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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. Chris Fiorentino - Dec 8, 2011 at 12:18 PM

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

    Who cares?

    • 78mu - Dec 8, 2011 at 12:37 PM

      The only people that should care is the team paying the contract if it hamstrings them in improving the team. Look at the Soriano and Zambrano contracts for instance. Does anyone think the Cubs would be able to improve their teams faster without them? Unless they have no payroll budget (and even the Yankees have a budget) a bad contract can always be pointed to as to why a team can’t sign the players they want. Whether it is always true or not is another matter.

      But saying that, I wasn’t going to cry for Bill DeWitt if he had signed Pujols for 10 years. I would have cared if the team used the contract as an excuse not to add payroll in an attempt to improve the team.

      • Chris Fiorentino - Dec 8, 2011 at 12:42 PM

        My point is that if the Angels win a couple championships in the next 5 years, then nobody cares how big of an albatross the last 5 years will be. Geeze…I mean, I understand it is important to throw cold water on everything. But to say that the contract will become a problem, after saying “They want to win a championship or two now,” is basically a contradiction.

        Now, if they don’t win a title in the next 5 years…and Pujols declines…then yeah, this was a major mistake. Let it happen before all the articles are written first though, is all I am saying.

    • djpostl - Dec 8, 2011 at 1:01 PM

      Lol they won’t win one championship in the next 5 years let alone a couple. Wilson is a solid regular season pitcher but is putrid come clutch time and the rest of the lineup is still below average. Albert will definitely lead the league in walks the next few years, but beyond that the offense is still very, very mediocre.

      • umrguy42 - Dec 8, 2011 at 3:30 PM

        Somebody should point out that it seems like Pujols has one, maybe two big games per postseason series (at least lately), and disappears for the rest…

    • Brian Donohue - Dec 8, 2011 at 3:38 PM

      mic check!
      MIC CHECK!!!
      Albert what are you thinking?
      Ur now hitting btwn…
      Torii and Godzilla
      for a lousy quarter billion

      • Brian Donohue - Dec 8, 2011 at 4:04 PM

        My comment is getting downtwinkles. But the AP acquisition is getting major uptwinkles from Bobby Abreu and the rest of the aging, weak, Halo offense!

        Ah, no one here understands:

        #OccupyEverywhere !

  2. APBA Guy - Dec 8, 2011 at 12:18 PM

    Pujols to the Angels-and for the moment the Wilson deal is unconfimed-changes the AL West dynamic for the next 3-4 years, until the Pujols decline reaches a contract tipping point. Especially for the Rangers, and less obviously for the A’s, Mariners, and Astros, the AL West has become the mirror image of the AL East, with two huge payrolls vying for the playoffs and a few mid-and small market teams trying to keep up. Of course, Houston can be a huge market team with proper management. A winner could substantially upgrade their local TV deal, which is how the Angels are paying for Pujols.

    What will the Rangers do? Over the last two years they’ve lost their top pitcher to free agency and have not replaced him entirely. Wilson faded at #1 in the playoffs. And as we know, you must have top pitching to succeed in the playoffs, as well as a balanced, long offense. Even then nothing is guaranteed. But the Rangers staff now looks decidedly one level below the Angels, who are building a Phillies of the West structure. And make no mistake, Texas has money. Their TV deal has enriched their ability to add payroll far beyond their current level, even with the need to pay Josh going forward.

    Possibly the Rangers course is via trade, as the FA market for pitching is over. Gio is the one pitcher I see who can endure the heat of Texas’ summer, but his BB/9 rate would be a strong negative in Arlington. Still, he may be the best option among the publicly available pitchers.

    But if I were Jon Daniels, I’d be pursuing every option, no matter how fantastic and far fetched, and I’d start in Seattle. Long live the King.

