The Battle of the 240-Million-Dollar Men

Albert Pujols and Robinson Cano have a lot in common. They both play in the AL West. They both will one day have a plaque in Cooperstown. They’ve both played on World Series-winning teams. And they both signed 10-year, $240-million mega-contracts with their current teams.

In my office, we had a short debate about which player has come closer to justifying the cost of their deal, and it wasn’t hard to sell even the most ardent defenders of home runs and RBI that the answer was Robinson Cano. Still, one co-worker encouraged me to do a year-by-year comparison of these two players. Mostly to see just how badly Cano has outclassed Pujols since signing said mega-deals. Still, I was quite surprised at just how stark the difference has been.

So let us embark, then, on to the battle of $240-million men! For the players’ dollar-value figure, I’m using FanGraphs valuations. We’ll start off by comparing Pujols’ first four years with the Angels to Robbie’s first four with the Mariners.

Pujols year 1: .285 AVG/.343 OBP/.516 SLG, 133 wRC+, 30 HR, 3.6 WAR, $23.4m
Cano year 1: .314 AVG/.382 OBP/.454 SLG, 137 wRC+ 14 HR, 5.2 WAR, $39.3m

Pujols year 2: .258/.330/.437, 112 wRC+, 17 HR, 0.6 WAR, $4.1m
Cano year 2: .287/.334/.446, 116 wRC+ 21 HR, 2.1 WAR, $16.7m

Pujols year 3: .272/.324/.466, 123 wRC+, 28 HR, 2.8 WAR, $21.4m
Cano year 3: .298/.350/.533, 137 wRC+ 39 HR, 5.9 WAR, $47.5m

Pujols year 4: .244/.307/.480, 114 wRC+, 40 HR, 1.8 WAR, $14.7m
Cano year 4: .282/.341/.455, 113 wRC+ 22 HR, 3.3 WAR, $26.0m

Of course, Pujols came to the division two years before Cano. With just a few days left in the season, each player’s 2017 numbers are unlikely to change much — their total season numbers will be pretty close to where they are today on September 26th.

Pujols 2014: .272/.324/.466, 123 wRC+, 28 HR, 2.8 WAR, $21.2m
Cano 2014: .314/.382/.454, 137 wRC+ 14 HR, 5.2 WAR, $39.3m

Pujols 2015: .244/.307/.480, 114 wRC+, 40 HR, 1.8 WAR, $14.7m
Cano 2015: .287/.334/.446, 116 wRC+ 21 HR, 2.1 WAR, $16.7m

Pujols 2016: .268/.323/.457, 110 wRC+, 31 HR, 0.8 WAR $6.3m
Cano 2016: .298/.350/.533, 137 wRC+ 39 HR, 5.9 WAR, $47.5m

Pujols 2017: .240/.287/.388, 79 wRC+ 23 HR, -1.8 WAR, $-14.3m
Cano 2017: .282/.341/.455, 113 wRC+ 22 HR, 3.3 WAR, $26.0m

Basically, Cano has won in almost every category except for home runs every single year. Even without doing the math (which I’m going to do in a second, don’t worry), it’s pretty obvious that no matter which way you compare these contacts, Cano’s looks better.

However, even though both players are making $240 million over 10 years, they’re making it differently. I wondered if that might tip the scales a little more in Pujols’ favor. Cot’s Contracts shows Cano making exactly $24 million annually, while Pujols has a backloaded deal. According to Cot’s, after this season Pujols is owed $114 million over four seasons ($28.5m per season). At $24 million a pop over six seasons, Cano is still owed $144 million.

Using these numbers, I compared their total value since signing with their new teams against how much they’ve actually been paid:

Pujols: $55.6m (actually paid $126m, -$73.6m in surplus value)
Cano: $129.5m (actually paid $96m, $33.5m in surplus value)

Since we’re comparing two guys who are currently division rivals, it’s also fun to look at their value compared to their pay just since Cano signed with the Mariners:

Pujols: $28.1m (actually paid $98m, -$69.9 in surplus value)
Cano: $129.5m (actually paid $96m, $33.5m in surplus value)

So pretty much any way you slice it, Cano has totally dominated Pujols in the battle of 10-year, $240-million men. For the most part, even, Cano has been better even if you limit your criteria to just offensive production. The fact he plays second base while Pujols has spent about half of that contract DHing is just gravy for the Mariners, even if Cano is just average or a little worse than that at second now.

The Angels do have one advantage, though: Pujols has four years left on his deal after this season, and Cano has six. Cano would probably still be lucky to break even on the $240 million he’s actually being paid, considering his second-half slump and his age (he will be 35 in 2018). Still, largely because he had a huge head start, Cano could end up actually earning the total value of his contract.

It’s probably likely that Cano will have some negative-value seasons in his future, though. If he’s moved off of second base, his bat becomes less valuable; if he doesn’t, his defense may erode much of his offensive value at second base. But by then, he will have likely come close to putting up $240 million in value. It would take a miracle for Pujols to end up being worth even half of his contract.

Whenever a team signs a player to that big of a deal, they know they’re likely going to suffer at the end of it — most people assumed the instant they were signed that both of these contracts would look bad at the end. Unfortunately for the Angels, Pujols’ has looked pretty bad from the beginning. Cano, on the other hand, has given the Mariners perhaps even a little more than what they expected at the time.

So, the Mariners finally won something! They won the battle of $240-million men! Now, if only that translated to winning games…



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