The UCB Roundtable on Albert Pujols: El Hombre, El Extension?

by on October 21, 2008 · 11 comments

So today is my turn in the esteemed United Cardinal Bloggers’ Roundtable discussions taking place this month of October.  I’ve had a great time going back and forth with this red bleeding bunch, no matter agreeing or disagreeing.  While most of the Cardinal fandom is focused on who the Redbirds can add this off-season, I wanted to know what the group thought of keeping (and taking care of) the current face of the Cardinals, Albert Pujols.

Albert Pujols is due to receive $16m for 2009 and another $16m for 2010.  2011 is a club option for $16m.  If you’re John Mozeliak, when do you start renegotiating El Hombre’s contract?  Albert’s never really seemed one to be greedy, but his current contract is clearly beginning to lag behind some arguably inferior hitters.  How much would you be willing to pay annually for his next deal, knowing that the Cards’ ownership seems stuck around the $100m payroll mark?

Most of the answers were not terribly surprising in general terms.  There was a good variety, however, of opinions on when and how much.

Don Daniel – The Redbird Blog

Albert is one of those unique players who means a lot more to a franchise than simply his statistics.  He has been, and will be, the face of the St. Louis Cardinals for an entire generation of Cardinal fans.  So, that being said, I believe the Cardinals’ front office has to do everything they can to ensure that Pujols is a Cardinal for his entire career.

First off, I’m assuming the Cardinals have every intention of exercising the 2011 club option.  So if I were John Mozeliak, I would seek authority from ownership to approach Albert after the 2009 season (or early in the 2010 season) regarding a contract extension. I would not wait until Albert reaches the final year of his deal.  I think approaching Albert early accomplishes two things:  (1) shows loyalty to the player on the part of ownership, and (2) allows the team to budget for its future (i.e., “cost certainty”).  I think, as part of that negotiation, the team should expect to perhaps offer a “raise” for the final two years of Albert’s current deal (even if the money is deferred).

In terms of dollars offered for Albert’s next contract, I think you’d have to use A-Rod as a guidepost.  It’s a crapload of money to be sure, but Albert will be in his early 30s when his current contract expires.  I’d expect he’d want at least a 7-8 year deal (maybe $150-$165M)?  One would hope he’d be willing to offer somce concessions to the Redbirds in order to allow them to remain competitive (e.g., backloading of the contract, deferring money over a 20-year period, etc.).

Scott Deaner – Cardinal Nation Globe

You’re right, Albert has never really seemed one to be greedy, however, he needs to be paid like one of the best hitters in the game and a franchise player. I say, pay him whatever will keep him in St. Louis for the rest of his (productive) career. Also, his personality and work ethic should not be overlooked – he is the epitome of a player to build a team around. I say give him a 7-8 year contract in the mid-$20 million range. Ownership might just have to get over the $100 million mark.

Mike Metzger – Stan Musial’s Stance

I have been a vocal fiscal responsibility voice (“$36 million for Fuentes?!  Are you crazy!?!) in these threads, but in AP’s case, I agree with Deaner.  Pay the man.  Future first-ballot Hall of Famers should play their entire careers for one team.

However, I’m not sure when the appropriate time is to start negotiating his next contract.  I wouldn’t start now; I’b probably wait until the next off-season to initiate discussions, and try to get something done in earnest after they pick up his 2011 option.

Haedar Abuirqeba – Redbird Ramblings

If I could, I’d give AP a blank check and blank number of years and let him fill it out as he wishes because I trust his judgement; he is el hombre after all. that, however, is not very realistic. you gotta have enough money left over to put a decent team on the field day in and day out.

so, I would let things play out for the next two seasons (09 and 10). then, I would start negotiating with AP on an extension late in the ’10 season or that offseason. if nothing gets done, you pick up the option and negotiate during that final year until you reach a deal. with albert, nothing really concerns me except that elbow. in 2010, he will be 30 years old (only!). so, I would say the cards can give him a six to seven year deal to keep him in a cards uniform for the rest of his career.

now, how much cash are they gonna be dishing out? one has to think that it will be at least 20 million a year; probably around 25 million. if anyone in baseball is worth that money, albert is (when healthy of course).

Daniel Shoptaw – C70 At The Bat

Of course, the longer you wait, the higher the market goes, and inferior hitters start pushing up the prices of the stars.

I’d start now, honestly.  It’s not like Carpenter, where if he does have surgery the whole extension bit is considered a dismal failure.  Even if AP missed all of ’09, does anyone think management wouldn’t want to extend him anyway?  He is easily the face of the franchise and some days the only thing that keeps many in the fanbase from storming the gates.