  3. normb11 - Dec 8, 2011 at 12:20 PM

    Substitute “The Pujols Contract” with “Any long term contract”

  4. danandcasey - Dec 8, 2011 at 12:20 PM

    No doubt he will be overpaid the last half of the contract. However, at least he can DH for the Angels, which might make him more valuable to the Angels those last years than he would have been to the Cards or Marlins. Also, during that time he should pass significant hitting milestones, which will allow him to contribute to the Angel’s bottom line even when his contribution to the line score is not as much.

    • cintiphil - Dec 8, 2011 at 12:26 PM

      I thought the Angels were near the top of income now, without winning. It all depends on winning the W-S. If they can’t do that with Albert, how many more people can they attract to the park? how much more money is the T-V deal worth with Albert, if any more? What bottom line will be improved without winning?

      • danandcasey - Dec 8, 2011 at 12:49 PM

        Angels are 7th in revenue ($222 million in 2011). Angels have the second worst regional sports network TV rating in MLB – they have to get those numbers up over the next 4 years to get another big contract from FOX. They also lag behind the Dodgers in revenue per fan ($7 less per fan – if they can take half of that from the Dodgers, that is $3.5 per fan, or $22 million per year).

      • cleverbob - Dec 8, 2011 at 1:03 PM

        Dodger fans had to drink more to get through games.

  5. littledill - Dec 8, 2011 at 12:21 PM

    huge TV deal and stuff?

    care to elaborate a little?

  6. 1972wasalongtimeago - Dec 8, 2011 at 12:22 PM

    Look at Manny Ramirez at 31-32. Now look at him at 39.

    • jimbo1949 - Dec 8, 2011 at 12:33 PM

      Now look at him at 39. minus PEDs

  7. cintiphil - Dec 8, 2011 at 12:22 PM

    This is the best view I have read. I agree that Albert is the best now, but in 4-5 years, who knows? I think if the Angels don’t win the pennant and the /W-S in the next two years, then this deal is a bust. I think that Albert may (as others) slow down in a few years If the Angels do not take advantage of his talent now, after 5 years his talent is worth a little less. Who know if he can carry the team then? The 25/26 Mil then, becomes a burden.

  8. Ben - Dec 8, 2011 at 12:23 PM

    I think there’s a chance he earns most of the contract, but only if he stays healthy. And that’s such a huge if I’m not sure it’s worth it in the end.

    • cintiphil - Dec 8, 2011 at 4:36 PM

      That is a lot of IF’S. You know that Albert is injured almost every year, right? One of these years he won’t be healing in two weeks. I follow him closely as he is my favorite player in the game after Votto. i will continue to follow him in the AL.

  9. WhenMattStairsIsKing - Dec 8, 2011 at 12:23 PM

    Every nine-figure contract is great now but an albatross later – except for Manny, which seems like an ironic anomaly now.

  10. pauleee - Dec 8, 2011 at 12:23 PM

    No one thinks of the consequences until they sober up later on. And if you just keep partying, you never have a chance to sober up. Sooooo….

    Party On!

    //Don’t be a buzzkill, Craig!

    • b7p19 - Dec 8, 2011 at 12:31 PM

      I think thats the best analysis I’ve heard yet…

    • Chris Fiorentino - Dec 8, 2011 at 12:36 PM

      I agree 100% with this…seems like Craig is trying to be a buzzkill here. Who cares about the “albatross” this will become later. Right now, for the next few years, Pujols will remain a top 3-5 player barring injury. By the time he starts to decline, he may have brought a couple Championships to LA…which means no matter what happens at the back end, the signing was 100% a success.

      • djpostl - Dec 8, 2011 at 1:04 PM

        Smart fans care, that’s who. Not everyone is a short-sighted nitwit ya know.

  11. uyf1950 - Dec 8, 2011 at 12:24 PM

    If the Mayan prediction of the Apocalypse in December 2012 comes true. It won’t matter if this contract is an albatross later. Food for thought.

    • djpostl - Dec 8, 2011 at 1:04 PM

      Old food for thought. Was used 2 years ago when Boston gave all that money to John Lackey lol.

      • cintiphil - Dec 8, 2011 at 4:37 PM

        I have to agree. Most big deals as this one, never turn out as hoped. We will see in about a year or less if this was a good one.

