Anyone paying attention knows that the St. Louis Cardinals and their star first baseman Albert Pujols are at odds about his looming free agency. The Cardinals want to sign him to a contract extension. Pujols by all accounts wants to sign an extension with the Cardinals. The problem is that Pujols wants an extension for 10 years at $30 million per year. When you do the math, that comes out to $300 million dollars. Can you begin to guess why the situation is quickly escalating to a point of no return for both sides?
$300 Million is a lot of money for one player playing for a mid market team. Hell, that’s a lot of money for the New York Yankees. I don’t blame the Cardinals for not wanting to invest that amount of money in one player, especially when you take into account all of the other extenuating circumstances involved. Pujols is basing his value on his past performance and value to the Cardinals organization. That’s all well and good and if considered to be the only factor, then yes, Pujols is worth the $300 million dollars. unfortunately, Pujols is already 31 years old and entering the 11th year of his career. Needless to say, there is a lot of mileage on those tires. Is locking up $300 million guaranteed in one player a smart move?
What this situation comes down to is past performance versus future returns.
Pujols has had an oustanding career to this point. His a lifetime .331 hitter with 408 career home runs and 1,230 career RBI. There is no denying the fact that Pujols is a Hall of Fame player based on those numbers alone and yes he is worth every penny. However, how can you properly project what he will do moving forward? Is there any guarantee that Pujols can continue this level of production for another ten years? Can he even continue this level of production for five years? He’s been a model of consistency through his career averaging 40 home runs and 123 RBI per year. He has also never lost significant time due to injury. For his career Pujols has only missed 62 games. Some guys miss 62 games in a season, let alone over the course of a ten year career. All of that makes you say yes he can… but can he really? I don’t know.
In recent history there have been two reasons why we have seen players have dramatic drop offs in production, steroids and injury. Pujols has never had an issue with either, which is what makes him so unique. He’s put up steroid era numbers without ever being linked to steroids. There’s no reason to believe he’s suddenly going to come to spring training looking 30 pounds lighter with warning track power. He also hasn’t had lingering and nagging injuries gradually diminish his bat speed. Better training, better diet, and better equipment is all leading to what looks like an extended prime for Pujols that could end with him becoming the new all-time home run king.
The main issue as always though is money. The Cardinals have already signed Matt Holliday for 7 years $120 million last year. Can they afford another $300 million on Pujols? If they were to sign Pujols the Cardinals would be committing $420 million total on two players. How are they planning on affording to build around these two? What money is left to put pieces around them? We’ve seen first hand how one bad contract can shoehorn a mid or small market team into a corner. In 2007 the Indians signed Travis Hafner to a huge extension that at the time was seen as a great move. Our clean up hitter was locked up through 2012 and we were on the rise. Three and a half years later it looks like a terrible move. Hafner is a shell of his former self and is eating up space on the payroll when there isn’t room to spare. It should serve as a cautionary tale for the Cardinals.
Of course the difference here is that Travis Hafner is not Albert Pujols… not even close. Pujols will be a hall of famer and in eight to ten years may be on a historic mission to break the home run record. That chase, as we’ve seen before, generates gagillions in revenue thanks to merchandise, tickets, and advertising etc. Pujols could very well earn back every dollar he is making for the Cardinals and from that stand point he is very much worth the investment. But it is a great unknown. There is no guarantee that Pujols will get close enough to have a chase. Then again can the Cardinals afford to let Pujols walk after the season, sign with their rival, the hated Chicago Cubs, and go on the great chase in Wrigley Field? It’s a tough situation to be in and I do not envy the Cardinals at all right now.
It’s almost a lose-lose situation for the Cardinals. They’re damned if they do and they’re damned if they don’t when it comes to Pujols. With a negotiation deadline set for today at Noon, it’s almost certain that Pujols will enter into free agency this year and leads to more questions. Do they ride it out and hope for the best? Do they consider trading him to get something in return? It’ll be interesting to watch as it all unfolds. Let’s just hope cooler heads prevail and some type of agreement can be reached. Pujols is a Cardinal, probably one of the most well known after Stan Musial, Ozzie Smith, Bob Gibson and Lou Brock. He should end his career with the Cardinals and it’ll be a shame if he doesn’t. But that is the world we live in. Players go from team to team, so why shouldn’t Pujols be any different? All I know is that there is a very big decision that needs to be made.
Let’s just hope this one isn’t televised…