How much?  I agree, I don’t think you have to set contract records with AP.  An average of $22-$25 million, though, would probably be reasonable.  He’d still be a bargain.

Scott Deaner – Cardinal Nation Globe (in response to Haedar)

I enjoyed reading your comment about the blank check and trusting Albert’s judgement. I read a biography of Honus Wagner a few years back and apparently the Pirates used to do that with him. Wagner would never ask for a raise, he always wanted, “same as last year.” Honus, like Albert, was a good, honorable man. FYI – That’s why Honus Wagner’s baseball card is so rare and valueable. The card was given out with tobacco products and Wagner didn’t want his name/picture associated with that because he knew that kids looked up to him, so he asked for them to be destroyed. I could see Albert doing something similar.

Mike West – Mike on the Cards

Albert is one of those rarest of rare baseball players.  One that puts up ridiculous numbers year in and year out, but is always striving to get better.  He’s a leader, both on and off the field, making everyone around him better in the process.  Alberts don’t grow on trees, so we should be thankful we get to see him play everyday.

So, I do think it’s very important to keep him around for the rest of his career, and for whatever kind of money it takes.  I’d guess close to $25 million a year, average.  I don’t, however, think it’s necessary to start extension talks with him anytime soon.  I’d say get a deal done before the start of the 2011 season.  I would hope that by then the Cards will have a few more minimum salary guys making major contributions to the club.

John Shelton – The Cardinal Virtue

Pujols = Legend. It is more fiscally responsible to pay him premium. The thing is: Albert is smart too. He knows that moving to another franchise does not help your status. It’s worth several million to stay where you are and be worshipped. I also think he is also aware that the no doubt Hall of Famers–the legends–tend to have spent almost all their career with one team. The team is also aware of the revenue of having a legend play for only them. There are two trains of thought regarding when to renegotiate. If you do it now, you avoid the general inflation and you show that you are appreciative of his top level talent and want to show him that you are willing to pay him accordingly. However, since he is having surgery, you could say that next year is the time to do that so that you can see how that all pans out. Personally, I believe he is more than worth the risk. In summary: It is fiscally MORE RESPONSIBLE to make him one of the highest paid players NOW than to mess around and low-ball.

Eric Ferguson – Bert Flex

I’m not going to get into specific dollars/years, but I agree with the general sentiment that you don’t let him hit the market. Do it quietly in the next 18 months — ideally, we won’t even know about the negotiations until they are already complete.

See you all in Cooperstown for the Albert induction.

Matthew Philip – Fungoes

I’m sure Albert appreciates all the love expressed in your sentiments so far, so I hope I don’t bring everyone down with a little dissent. Albert just finished his age-28 season; he’ll be 29 when the season starts. As amazing as his 2008 campaign was, it probably won’t get any better than that. Remember Bill James’s warning: “Ballplayers, as a group, reach their peak value much earlier and decline much more rapidly than people believe.” True, Albert is an individual and not a group, but he is still mortal and subject to the same laws as everyone else. So here’s what the Cardinals have at minimum: Albert signed at below-market cost for the next three years. He will have played his age-29 -30 and -31 seasons. One thing that I don’t think I’ve seen anyone address is how long an extension should be. One year? Five? At that point, the Cardinals will be dealing with Albert at age 32 onward. That’s not usually a good time to invest (it’s called “buying high”). On one hand, if anyone seems capable of still producing at high levels late in his career, it’s Pujols. On the other, it’s interesting how quickly we forget our lessons of history, namely of Chris Carpenter (extended for his age-34-37 seasons), Mark Mulder and Jim Edmonds (and, though it wasn’t an extension, Scott Rolen). The guy still has three years on his existing deal; I know that the Cardinals have lately tried to leverage their position with players under contract, but let’s let the guy play another year or two before we throw more guaranteed money his way. I’m not arguing that the team shouldn’t try to tack on three more years to Pujols’s present contract, but I don’t think that the Giants-Bonds model (losing team, one aging superstar) is what we want.

Tom Knuppel – Cardinals GM

Albert can and should write his own contract. I know that the money spent can be spread out over many players but none as special as  Pujols. I would give him $25 million a year for another 7-10 years.

Goodness that’s a lot to digest!  Some excellent points, most talking about Albert’s long-term value as a ‘Cardinal Legend’.

My take

While Pip tries to throw water on the fire, I’m going to agree with everyone else that you give this man many years, and you give him many dollars.