  12. dadawg77 - Dec 8, 2011 at 12:24 PM

    Have the yearly breakout come out? The contract could be structured that it is front loaded say $35 million a year for the first five years and and 15 million for the final five. While people just look at the dollar figures, who knows the NPV difference between the Angles and Cards was.

  13. benihanagt - Dec 8, 2011 at 12:24 PM

    “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.”

    If they win a championship or two, become the preeminent baseball team in SoCal, make a ton of money and get a huge TV deal… exactly is suffering through a few years of low production when he’s 38-41 years old a problem? Answer, it’s not. This article is dumb.

    • djpostl - Dec 8, 2011 at 1:06 PM

      Execpt they won’t win one with this team. Pujols can still be pitched around because of that putrid offense they have and Wilson can’t do anything other than pitch batting practice in the playoffs.

  14. cur68 - Dec 8, 2011 at 12:26 PM

    Can the 2012 baseball season get here any sooner? Please? Can we make that happen, like NOW?

    Think about it folks: the Angels have a legit chance to make the post season now (Vernon Well’s evilness notwithstanding). Tiffany will be so happy, it’ll be like bathing your brain in mulled wine every time she gets on her to talk to Craig. With apologies to the Card’s fans on here, I am so looking forward to baseball in the sunshine with the glow of a happy Tiffany Simons warming my brain and the sight of palm trees and young women in tank tops right into October…Albert Pujols, you are the gift that keeps on giving…

    • missthemexpos - Dec 8, 2011 at 12:37 PM

      Speaking of Vernon Wells, I believe that if the Angels win it all in the next couple of years, Vernon will deserve much of the credit. My theory being that the Angels looking at the princely sum they will be paying Vernon yearly for mediocre performance, Albert Pujols at a 1/4 Billion is a bargain.

  15. florida76 - Dec 8, 2011 at 12:27 PM

    Can’t blame Pujols for taking the money, or the Angels for making a huge offer, but this situation points out the smarter system used by the more popular NFL. In the NFL, star players can be franchised for a period of time while negotiations continue. Everyone has time to think things over before anything is signed.

    5 years from now, we could see Pujols unhappy, and the Angels stuck with a bad deal.

  16. tacklemeelmo - Dec 8, 2011 at 12:28 PM

    Damnit Craig I came here specifically to name Barry Bonds and then you told me I can’t…

    But why not? Bonds is obviously the outlier in this situation but what has Pujols done so far that we can lump him in with the norm? Just some food for thought here… I’m obviously not saying we can expect Pujols to hit even better in his late 30’s and early 40’s, I just want to say that we can’t completely discount it.

    • drmonkeyarmy - Dec 8, 2011 at 12:31 PM

      Barry Bonds is discounted because he was obviously juicing.

      • b7p19 - Dec 8, 2011 at 12:42 PM

        Booooo! Barry was one of the greatest hitters of all time (like, top 2). That we got to watch him do what he did in his late thirties is something special.

  17. cptnew1 - Dec 8, 2011 at 12:30 PM

    So in other words the Angels are throwing wads of cash at at WS title. How did that work out in NY and Boston last year?

    • Chris Fiorentino - Dec 8, 2011 at 12:38 PM

      I believe when NY threw wads of cash at a WS title(half a billion), they won it that same year…2009.

      • cptnew1 - Dec 8, 2011 at 12:58 PM

        Fair enough Chris, however it seems that tossing money at a ring isn’t the solution most of the time. Top MLB payrolls last year.

        New York Yankees $202,689,028. Phillies $172,976,379 Red Sox 161,762,475. Angels 138,543,166. White Sox 127,789,000. Cubs 125,047,329.

        When the dust settled, it was STL and Texas in the Series, with a combined payroll of less than the Yanks. Im not saying Albert isn’t a great signing for the Angels, just that we shouldn’t hand out the titles just yet.

