Trust me, there will be many, many blogs, articles, and sports segments dedicated solely to the pending free agency of one Jose Alberto Pujols. Rather than wait for the World Series to end to begin speculating, I want to begin the conversation right now. It’s not that the playoffs aren’t worth watching, it’s just that the future of the Cardinals is just of greater concern to me as a fan. Not that they care to listen, but I think that the Cardinals front office might be surprised to hear what the members of Cardinal Nation think about some of the numbers being tossed about. Actually, they should care. I buy tickets to games, and I pay for overpriced merchandise from the cramped team stores which need to be redesigned to reduce congestion. (I’m not bitter at all about standing in line for 20 minutes to buy a freakin’ jersey, either.)
Rather than focus on the duration of the contract, I think it’s better to simplify and focus on the average annual dollar value of the contract. To make it even easier, we’ll ignore the concept of “present value” versus “future value”, because we’re not comparing total value for two different contracts or calculating cash flow. NOTE: I like ignoring complicated concepts that require definitions, references, and math. Let’s consider 5 commonly discussed scenarios along with some current contracts for the sake of comparison:
- $20m/yr – closest Miguel Cabrera(1B) - (8yr/$152.3m – 2008-2015)
- $22.5m/yr – Mark Teixeira(1B/DH) – (8yr/$180m – 2009-2016)
- $25m/yr – Ryan Howard(1B) – (5yr/$125m – 2012-2016)
- $27.5m/yr – Alex Rodriguez (3B) – (10yr/$275m – 2008-2017, plus 30m in mktg bonuses)
- $30m/yr – ?
As a fan, I want to see Albert Pujols finish his career wearing the “Birds on the Bat”, and I’m fine with paying him whatever he asks. Realistically, the Cardinals probably can’t afford $30m/yr. Actually, $27.5m/yr is probably pushing it to a great extent. At $25m/yr, the team probably won’t have much payroll flexibility until 2013 (when Carp and Lohse are probably no longer on the payroll). Anything below that point, and Pujols is basically giving the organization a discount that acknowledges both the market size and revenue limitations. He may seem like a wonderful guy and all-around super human being, but he hasn’t tipped his hand about any such discount to this point. Truthfully, it’s really not fair to ask anyone to give one, either. With equal fervor, I’d argue that it’s completely within reason to bring the vitriol when a player bails on your favorite team for a bigger payday.
If I were John Mozeliak, I’d hope that Albert’s agent approaches the team with an offer. Barring that, this would be my opening offer: 6yrs/$150m (guaranteed), 1 yr/$27.5m (player option), 1 yr/$27.5m (mutual option/performance triggered option/$10m buyout). That’s potentially 8yrs/$205m. Any counteroffer that pushes the extension above $27.5m/yr would require some amount of deferred money. If that $30m becomes the target point, then I’d be willing to say goodbye to an icon. Paying more than 25% of the team’s payroll to a single player seems to violate the spirit of the idiom “don’t put all your eggs in one basket”. Since I have doubts about mixing an 800 lb gorilla and a basket of eggs, I think it better to avoid the situation altogether. I like to think of this extension as a really big speeding ticket. Just keep throwing money at it, until it goes away. Dear Mo, pay the man.
If you were running the Cardinals, what would you be willing to pay Pujols?