In a free agent class that will get Mark Teixeira at least a five year deal that will approach $200mm dollars total, imagine what Pujols would fetch.  Believe it or not, Mang and Tex are the same age, 28.  Anyone think Teixeira is the better player?  The better hitter?  The better fielder?  A better team leader?  Didn’t think so.

I believe that you give Pujols 2009 to see if this recent procedure on his elbow helped matters any.  If it didn’t, he still puts up another MVP-type season.  If it did, who knows what he could do?  Obviously the prospects of putting another fearsome hitter behind Albert in the lineup are slim, but if Ryan Ludwick and Rick Ankiel and even muster cheap impressions of their 2008 seasons, Pujols should be no worse for wear in the protection department.

After the 2009 season, you quietly (I liked the suggestion above to get the deal done with no attention, then quietly announce it) re-up with Pujols, say – six years, $130-150mm.  We could only assume Albert will take it, while likely deferring most of it (as in his previous contract), and finishing his career as a Cardinal.  He is a major buyer of ‘The Cardinal Way’.

Concerned about early decline?  Pujols is a relentless worker, always trying to improve.  It is my opinion that he will last long into his thirties.  Still not convinced?  Structure his deal like the late years with Ozzie Smith.  Basically a lifetime deal, renegotiated year-in and year-out, ultimately ending with a personal services contract that will allow the club to gain some benefit from their paid-out cash on the back end of the deal.

Bottom line, I don’t think you can lose inking this guy to another long-term deal, and the sooner the more reasonable per year cost, I think.  The Cardinals are obviously looking to become more self-sufficient, perhaps even with an eye on what it is going to cost them to retain Pujols for the remainder of his career.  So why not try to cost-control that as soon as possible?

Thanks for reading folks!  Check out all the other great blogs in the United Cardinal Bloggers’ Roundtable, and stay tuned here for links to the rest of the questions and discussions!

UPDATE: Added another response from Tom over at Cardinals GM!

Writing about the Cardinals and other loosely associated topics since 2008, I've grown tired of the April run-out only to disappoint Cardinal fans everywhere by mid-May. I do not believe in surrendering free outs.
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PHE October 23, 2008
Josh October 23, 2008

I would walk into the meeting AP and literally say, “whatever you want, buddy.” Besides his numbers, his character in the clubhouse and in the community, think of the records he could break over that time period? All those things make STL an attractive location for other players to give discounts to come to STL and play with him.

PHE October 23, 2008

Absolutely agreed Josh.

While I don’t think he’s going to just play for peanuts and take a ridiculously below-market contract, I do think that Pujols has a ‘greater plan’ in mind.

He hasn’t complained about his current, arguably below-market, contract at all. He signed that deal with little to no fanfare or disagreement with the club’s intentions (that I know of anyway).

I really believe the Cards will wind up extending him, probably cheaper than he would command in an open-market situation – and I expect there to be lots of long-term plans involved, a la the ‘lifetime contract’ and personal services deal that the Birds had with Ozzie in the later years of his contract.

It really is in the best interest of both parties. The Cards get another icon that will one day have his likeness cast outside the stadium. Pujols plays his entire record-breaking career with the Cardinals, and is a consensus first-ballot HOFer.

StLCards October 25, 2008

Paying a single player insane amounts of money is insane unless you are the Yankees. The only way the Cards will be able to resign him is to do it well before he is in a contract year, because once the Dodgers, Yankees, Cubs, RedSox start getting involved you can forget it. I think right now that the Cardinals will be paying on Alberts contract for at least 10years after this one expires. Might as well sign him to a lifetime contract now. Actually letting him write his own contract might not be a bad idea, as long as the Cards could refuse it.

Do you really want to be paying a 37 year old Pujols $30M? We should because of what he’s done for St. Louis baseball, but if he is resigned and some ridiculous price, then the club will be severly hampered and at that point we better have a darn good farm system.

PHE October 27, 2008

Insane money in St Louis will likely always mean deferred money. I wouldn’t be shocked to find out that they were still paying McGwire this year.

As long as the accountants in Ballpark Village (oops, nevermind) can continue to find ways to get these guys to agree to big-dollar deals that get stretched out as long as possible, the more power to them.

Pujols should, and I believe will, write his own destiny in St Louis going forward. If ever there was a proper embodiment of ‘The Cardinal Way,’ the way Pujols operates would be it, as would rewarding him for his contributions to the franchise in all facets.

As for the amount in his waning years? All the more reason not to go all nuts trying to trade half the recently rebuilt farm for Peavy.

EM January 24, 2011

When do you start negotiating? How bout waiting until 3 years from now?!

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