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The Pujols contract: great for now, an albatross later

Dec 8, 2011, 12:15 PM EDT

Albert Pujols Getty Images

It may be hard to get your brain around the size of the Albert Pujols deal, but it’s not terribly hard to see how it breaks down in terms of bang for the Angels’ buck.

For the next, oh, 3-4 years, I suspect, the Angels will be happy with this deal.  They’re adding the best hitter in the game to a lineup that desperately needed a big time bopper. In doing so they’re going to improve the team that — all things being equal — stood to be just outside the playoff conversation for the next couple of years to one who you could easily call the favorites in the AL West.

But aging is a pain, and Albert Pujols, for as awesome as he still is, has his best years behind him.  There are signs that he’s starting his decline. Sure, his decline is going to be better than anyone else’s prime, but we are not going to see circa-2008 Albert Pujols again.

Flash forward to 2016-2021. Which don’t even sound like real years, they’re so far away. Name one player who remained elite in his age 36-41 seasons. Now name one not named Barry Bonds.  Yeah, it’s fairly obvious that El Hombre — can we still call him that? — will be overpaid, perhaps severely so, for the second half of this deal.

But the Angels know this. They’re willing to deal with it. They want to win a championship or two now, while the core is in its prime.  They also wisely want to turn themselves into the preeminent baseball team in southern California, putting a stake in the heart of the Dodgers while they sleep through litigation and all of that ugliness. The Angels are going to make a lot of money and get a huge TV deal and stuff before Pujols’ decline becomes a problem. And you can’t blame them for that.

But it will become a problem at some point. It won’t — purely on the baseball terms — look very good in a few years.

  1. hammyofdoom - Dec 8, 2011 at 12:52 PM

    To be honest the only team I could even partially rationalize giving 220+ million to Pujols was the Cardinals, for what he meant to that team. Now here comes the Angels, overpaying on an already bloated contract when their team has an already horrible contract in Vernon Wells, AND they dont have the money to play around with like the Yankees, Sox, Mets, etc. I know they have great pitching…but man, 250 million for a team like the Angels on a guy who will only be worth that money for 3-4 years, and I dont even see them being the favorites for a Series win? Eesh…

  2. mcsnide - Dec 8, 2011 at 12:52 PM

    Go over to Baseball Reference and check out the five guys that fans have voted the best hitters of all time for their age 36 years and beyond: Ruth, Aaron, Cobb, Mays, and Williams. All of them were still outstanding from age 36-39, then hit the wall around 40 or 41. So maybe this thing doesn’t become an albatross until the last year or two. Then again, being elite from ages 36-39 is what took those guys from Hall of Fame players to all-time top 5. That’s the fun of this. There’s no way to know whether Pujols lives up to the contract or not, until they play the games. Speaking of which, is it February yet?

  3. davenstl - Dec 8, 2011 at 12:52 PM

    “Name one player who remained elite in his age 36-41 seasons.” Okay. Stan Musial.

  4. notsofast10 - Dec 8, 2011 at 1:03 PM

    One Variable not discussed is what value will Pujols be to the Angels at the end of his career as he is chasing down some of Baseballs hallowed recordeds. That does tend to creat buzz and big fan and media interest which translates into dollars! Just a thought!

  5. mrfloydpink - Dec 8, 2011 at 1:06 PM

    Name one player who remained elite in his age 36-41 seasons.

    Hank Aaron: 35 (8.3 bWAR), 36 (4.9), 37 (7.3). 38 (3.5), 39 (4.8), 40 (1.9), 41 (0.0)

    Willie Mays: 35 (8.7), 36 (4.3), 37 (6.6), 38 (3.4), 39 (5.3), 40 (6.5), 41 (0.2)

    Given that Pujols can DH, which will spare him both wear and tear AND the -.2 to -.5 WAR annually that declining defensive skill cost Aaron/Mays in the latter part of their careers, it’s not impossible Pujols puts up similar numbers. If so, with the cost of 1 WAR at free agent prices, it would make his last five seasons worth roughly $150M. The Angels, of course, will pay $125M. So it’s not impossible that the contract is actually a fair value, even in its second half.

