wherewithal, commitment, whatever to go after him? LaRoche is no long term answer. Nobody’s tearing it up at 1st in the minors. Zimmerman, Werth, Pujols, Harper. It could happen. Right? RIGHT? Drool.

  5. baseballisboring - Feb 18, 2011 at 4:37 PM

    It’s always possible he could get old fast, but he doesn’t really profile as the type, not with his body type and work ethic. You never know…but I’d certainly be willing to give Pujols a pretty epic contract even if there was some uncertainty on the back end…he figures to be a good to great hitter no matter what, but within reason. I wouldn’t give him ten years.

    • larryhockett - Feb 19, 2011 at 10:16 AM

      Injuries will slow him down long before his skills naturally erode.

  6. bigtrav425 - Feb 18, 2011 at 4:38 PM

    While i understand his argument etc etc..Im from the school that NO Player should ever have a 8-10 yr contract.i dont care who he is…there really isnt going to be any drama with this because everyone knows there are only about 5-6 teams that really can afford this

  7. nick5253 - Feb 18, 2011 at 4:42 PM

    Why couldn’t a club try and anticipate Pujols’ decline and stagger his salary accordingly? I’ll try:

    2012: 35
    2013: 35
    2014: 35
    2015: 35
    2016: 33
    2017: 31
    2018: 29
    2019: 25
    2020: 22
    2021: 20

    Total: 300 mil / 10 years

    This would give you a lot of protection in the late years as 20 mil in 2021 would be a reasonable contract with inflation. Assuming he signs this deal with the Cubs and their payroll increastes 1% a year from 2011’s 135 mil? payroll, his contract would be 25% of payroll initially, but at the end would only be 13% of payroll.

    Knowing Jim Hendry though, the Pujols contract would the exact opposite and he’d tie the hands of the front of the final 4 years of the deal similar to Soriano now.

    • indyralph - Feb 18, 2011 at 5:17 PM

      I think something like this is what the Cardinals should be offering: How about 5 at $35M, 6 & 7 at $26M, 8 & 9 as team options at $25M. After year 5, there is a player opt-out clause. It seems to have everything for each side. Pujols is the highest paid player, by a lot, for 5 years – his most productive 5 years. If he’s still historically great after 5 years, the player opt-out allows him to renegotiate more with the Cardinals or become a free agent again. If he’s not that great anymore, he elects to take another $52M total and chance it on years 8-9. For the Cardinals, there’s some risk (he stinks in years 6/7 so he takes the option) but not the full risk of the 9 year guaranteed contract. In total dollars it’s still the largest contract ever – $277M. The downside – I’m not sure that any contract that writes in declining salaries is palatable from the players perspective.

  8. mrfloydpink - Feb 18, 2011 at 5:32 PM

    I’m surprised that nobody has pointed out that the Pujols-Gehrig comparison is a singularly bad one for making the cast that Wilbon is trying to make.

    If you sign Lou Gehrig to a 10-year contract after his first 10 full seasons in the league (a “similar stage in his career”), what do you get? Four seasons of Gehrig, two seasons of retirement, and four seasons of him being dead.

    Certainly, Pujols is not likely to contract a fatal disease and die. But the Gehrig example shows exactly why you DON’T sign a player to a 10-year contract, even an “icon.” 10 years is a long time, and lots of things can happen.

    • Craig Calcaterra - Feb 18, 2011 at 7:01 PM

      Actually, I assumed that that was Wilbon’s point: even if you knew that the guy, like Gehrig, would only have five years ahead of him, wouldn’t you sign him to a longer deal anyway if you knew those years would be Hall of Fame caliber.

  9. mrfloydpink - Feb 18, 2011 at 5:33 PM

    er, that’s “making the case”

  10. billybeaneismyhero - Feb 18, 2011 at 9:59 PM

    Craig, I don’t think Wilbon was saying that Pujols had only 4-5 good seasons left. He was saying that he only had 4-5 Hall of Fame seasons left. I think there’s a pretty big difference there. Kevin Youkilis has good seasons while Barry Bonds (for the sake of drawing the ire of the anti-steroid crowd, pre-1999) had HoF seasons. Based on Wilbon’s comments, it’s possible he thinks Pujols will be “good” in the remainder of those years.

    Also, using Dave Cameron’s January article with Fangraphs as a template, Wilbon’s assessment is entirely possible. He’s a good bet to be a 5+ WAR player for the five seasons. After that he should be worth 2.5-4.5 WAR, which is still pretty solid.

  11. canyoubelievthiscrap - Feb 19, 2011 at 12:38 AM

    Heres how its very well may happen. You heard it here first! The biggest factor on deciding who will get Albert is……..Drum Roll Please……. Freddie Freeman. Almost all the NL teams that could be winners and that Albert Pujols would want to play for are bound up with someone else making too much to dump (see Ryan Howard). Same for the big 2 American League teams(see Gonzalez, Texiera). Say for whatever reason Freddie Freeman bombs in 2011. Atlanta has a nice puzzle started and pieces are coming together like Prado, Heyward, and McCann. The best part about it is that all the bad money contracts are rolling off their back in 2012- Chipper, McLouth, and Kawakami- and they need that 1 star to finish the puzzle and put it all together. They’ll take Pujols. Nothing is being said about Atlanta for the time being, everyone says “Freddie Freeman is why they won’t sign Pujols”… Goodluck to Freddie, I’m sure he’s a great kid but he’s unproven in the majors. Prior success in the Minors doesn’t mean squat up here. If he fails to impress, look for Pujols in Atlanta next Spring.

  12. mvd513 - Feb 19, 2011 at 4:29 AM

    Whats relevant here is that Wilbon actually thinks that the Cubs can win World Series.
    The Cubs could be Joe Mauer, Albert Pujols, Rob Cano, Hanley Ramirez, Evan Longoria, Ryan Braun, Josh Hamilton, and Ichiro, with Adam Dunn as fake NL DH, Felix Hernandez, Sabathia, Halladay, Lincecum, Cliff Lee, Riviera, Soria, Soriano, Feliz, Chapman, and Brian Wilson pitching and still f*ck it up.

  13. Charles Gates - Feb 19, 2011 at 8:21 AM

    I’m pretty sure when the Mets signed Pedro the group think was that the extra year wasn’t a good idea, but was necessary to get him to come to NY.

  14. cintiphil - Feb 19, 2011 at 11:13 AM

    If Albert doesn’t sign with the birds, then he is not going to Chi. town. Other teams with a lot more money will entice him.

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