      • djpostl - Dec 8, 2011 at 1:08 PM

        And then when Boston threw tons at it in 2010 and 2011 they didn’t win squat. Nor did the Yankees the 10 other times they tried to “buy a title”. You won’t win this argument unless you just plan on revising history.

      • cintiphil - Dec 8, 2011 at 4:40 PM

        Chris my man, it takes more than 1 W-S to make up a/4 Bil. But, saying that, I think the big deals the Yanks have made turn out better than most.

  18. hackerjay - Dec 8, 2011 at 12:36 PM

    The one plus side that I see the Angels having over the Marlins or Cardinals, is that on the backside of this contract the Angels will still have some roster flexibility because of the DH. For the Cardinals and Marlins, they were just going to have to live with an over-paid, under-performing first baseman at the end of the contract, which sucks because you expect to get the most production out of first base.

  19. paperlions - Dec 8, 2011 at 12:37 PM

    Why does anyone think the Dodger’s being down a few years will affect the long-term dynamics? Dodger fans will NOT become Angel fans over the course of a few years, fandom doesn’t work like that.

    • danandcasey - Dec 8, 2011 at 12:56 PM

      You are absolutely right. Dodger fans will not jump. However, the target is the casual LA sports fan with discretionary $, not the die hard Dodger fan. Now this fan can decide whether he or she wants to spend the $ to see Kemp and Kershaw or Kobe (and Howard and Paul?) or Albert and Weaver.

  20. Mike Luna - Dec 8, 2011 at 12:39 PM

    Which of the Angels’ “core” is in their prime? Wells? Hunter? Abreu?

    Morales is, but he’s got nowhere to play. Borjos is still very green, as is Trumbo, who also has nowhere to play.

    Effectively, Weaver and Santana are the only core that are truly in their prime.

    This still looks like a very weak team outside of Pujols and the pitching.

    • b7p19 - Dec 8, 2011 at 12:50 PM

      CJ Wilson?

      • djpostl - Dec 8, 2011 at 1:09 PM

        If by prime you mean over-rated and can’t win in the playoffs then yes.

    • Mike Luna - Dec 8, 2011 at 12:52 PM

      Ken Rosenthal also wrote that the Angels have an advantage over the Cards because they can deploy Pujols as a DH in the later years of his contract.

      A $25MM DH is a concept that makes me want to laugh out loud.

      • Kevin S. - Dec 8, 2011 at 12:57 PM

        You know what really makes me want to laugh out loud? A $25MM DH who can’t DH because the Phillies are in the NL.

    • mordecofe - Dec 8, 2011 at 12:55 PM

      Mike Luna, you forget about Dan Haren. That’s 3 top quality pitchers in their prime, plus CJ Wilson. A great rotation will take you far.

      In terms of position players, sure, the Wells/Abreu/Hunter trifecta is pretty old, but I’d wager Ianetta, though removed from Colorado, is in his prime, and Trout seems like he could take a pretty big leap – not for sure, of course, but given his pedigree, who knows?

      • Mike Luna - Dec 8, 2011 at 2:53 PM

        You could probably just call me Mike.

        I honestly forgot about the Ianetta deal, so that’s another. My point, though, was that the Angels players are pretty much either pretty old or pretty young. Prime age is roughly 27-32, which Pujols is almost beyond himself.

        If I were an Angels fan, I would really be curious (and concerned) about this window and how long it can be left open.

  21. Kevin S. - Dec 8, 2011 at 12:40 PM

    Two things to note – salary inflation means he won’t have to be as good of a player on the back end of the deal to be worth $25 million/year, and supposedly the Angels have front-loaded the contract, meaning that instead of getting surplus early and taking the hit late, they’re attempting to (roughly) match the value he’s providing to the money he’s receiving in any given year.

    • paperlions - Dec 8, 2011 at 12:51 PM

      Salary inflation? Like the kind that was supposed to make the end of Arod’s first deal not look bad? That salary inflation?

