With the Albert Pujols extension deadline passed, almost every team and fan in baseball is hoping to acquire The Machine’s services next offseason. However, Pujols, or anyone his age for that matter, is not worth a 10-year contract.
At this rate by the time his career is over Pujols will be the best first baseman in the history of baseball. Go to baseballreference.com and you’ll see players comparable to Pujols at the same age. On that list are names like Gehrig, Aaron, Mantle and Frank Robinson. Not such a bad list to be associated with. The problem is that Pujols is 31 years-old, 32 by opening day 2012, and a 10-year contract close to $300 million given to a player at that age could handcuff a team financially if they are not playing in the Bronx or Boston.
After turning 35 years old, Frank Robinson slugged over .500 just once in five years. Mantle was out of the game due to injuries by the time he was 37. Hank Aaron was well below average his last two seasons, though he was in his 40s. If Pujols plays well for the first eight years of the contract, I’m sure the Cardinals would view it as a success.
However, what if he’s merely above league average for the last five years of the deal? Is five years at close to $30 million a year for a pretty good first baseman worth it for a team like the Cardinals? The Rangers thought signing Alex Rodriguez was a franchise-altering move when they signed him to that 10-year, $252 million contract in 2001, but quickly realized that they had no money to make any other significant moves. Three years later he was gone.
Don’t get me wrong, if Pujols were to leave it would be a gigantic loss for the Cardinals in production on and off the field.
However, there have been countless instances in which so-called franchise players leave their teams and the team moves on. Babe Ruth didn’t finish his career with the Yankees. They won the World Series a year after his departure. Favre left the Packers. How are they doing? And according to Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert the Cavs are going to win the NBA championship before the Heat.
Make no doubt about it, if Pujols leaves the Cardinals they will never be able to make up his level of production with one player. But they would be able to sign multiple players with the $30 million they would save annually. The Cardinals could give him a contract based on legacy ala Derek Jeter but it wouldn’t be as easy for the Cardinals, because again, the Yankees are about the only team that can hand out that kind of contract.
Next summer Pujols will see what is out there in terms of contract offers and some team will offer him a 10-year deal. Sorry Yankees and Red Sox fans, I’m not talking about you. It turns out that each team only has room for one great first baseman. But whoever does offer the deal may end up getting a once-in-a generation hitter for 10 years. More likely though they’ll be paying close to $30 million a year for an aging legend who is a shade of his former self in the final few years of the deal.