Yes, I’ve just “coined” a new term, and it’s named the “Pujols Coin”. Like most coins, it has both a “heads” and a “tails” side, and I’m using it to represent the two sides of the debate over whether or not the Cardinals should sign Albert Pujols to a contract extension. There are probably dozens of well-written articles on the internet already covering this topic ad nauseum, and this isn’t one of them. Instead, I’m playing the role of devil’s advocate to a certain extent (and likely enjoying it).
By some unwritten law, the “heads” side must begin with the obligatory invocation of all known statistical information relevant to one Jose Alberto Pujols. To wit: Albert has a lifetime average of .331, an obp of .426, a slugging % of .624, and an ops of 1.050. He’s also hit 408 homers, 426 doubles, and compiled 1230rbi, 914 walks, and struck out only 646 times. He’s scored 1186 runs and been intentionally walked 236 times. He won a Rookie of the Year award, 3 MVP awards, 6 Silver Slugger awards (at 3 different positions – 3B, OF, 1B), 2 Gold Gloves, and made 9 All-Star teams. He has a total WAR value of 83.8 which is equivalent to averaging an MVP-caliber year every season for his career. The Cardinals have made the playoffs in 6 of his 10 seasons, and in 12 playoff series, he’s batted .322with an obp of .431 a slugging % of .578 and ops of 1.009. He has 13 homers, 36rbi, and 39 runs scored in 56 playoff games. Over the past 10 years, he’s arguably been the best player in baseball. Analysis: Pay the man, and keep him in St. Louis until he retires.
Of course, the folks on the “tails” side might say “that was then, and this is now”. His next contract is not for past accomplishments. Albert will purportedly be 31 prior to the 2011 season, and Jayson Werth (about 8 mos older) just set a rather unfortunate precedent. Werth just signed a deal with the Nationals that will pay him $18M/yr for the next 7 years. More importantly, it pays him through his age 38 season, so the logic goes that the Cardinals can commit to an icon like AP through his age 38 or 39 season as well. Hogwash. Fiddlesticks. Phooey! Try going to baseball-reference.com and looking up the player page for Albert Pujols. Scroll down until you reach the “Similar Batters through 30” section. There are 10 players listed there – 7 are enshrined in Cooperstown, and I’d say that Griffey Jr. will get there. The list includes Jimmy Foxx, Frank Robinson, Ken Griffey, Lou Gehrig, Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle, Mel Ott, Juan Gonzalez, Eddie Mathews, and Manny Ramirez. I invite you to click each of those player’s names and check out their individual player pages. Look at their stats from their age 32 seasons onward. Would you be willing to pay AP $25M+/yr to put up the kind of numbers that any of those guys did in those seasons? Now, their pasts have no bearing on Albert’s future, but it’s rather telling that even some of the best of the best declined so dramatically after age 31. Analysis: Don’t bet the next 7-8years on one player, even if that one player is Pujols.
Naturally, the “Pujols Coin” has a third side just like a regular coin, and this “side” is known as the “edge”. (FYI – According to NASA Astrophysicists, the probability of an American nickel landing on its edge is about 1/6000.) From what I gather quite unscientifically, the number of people constituting this “edge” group totals about….1. Yep, you guessed it. It’s me. It’s the devil’s advocate, and I’m just throwing a few things out there for consideration. The first is team payroll. AP, Carpenter, Holliday, and Lohse consume $59.875M of the 2011 payroll. That’s over half of the opening day payroll for just 4 players. If an extension goes north of $25M/yr for Albert, that same group of 4 could cost the team as much as $68.875M in 2012. I may be wrong, but that sounds like the exact opposite of the “Moneyball” philosophy. I’m not saying that it won’t work or can’t work, but it does put an awfully high premium on finding cheap talent to fill in the gaps. That’s not exactly a skill the front office has proven itself a master of in recent years.
Also, having AP on a team doesn’t guarantee playoff success, and it especially doesn’t guarantee World Series success. His WS numbers are actually quite ordinary compared to what he’s done to get his team there. In 6 NLDS series, he has a batting line of .299/.419/.519, and he’s stepped up in 4 NLCS series to a line of .359/.444/.663. In 2 WS appearances, he’s managed just .267/.421/.467. It’s definitely fair to partially attribute the dropoff to better pitching and a certain amount of pitchers avoiding him, but he was limited to only1 hr and 2rbi in 38 WS plate appearances.
IF the Cardinals sign AP to a mega-deal, will they be able to field a team with enough depth to survive a season in which Pujols happens to have any kind of nagging injury? After all, he’s averaged almost 156 games a season (not including playoffs) since entering the big leagues, and he doesn’t have the option of an easy day via the DH. Look at what some of the playoff teams weathered in 2010. The Twins lost Justin Morneau for half the season (81 games) but were still able to make the playoffs. Alex Rodriguez only played in 137 games, but the Yankees still won 95 games and made the playoffs. The AL MVP, Josh Hamilton, played in only 133games for the Rangers, yet they won their division. Do you think the Cardinals could make the playoffs, if Pujols were out for 25+ games?
On which side would your “Pujols Coin” land?
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