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10-year contract for Pujols an extreme deal for an extreme player

Dec 6, 2011, 12:41 PM EDT

Albert Pujols Getty Images

One of the signs of true greatness is the lack of any good comparables. There simply haven’t been many talents like Albert Pujols in Major League Baseball history. Through 11 big-league seasons, he’s won three NL MVP awards and finished second four times. He’s finished in the top five in the balloting 10 times.

Overall, Pujols has hit .328/.420/.617 with 445 homers and 1,329 RBI. He’d be a Hall of Famer if he retired today, yet we know that that’s unlikely, what with the Marlins offering him a whopping 10-year contract to continue his career through 2021.

So, despite the fact that Pujols doesn’t really have any equals in big-league history and there’s plenty of speculation that he’s actually a couple of years older than his listed age of 31, I thought it’d be fun to see when his most comparable players turned in their last Hall of Fame-caliber seasons. Here’s the list, going by Baseball-Reference’s most similar list:

1. Jimmie Foxx – 138 OPS+ at age 33
2. Ken Griffey Jr. – 144 OPS+ at age 35
3. Frank Robinson – 141 OPS+ at age 38
4. Hank Aaron – 177 OPS+ at age 39
5. Lou Gehrig – 132 OPS+ at age 35
6. Mickey Mantle – 149 OPS+ at age 35
7. Mel Ott – 151 OPS+ at age 36
8. Juan Gonzalez – 148 OPS+ at age 31
9. Willie Mays – 158 OPS+ at age 40
10. Manny Ramirez – 153 OPS+ at age 37

It doesn’t exactly bode well for Pujols’ two bidders that only four of these 10 players had productive seasons after their 36th birthdays. Still, Pujols fits more into a class with Aaron and Mays than he does Griffey and Gonzalez. Plus, it’s definitely easier for athletes to stay in shape than it once was.

So, yeah, there’s a really good chance that Pujols will still be an All-Star-type performer in his upper-30s. Of course, it’s going to be tough to keep it going at 40, and if Pujols is actually entering his age-34 season in 2012, not his age-32 season, that 10-year contract could get ugly by the time it’s barely more than halfway through.

But that’s the price one pays to land the player of the century.

  1. 78mu - Dec 6, 2011 at 12:45 PM

    In a fair world, Pujols should have gotten paid 250 million for the last ten years, not the next ten years.

    • Matthew Pouliot - Dec 6, 2011 at 12:48 PM

      True. Baseball is backwards like that.

  2. xmatt0926x - Dec 6, 2011 at 1:06 PM

    We know alot of this contract is about Albert getting his due when these other players are getting $20-plus million per year. Even the best case scenario likely says that Albert may have 7 or 8 good years left (and that’s pushing it, lets face it). If that’s the case why not just give the same cash for 7 or 8 years which raises the annual value of the deal? This allows Albert to say he makes the most per season as the best player in the game and the club that signs him still gets him for the rest of his productive years. I don’t get the significance of the contract having to be 10 years.

    • skerney - Dec 6, 2011 at 1:17 PM

      it makes payroll a bit more flexible to string the years out to ten.

      • xmatt0926x - Dec 6, 2011 at 1:27 PM

        Agree totally but since this is such an extreme case and the player likely wants to be able to say he finally makes more per year than everyone else ashe should then doing this might be what seals it for a team like the Marlins.

  3. istillbelieveinblue - Dec 6, 2011 at 1:22 PM

    Hardly fair to put Gehrig on a list highlighting decline due to age…

  4. ras1tafari - Dec 6, 2011 at 2:31 PM

    Remind me what a good OPS+ is.

    Are those on the list bad or good?

    Sorry for saber-ignorance.

    • 78mu - Dec 6, 2011 at 2:41 PM

      Basically 150+ means the player was 50% better than the average hitter. Those OPS+ numbers are all on the very good side.

      • Matthew Pouliot - Dec 6, 2011 at 2:45 PM

        What he said. OPS+ is adjusted for league and ballpark, too.

        For reference, Pujols is at 170 for his career. He came in at 150 last year, which was his worst as a major leaguer.

        Here’s the all-time leaderboard.

      • stlouis1baseball - Dec 6, 2011 at 3:59 PM

        Matthew: Now THAT is perspective. Last year (his worse year)…and he was still at 150.

  5. presidentmiraflores - Dec 6, 2011 at 3:00 PM

    That is quite the achievement to be in the same company as Juan IGOR Gonzalez.

    • Matthew Pouliot - Dec 6, 2011 at 3:05 PM

      Yeah, it’s a black mark on the list. However, Gonzalez was on a Hall of Fame path through age 31, even if he was never in Pujols’ class. He had 397 homers and 1,282 RBI at that point.

  6. genericcommenter - Dec 6, 2011 at 3:31 PM

    In a previous post about his age and the length/size of his contracted, I wrote that no elite player has ever played well through 20 seasons/age 40- at least not without missing the equivalent of at least a full season worth of games. The closest I saw was Aaron. Almost everyone else had at least 1 terrible season by age 38 and some were done completely by 37-38.

    I said that I thought Pujols might be the greatest, but if he manages to fulfill even a 9 year contract, that would literally put him in a class all by himself.

    I was then told that Pujols IS in a class by himself, and no one has put up numbers like he has at this point.

    However, Jimmie Foxx put up very similar numbers through his age 31 season, and many of his numbers were BETTER than Pujols through age 31. He did have 400ish more PAs, but he had hundreds of more runs, RBI, higher slash lines, and higher OPS+, with a couple over 200.

    And Foxx, the most comparable, who did at least as well as Pujols through 31 and 7000-8000 PAs, was done by the time he was 34.

    • stlouis1baseball - Dec 6, 2011 at 4:10 PM

      Great points Generic: I think what people mean when they state A.P. IS in a class by himself…is the fact the no one as ever started their careers .300/30/100. Personally, that is what I am referring to when I state no one has ever done what he has done thus far. It just takes an incredible amount of time to get accustomed to the nuances of the big leagues. Specifically, the talent level, travel demands, number of games, etc.. Albert was lights out from day one.
      Jimmie Fox was also a beast. As a Cardinals fan…I also take a great amount of pride in Alberts total plate awareness (his ridiculously low strikeout rate specifically). But also…he doesn’t seem to have any true week spots. Hitting the ball to the opposite field, low and inside, high and inside…he hits frozen ropes. Include his stellar defense and base running…and the Guy just seems to have no peers. But admittedly…I am biased.

  7. stlouis1baseball - Dec 6, 2011 at 4:11 PM

    Sorry…clarification:
    No one has started their careers with 10 straight seasons of .300/30/100.

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