  6. Francisco (FC) - Dec 8, 2011 at 1:20 PM

    HA! I was right after all, He DID go for Disneyland!!!!

  7. rdssc - Dec 8, 2011 at 2:08 PM

    Edgar Martinez was serviceable and made a few AS games and won 2silver sluggers between 36-41. The DH has a way of prolonging careers.

  8. frug - Dec 8, 2011 at 2:12 PM

    Name one player who remained elite in his age 36-41 seasons. Now name one not named Barry Bonds.

    Randy Johnson?

  9. Francisco (FC) - Dec 8, 2011 at 2:24 PM

    Nolan Ryan.

  10. florida727 - Dec 8, 2011 at 2:41 PM

    Really disappointed, Craig. 67 comments on here and not one person played off your headline and referred to this as teh Angels’ future “Alber”tross. Where’s everyone’s sense of humor?

    More seriously, a lot of the posters bring up some very good points about power hitter’s performance as they age. This is a great PR move for the here-and-now. A business disaster for at least the second half of this contract. Shows how poor a GM what’s-his-name is. Very short-sighted.

  11. PanchoHerreraFanClub - Dec 8, 2011 at 3:27 PM

    Craig you a simply wrong. Having the best player in a generation as part of your franchise for the next ten years will look real good. To try to put in “pure” baseball terms is silly. Pure baseball left town at least 40 years ago. Baseball is a business and to evaluate a player’s contract on any other bias simply isn’t the way it works.

    I wish Pujols well. Three MVPs in the AL to good with three in NL.

  12. 1historian - Dec 8, 2011 at 3:42 PM

    Al, you’ve got the right to go where you want and make as much as you can, but you’re a traitor.

    Ever hear of Lou Brock?

  13. rathipon - Dec 8, 2011 at 4:13 PM

    Maybe the Angels are expecting inflation. Seriously. A lot can happen in 10 years. For all we know, 25 million dollars won’t buy nearly as many widgets 5 years from now as it does currently.

  14. jbandit2116 - Dec 8, 2011 at 5:35 PM

    He can never be called El Hombre again

  15. dbinps - Dec 8, 2011 at 9:20 PM

    Albert has as much chance as anyone ever has to be good/great late with the lifestyle he lives, (socal) has changed alot of people??? But if you are going to go after 10 years you have to think about the aspect of health, and 25 degrees warmer 5 months of winter sure helps the old body last longer. I moved out of so cal and my joints are pissed off at me. Huge difference…HUGE. Definately has a shot at 7 great and watching him DH for 3 as a hero may just pay the bills and keep the fans.

  16. klownboy - Dec 8, 2011 at 10:55 PM

    Totally agree with the article. I understand why LA had to do it, but it will hurt them in the long term…

  17. sld123 - Dec 9, 2011 at 8:43 AM

    Exactly. And those who are from “the Lou” can tell you that he has been playing with a bumb arm (and foot problems) for the last several years. The Angels better hope it doesn’t blow this year! And if it does, how is management not to mention their fan base (if they have one) going to take it? I couldn’t care less. Now the Cardinals can spend their money on more than one player and hopefully none of those may not be able to play for the length of the deal the Angels made with Albert. The Cards still had him in his “best” years – and it is a known fact that there is no baseball town like StL!

  18. rbupp - Dec 9, 2011 at 12:43 PM

    This contract along with Wilson’s gives me another “HUGE BUCK INSANE CONTRACTS team to root against beginning in April. The “SYSTEM” is soooooooo broken and no one cares. The system of forty-fifty years ago that paid Stan Musial no more than 100 grand certainly did need tweaking. Serious OVERREACTING to this need by coming up with the system of today is unfortunate.

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