The Pujols Contract

Earlier this week, Cardinals owner Bill Dewitt told Jon Paul Morosi that he was “hopeful” that his team would be able to come to terms on a contract extension with Albert Pujols, who is scheduled to become The Free Agent To End All Free Agents next winter. The obvious question that looms over everything is just what kind of contract is fair for one of the best hitters to ever live.

It is easy to forget just how great Pujols is, but to put it in perspective, he’s on an entirely different plane than the rest of the league. For instance, the Red Sox gave up a significant chunk of their farm system for the right to pay Adrian Gonzalez about $150 million dollars (whenever that deal becomes official, anyway), and yet, Gonzalez’s best year is only marginally better than Pujols’ worst year. I think this graph kind of tells the story.

Gonzalez and Mark Teixeira are both elite players, and are being paid accordingly. Stack them up next to Pujols, though, and they look like scrubs. He dwarfs even the best active first baseman, and his only true peers now reside in Cooperstown. What’s fair market value for a player with these skills?

Let’s start with the working assumption that wins are currently being priced at about $5 million apiece this winter. For his career, Pujols has averaged +7.1 WAR per 600 PA, and that actually understates his value, because his career low in a season is 634 plate appearances. He’s been both amazingly valuable and remarkably durable. Still, headed into his age 31 season, we have to assume that he can’t sustain this level of greatness forever, and that his body will start to make him take some days off eventually. Let’s project him as a +7 win player for 2011, just to play it safe. You could argue for a bit higher number, but this will at least give us a baseline.

If we use the standard half-win-decrease-per-year aging curve, our ten year projection for Pujols would have him producing +47.5 wins between now and 2020. But he’s already under contract for 2011, so we should remove that from the equation, and just focus on 2012 and beyond. A deal that took him through 2021 would produce an expected +42.5 WAR, and if we assume a steady rate of 5% salary inflation, the value of those wins would be $267 million.

If 10/267 sounds remarkably close to what Alex Rodriguez got, then it is. They’re pretty similar players through this stage of their career. Pujols is a bit better hitter – his career wRC+ of 173 bests Rodriguez’s 153 mark through 2007, the year he opted out and signed his 10 year extension – but Rodriguez offered the potential of being able to play a tougher defensive position. When someone holds up Rodriguez’s deal as an example of the type of contract that Pujols should receive, they’re not grasping at straws; the numbers support a fair market value in that neighborhood.

Even if Pujols gives the Cardinals a 10 percent hometown discount, we’re still looking at his value being in the neighborhood of $240 million or so. If he wants his talents to be reflected in his next contract, the Cardinals are going to have to get somewhere near that number in order to give him separation from the likes of Teixeira and Joe Mauer, who each received $180 million deals and simply aren’t as good as he is.

The good news for the Cardinals is that, barring a catastrophic injury, he’ll probably be worth the money. There’s likely going to be some sticker shock, but he’s the kind of player you go all out for. Even if it costs $250 million to keep him, he deserves it. He’s that good.



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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.



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Joe R
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The Cardinals, FWIW, don’t have to do this deal immediately in my opinion.

The Angels and Mets might be able to make a run at Albert in the 2011-12 offseason, but other than that, the Yankees/Red Sox/Phillies (lol) already have their 1st baseman.

The Cubs might go after him, too, but I can’t imagine the Cardinals would ever let that happen.

patrick
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patrick

If Pujols gets to FA, the Cards dont have an option to ‘not let that happen’ with regards to the Cubs

10 years $306 million with the Angels.

notsellingjeans
Guest
notsellingjeans

Arte Moreno flinched at $125M for Crawford and was outbid by $17M.

Now you are predicting that he will open up his wallet for a $306M contract next offseason.

Telo
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Telo

Cards sign him before spring training@ 9y/234mil

Fred
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Fred

9/233.9 sir, get it right

baty
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baty

Hasn’t Albert’s right arm been “half dead” the last few years? Or can he finally straighten it out? (haha) It seems that he’s been able to push through several nagging injuries, but when might that change?

