It's a situation unlike any other baseball has seen. One of the best hitters of all time (maybe 2nd best at his position), will be a free agent at the end of the 2011 season. Not only that, but he will still only be 32 years old and plays first base. With no significant injury history and the track record he has, Mr. Pujols will be looking for a rather pretty penny. This penny, however, isn't just a pretty penny...it's the prettiest penny in the history of baseball. People were stunned when Alex Rodriguez signed an extension for 10 years and 275 million dollars. Albert is looking for 10 years and 300 million dollars. To put that into perspective, 30 million dollars per year is almost as much as Pittsburgh and Kansas City pay their entire teams. Some people may bring forth the argument that there is no way Pujols is worth this kind of money. This is where the stats come into play. I have often heard "there's no way Pujols will play now like he did back in 2004." Well, there really isn't much of a difference between what he did back then and what he's doing now. Let's look at a statistical breakdown:
Career Totals: .330 BA/ .425 OBP/ .622 SLG/ 1.046 OPS/ 171 OPS+
Past 3 seasons: .331 BA/ .439 OBP/ .635 SLG/ 1.074 OPS/ 184 OPS+
Last Year: .312 BA/ .414 OBP/ .596 SLG/ 1.011 OPS/ 173 OPS+
Now yes, there has been a very slight decline in Pujols' overall totals each of the last few years. VERY slight. Pujols saw a 16 point drop in his OPS+ and was still the best offensive player in the game last year. Even if you argue that Pujols is in slight decline, he's still better than everyone else offensively. Now, the next thing brought up will probably be the defensive side. First, I'd like to downplay the importance of 1B defense, but let's look at some of the metrics:
RTOT over past 3 years: 18, 10, -3
UZR over past 3 years: 11.3, 3.1, 1.5
Okay, so Pujols is indeed showing signs of decline defensively, and he's no longer among the elite defenders at his position. If teams make any move to say that he isn't worth 30 million dollars, this would be the one shot they have. Unfortunately for them, the decline is for defense from a first baseman, which shouldn't weigh in nearly as much as the offensive output Pujols is able to bring to the table. Now that we've looked at offense and defense, let's factor in a little bit of Pujols' base running ability:
Stolen Bases/Caught stealing the past 3 years:
So, Pujols is an effective base runner. I would try to look at other metrics, but I'll just throw in my reasoning instead. Consider that Pujols is not the fastest guy in the world. He's listed at 6'3 230 pounds, so he's not exactly The Flash. However, Pujols is great at reading pitchers and timing when he should go. That's why he's stolen bases at a 77.1% clip the past 3 years and at a 69% clip in his career. Pujols may be getting older and losing the speed and range he once had, but I think it's obvious that he's getting smarter. His walk totals have been going up and he's stealing bases at a better rate. Now that we've seen this, let's see how everything breaks down in terms of overall value. The easiest way to look at this is to use WAR (you can also look at the numbers above and judge for yourself). Fangraphs and B-Ref use different WAR calculations, so I'll post the past 3 years from each site:
B-Ref WAR: 9.6, 9.2, 7.1
Fangraphs WAR: 9.3, 8.7, 7.3
The reason WAR is nice to look at is that it makes comparing players to their peers in terms of whether or not they deserve a certain amount of money much easier. For example, let's compare WAR totals and dollar figures for Alex Rodriguez over his past 3 seasons. His contract is the one everyone is going to compare Pujols' situation to, so it is interesting to look at (we'll look at a more reasonable contract later):
2008: $28 million/ 5.4 (6.0) WAR
2009: $33 million/ 3.9 (4.5) WAR
2010: $33 million/ 3.2 (3.9) WAR
Using these numbers, I will average out the WAR numbers for each year and come up with a dollar per WAR ratio for Rodriguez. The dollar/WAR ratios for each season play out as follows:
2008: 4.91 million per WAR unit
2009: 7.86 million per WAR unit
2010: 9.30 million per WAR unit
If we applied these figures to what Pujols has been doing in terms of WAR, he would be worth well north of 30 million dollars. Pujols could decline significantly and still be worth 30 million by the metric the A-Rod contract has established. Let's look at a more respectable contract, like that of Adam Dunn! Dunn is no longer playing defense, so we are only looking at offensive WAR this time, because that's what the White Sox wold have based the contract off of. Dunn recently signed a deal that pays him 14 million a year. Dunn's average offensive WAR each of the past three years has been:
This would set up a dollar/WAR unit ratio of 3.65 million dollars per WAR unit, which is much closer to what the recent market has mandated. For the sake of argument, we'll use this ratio in seeing how much Pujols could be worth. The following are Pujols' contract totals if the dollar/WAR ratio from Dunn's contract is applied to Pujols's past 3 average WAR years:
2008: $34.5 million
2009: $32.7 million
2010: $26.3 million
The dollar/WAR figures in the market have recently been around what they were for Dunn. In some cases, players are getting more money per WAR unit, and some players are making less. For a player as legendary and effective as Pujols, it's reasonable for a team to overpay him to lock him up, as I'm sure the battle in free agency among teams will drive up the asking price. In my opinion, this post has completely justified Pujols getting a record breaking dollar figure. The only debate now is how many years Pujols will get, which is likely where the Cardinals became wary in contract negotiations. With market inflation and a slight decline, it could be reasonable to see the dollar/WAR figure approach 4.5 and if Pujols keeps his WAR above 6, the contract would still definitely be justifiable. The rest is up to you. The figures are here, the records are available, and Pujols needs a contract. What would you give him? Well, here are some teams that might be in the playing market for Albert's services.
1. St. Louis Cardinals- The home town team is the obvious favorite. They have exclusive negotiating rights with Pujols until free agency starts a week after the World Series. Over the terms of Pujols' contract, market inflation has made it look like the Cardinals have seriously underpaid Pujols during his time in St. Louis (as an MVP and World Series winner). The Cardinals have recently locked up Matt Holliday, but they are going to need to give up a lot more money for Pujols, which puts them in a financial bind. With Wainwright's recent injury, he may not be demanding the contract he once could have had, so maybe the Cardinals now have more room to negotiate with Pujols. After all, he may take a home town discount (again) to stay in a place he supposedly love.
2. Chicago Cubs- Every fight has a number one contender for being the favorite. In this case, it may just be the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs have 10 million dollars coming off the books from Carlos Pena, 8 from dumping Carlos Silva, double-digits coming off the books from Fukudome, and possibly another 16 million if they drop Aramis Ramirez' option along with another 13 million if they decide not to bring back Ryan Dempster. In total, that's roughly 50 million dollars coming off the books, and first base is going to be open for business. Wrigley Field is a familiar place for Pujols, and he would be able to stay in the field and face the same competition he's been facing for his entire career. This would certainly be the ultimate free agent decision (sorry LeBron, this Decision would make yours look insignificant).
3. Texas Rangers- With a new TV contract signed, a big need for a first baseman, and a very hitter-friendly park, the Rangers have appeared as the third option for Pujols. Pujols would be facing newer competition, but the lineup he would be involved in down in Arlington would be historic. A 3-4-5 of Pujols, Hamilton, Cruz would easily be the best in baseball, and the Rangers would be very hard to beat. If Pujols chose Texas, he would help them be the team to contend with Boston and New York financially.
Honorable Mentions: New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. These teams have all given up MAJOR dollar totals in improving their rosters. The Angels took on the albatross contract of Vernon Wells, the Red Sox gave Crawford 20 million dollars and still have to sign Adrian Gonzalez (their new first baseman), and the Yankees will likely be looking for pitching after missing out on Cliff Lee.