      Salaries are based on income, and with the economic powers in the US dead set on keeping things as they are (or worse), salaries are more likely to go down than up….as teams realize it is better to invest in a growing market (their own young studs-to-be) than in a declining one (free agency)

      • Kevin S. - Dec 8, 2011 at 1:05 PM

        The end of A-Rod’s first deal didn’t look bad. Not counting the additional time-value of the salary he deferred, A-Rod was to be paid $27 million/year over those last four years. According to Fangraphs’ $/WAR calculations, he was worth… $25.7 million/year in ’07-’10. Pretty much right in line. To be that close to getting even value on the back end of a ten-year deal is not bad at all, especially since most long-term contracts expect to extract their surplus up front in exchange of dead-weight on the back end.

    • djpostl - Dec 8, 2011 at 1:11 PM

      The end of Arod’s first deal is a hollow argument lol. He was Pujol’s CURRENT age at the end of it. Now let’s talk about how he is already looking in his big ten year deal signed at same age as Fat Albert? You know, the only one that applies here.

      • Kevin S. - Dec 8, 2011 at 1:26 PM

        I’m not the one who brought up A-Rod’s first deal. And despite paper’s protestations to the contrary, I don’t think 5% salary inflation/year is unrealistic. In that scenario, Pujols would have to be worth a little more than three wins in the final year of his deal for it to be fair value, and that is working on the $25 million/year figure, not whatever frontloading the Angels have done.

        But since we’re bringing up A-Rod, that same 5% inflation means he, too, would need to basically be a three-win player in the final year of his deal to make that year fair value. A little tougher for him, since I have his true talent at roughly four and a half wins right now, but only losing a win and a half over the next six years wouldn’t be completely unheard of, and if he falls off in the last year or two, that wouldn’t be the end of the world. The worry obviously is if he hits the cliff sooner than that.

      • hackerjay - Dec 8, 2011 at 2:14 PM

        For what it’s worth, payroll inflation in baseball has been about 3.75% over the last ten years. US inflation has been about 2.4% over that same time. So unless inflation skyrockets in the next ten years (a possibility) I don’t think Pujols will get all that much of a benefit from it. At 3.75% inflation he will still need to be worth 3.5 wins in the tenth year of his contract to be “worth” the salary he is getting.

        Of course, when signing this deal I’m sure the Angels aren’t expecting to get their money’s worth in years 8, 9, 10. They are just overpaying for those years so that they can have the years that they think he will be good.

  22. Jonny 5 - Dec 8, 2011 at 12:41 PM

    25 million is more than one fourth of the Cards salary in 2011. Maybe some of these irate Cards fans need to look at ownership for not being willing to open their wallets to pay the best player in the game. Maybe they can look at as if they are only willing/able to have a middle of the road salary, Albert did the fans a favor because the Cards can still field a respectable team. Had they paid him his 20-25 m for 10 years that’s 10 years where they have much less to spend on other good players.

    • paperlions - Dec 8, 2011 at 12:52 PM

      We know…we also know he isn’t the best player in the game anymore. Those days are gone.

      • Jonny 5 - Dec 8, 2011 at 12:58 PM

        You Know PL. But I wouldn’t say you share the same feelings the majority of Cards fans feel either.

      • paperlions - Dec 8, 2011 at 1:02 PM

        You are probably right….I have family members that are still pissed off that the Cardinals let Eckstein go.

    • b7p19 - Dec 8, 2011 at 12:52 PM

      I feel I have the right to say this once here before I cry myself to sleep again tonight: Pujols will be making 50% of the Padres entire payroll.

  23. thunderchicken1 - Dec 8, 2011 at 12:42 PM

    “Yeah, it’s fairly obvious that El Hombre — can we still call him that?”

    No, we can’t.

  24. channingtaintum - Dec 8, 2011 at 12:44 PM

    A totally different skill set, but since you asked us to name at least one player who was elite in his twilight years, I have an answer….Paul Molitor.

  25. vanmorrissey - Dec 8, 2011 at 12:44 PM

    I think Lozano can stay home now and plan lots of good times:

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