Giving a 31 year old a 9-10 year deal of that magnitude, even with his amazing capability, seems beyond risky.

Guy
Guest
Guy

@baty: you don’t expect him to be earning the 30 mil in the final years of his contract, but you take that risk because he is a great building block for a championship caliber team and will likely give you a legit shot for at least 5 years. yankees shouldn’t want to take a-rod’s contract back for that reason.

baty
Guest
baty

If the Cardinals can extend him at a discount, then fine… But if he hits the open market, the Yankees have the power to drive his price into crazy territory.

The Yankees and ARod are a pretty simple example to use. They’ll always be the organization where overpaid old timers can go to fizzle away without too much concern, as long as they temporarily solve a piece to the playoff puzzle. They can take the backend issues of those deals without regret. If Albert hits the open market, I start to wonder about potential parallels to the Texas/ARod weirdness.

I’m all for taking the bad with the good, but with a player as nostalgic as Pujols, I’m curious if the situation can get to the point where the bad might outweigh the good.

Colin
Guest
Colin

I think the Nats should be added to the list of possible teams.

They signed Werth to a huge deal, offered Teixeira more than the Yankees, and reportedly, offered Greinke a boatload of money in trade, before he used his non-trade clause. They’re willing to spend money on premier players.

They have a stop-gap first basemen currently (LaRoche) and no Mike Rizzo type 1b in the system (good offense and defense).

And with their current low payroll, they’d still be below $100M if they signed him. His contract wouldn’t hamstring the team from making other deals (as it will the Cards). (This of course, neglects a Ryan Zimmerman extension).

Not that I think it will happen, I just think they should be on the list.

Ben
Guest
Ben

Very much agree. If you told me now that Pujols ends up with a $300 million contract, I would assume it’s the Nats who gave it to him. They’ve been actively after the top free agents for a couple years now, and they have shown they are willing to pay above market price to get them.

Still think he sticks with the Cards, but the Nats should absolutely be included in a list of potential suitors.

Dave M
Guest
Dave M

One of the big-spending teams is likely going to have Prince Fielder signed to a big contract by then, and won’t be willing to pay $20+ million for a DH and $30+ million for a 1B, even though that pair of bats would be some combination of epic and legendary.

patrick
Guest
patrick

why is fielder going to be signed before pujols? why would a team sign him which would stop them from signing pujols?…they’re FA the same year.

Guy
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Guy

Fielder will NOT sign before Pujols if they both make it to free agency.

baty
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baty

I think Fielder is going to be a really tough sign. Considering his age, semi-sporadic production (especially against lefties), physical build, and defensive inability… I’m not sure what to think of him.

Dan Miller
Guest
Dan Miller

You think that because the Yankees are paying Texeira all that money to play first base they won’t make a run at Pujols??? As long as the AL still has a DH, the Yankees will be in the running. Also, St. Louis thinking they’re going to sign Pujols without him testing the market is wishful thinking. Pujols is going to get millions of dollars more per year by going on the market. There’s no way he’s going to sign anything until he hears all the offers. Even if he really wants to finish his career in St. Louis (which is up for debate), he’ll still wait for the free agent frenzy to drive his price even higher. Personally, I think he’ll switch teams. Just about everybody is going to make some kind of offer, but the Angels in particular are going to have money after striking out on everybody this winter, and anybody that thinks the Yankees are out of this bidding war because they already have a high priced forst baseman is crazy. I don’t think St. Louis is going to be able to match the offers he gets. Hometown discount? I’ll believe it when I see it. They all say they want to stay where they are, but then they all end up chasing the dollars.

Joe R
Guest

Even the Yankees have to have a limit to how much they’ll spend. They’ll have around $145 million tied up on 8 players (and they haven’t even re-signed Cano yet, who has to be priority #1 given the roster construction). Sure they might play, but I really cannot imagine they’ll outbid.

If he does go to NYY, it’s the pinstripe discount.

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