Mike Wilbon of ESPN.com added fuel to the “Albert Pujols to the Cubs” rumors with a recent column. And herein lies the problem with some Cub fans:
Asking whether the Cubs really should go after Pujols is like asking whether a team should have taken Lou Gehrig at a similar stage of his career. The notion that Pujols would be overpaid in the final two or three years of a 10-year-contract ignores the fact that he’s been underpaid — not just the first few years, but over his entire career so far, even this coming season at $16 million. Every single at-bat of Pujols’ career suggests he has four to five Hall of Fame seasons left, by which time the Cubs could have won, at long last, a World Series.
This is likely the argument many Cub fans made when the team inked Alfonso Soriano to an 8-year $136 million contract in 2007. Soriano was 30 and coming off a 46 home run, 41 stolen base season. Four years later it’s one of the worst contracts in baseball and the Cubs haven’t won a damn thing.
The biggest problem with Wilbon’s argument is the idea that Pujols has been so good and underpaid to this date, he deserves to be overpaid to make up for it. That makes no sense. Think about it terms of investing: Let’s say I buy some shares of stock right now at $35/share and in two years the price goes to $45/share. I then buy exactly the same number of shares again, and two years later the price has dropped to $42/share. If I sell all my shares (which I bought at an average price of $40) I make a profit. That’s the situation the Cardinals, and only the Cardinals are in. They can overpay the crap out of Pujols because they have made so much extra money on him and have underpaid him all this time. The Cubs would be buying him at $45 without the benefit of having half of his career at $35.
The rumored 10 year, $300 million he is after makes no sense for anyone but St. Louis. Pujols is going to be 32 when this contract kicks in. If you look at some recent examples, Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr., Chipper Jones, Manny Ramirez and Derek Jeter. Sure they are all still productive, or were at least a little productive on the other side of 35, but all of them show(ed) decline before 40. Even if Pujols’ contract is front-loaded, he will be one of the highest paid guys in the league at age 40.
I have no issues with buying a championship, but you have to be close enough that Albert Pujols will put you over the top. Some of the rumored teams, Orioles and Nationals, aren’t one big bat away. I would argue the Cubs aren’t either. Assuming they buy out Ramirez, in 2012 they will still have $59 million committed to Zambrano, Soriano, Marmol and Dempster. Again, assuming Pujols’ contract is front loaded, that means that those five guys will account for about $90 million. That would have been more than half the teams in 2010 for just five players. And it’s not exactly like those guys are still lighting it up.
Sure if you spend $300 million and bring the Cubs their first World Series in over 100 years, you will get your money back, but Pujols is just one guy. And the one World Series he won, he had one of the best pitchers in the National League, at the time, on his team, and lucked into a good matchup at the right time. Pujols went 3 for 15 in the World Series, and had little to do with them winning.
Alex Rodriguez is the best comparison. At age 31, he had one of, if not the best seasons of his career. He was OK at age 32, but injuries have started to catch up with him. He still has 7 more years on his deal, meaning it will go through age 41, the same age that Pujols’ 10 year deal would end. Rodriguez’s recent decline must terrify Yankee fans when they consider that he will be around for 7 more years. The difference is that the Yankees got Rodriguez’s 28-31 seasons as well as a World Series title during that time. They also have a payroll $40 million more than anyone else and they don’t have an owner who recently paid a billion dollars for the team and therefore more conscious about having a profitable team.
As good as Pujols is, no team but the Cardinals should even consider the ludicrous 10yr/$300M contract. According to Fangraphs, Pujols has been worth $267 million dollars over the lsat 9 seasons, just from a pure baseball perspective. Certainly jersey and ticket sales have made that number higher. But with that in a mind, that means that a team is banking on him being exactly as valuable over the next 10. And the minor back problems he has had are still out there.
When it’s all said and done I am sure some team will wildly overpay. I personally have my money on the Angels, if he even leaves St. Louis. But I will also bet that if someone else does sign him, won’t win a World Series while he’s on the team.