Home > Baseball > A King’s Ransom: Albert Pujols, The Angels, and a lot of Money…

A King’s Ransom: Albert Pujols, The Angels, and a lot of Money…

Boom… just like that the biggest dynamo in baseball’s winter free agent frenzy fell.  All week, as the threat of a hostile Miami takeover swirled, there remained rumors of a third team interested in St Louis slugger Albert Pujols.  Is it the Cubs?  The Rangers, the eerily quiet Yankees?  Nope, it was the Angels.  And damn, were they serious.

250 million serious.

Plus another 75 million for CJ Wilson.  That’s a big day of spending.  Not quite the Yankees dropping 423.5 on Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, and AJ Burnett (and yes, I smiled as I wrote AJ Burnett there), but a big day of spending all the same.  More importantly, it’s a shot straight across the bow of two time defending AL West champion Rangers.  After all, Wilson was the Rangers’ ace this past season, a 6 win pitcher for a team that won the division by 10 games.  The swing of him alone would have made the Angels at least co-favourites going into next year.  When you then add in the greatest right handed hitter of the last 50 years, well, you have something going.

Which is good, because the Angels need big returns early on this investment.  That’s because as great as Pujols has been for the last decade, he’s almost certainly not going to be that great for the coming one.  He probably wont even be half as great.  The Angels are paying a King’s ransom for a man in the process of abdicating his throne.

Fangraphs’ dollar value section (which uses WAR to calculate a dollar value that a player provided a club in a single year), determined that over his last ten seasons with the Cardinals, Phat Al was worth 297 million, however that number was bouyed by seven seasons in which the firstbaseman posted a WAR over 8.  Over the last four seasons Albert’s WAR has gone from 9.1 to 9.0, to 7.5, to 5.1.  Now, 5.1 is still very, very good, but it makes Pujols more Mo Vaughn than Lou Gherig.

To put it in further perspective, Pujols’ 2011 WAR was tied for 26th in all of baseball: with Brett Gardner.  Lets pause so that that can sink in… TWENTY SIXTH… BRETT GARDNER.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I love Gardner more that most, but… are you going to pay him 25 million a year?  20?  15?  Maybe 12?

I know, Pujols’ numbers last year were anchored by a horrendous start.  He had a .755 OPS, with 9 home runs on June 1st and finished with a .906 OPS and 37 homers.  But at 32 years old, moving to a pitchers park, in the harder league, what’s the upside in Pujols’ numbers?  Does his WAR get back to 2010s 7.5?  Is that a best case scenario?  And where does it go from there?

As Jeff Passan tweeted earlier today, in the years before he turned 32, ARod hit .306, .389, .578 in 154 games per year.  In the years since?  .284, .375, .521 in 124 games per year.  It’s that last number that’s perhaps most important.  It’s hard to post large WAR if you aren’t on the field.    Pujols, like ARod when he signed his big deal, has been a bedrock of good health, never missing more than 19 games and averaging 155 per, but he’s entering a phase of life where the body starts to break.  Just look to ARod’s hip for evidence of the  capriciousness of the post 32 body.  Now, obviously the comparison isn’t perfect, because ARod plays a far more physically demanding position, but as someone whose 32 year old back is aching right now, I can tell you that Father time’s a bitch.  Seriously.  And that’s looking at the issue on THIS side of the deal.  What happens in 2017, when Pujols is 37?  Does he suddenly become a 25 million dollar DH?  Is his bat still worth 5 wins, or has it drooped to 3?  And that’s – gasp – only half way through the contract.  What happens in the second half of the deal?!?

After adding Wilson to incumbents Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, and Ervin Santana, the Angels may well have the best rotation in the AL, and with Pujols they finally have a serious bat in the middle of their order, so I can’t entirely fault them for essentially ensuring a spot in the playoffs for the over the next four years, but there will come a day when they rue this contract.  I hope for their sake it’s in 2020, not 2016.

 

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