Not so fast. Slow down there, wonder fan.
How much money are we talking about and for how long? 8 yrs and $240M? 10 yrs and $300M? 7 yrs / $225M plus the Gateway Arch and a riverboat?
Seriously? I’ve heard or read just about every variation you can imagine for the next Pujols contract in St. Louis, and each one is more far-fetched than the previous one. Some are based on the premise that Albert wants a couple boatloads of money and a competitive team, and some are based on the premise that the Cardinals are hesitant to give Albert a long-term deal beyond a certain number of years. Heck, some are sort of based on both premises simultaneously.
What if it’s not about the money? More precisely, what if money isn’t really the sticking point in the negotiations for Albert?
Consider the potential view from Albert’s side for a moment. If he’s looking for long-term security and a place to finish his career where he can be assured that the team will compete, he may have concerns that St. Louis is indeed the right place to be. He’s performed at a really, really high level for 10 years, and he’s been part of exactly 1 World Series winner. Could he be concerned about the team’s ability to field another winner or two in the remaining years he plans to play? Absolutely. This is a once-in-a-career opportunity for him to look around and do a little team shopping, even if he’s only sneaking a peek over the fence to check how green the grass is. Once he signs this next contract, he’s pretty much committing himself to staying put. He’d almost be remiss not to at least look carefully at all of his options at least this once.
What about the view from the other side? The folks who maintain the proverbial grass, the Cardinals, inked Matt Holliday to a 7 yr / $120M deal, and that was HUGE news. Albert’s next contract could practically dwarf that deal, and it would completely change the team’s payroll perspective. Consider that Albert’s salary for 2011 of $16M represents about 14.5% of the team’s total estimated payroll, and the rest of the team accounts for approximately $94M. Seems reasonable. Let’s say that Albert signs for $30M/yr, and the team’s payroll increases a modest 5% throughout the duration of an 8 year contract. What do the numbers look like over the course of those 8 years?
Now, we can discuss inflation, present day dollar value, and changing the payroll increase rate, but that avoids the inescapable conclusionn that Albert’s contract will consume a significant amount of the team’s financial resources one way or another. We would also be ignoring the fact that other players aren’t getting any less expensive, either. Consider that Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright have team options that cover them through 2012 and 2013 respectively, but they could get very expensive just through modest raises beyond those years. Once Colby Rasmus and Jaime Garcia reach arbitration, they won’t be inexpensive options, either. So who owns that arch thing, and how much is it worth?
TIDBITS: I chose an arbitrary increase rate of 5%, because it is difficult to compare the Cardinals to the rest of MLB. The team actually has recently had some relatively flat year-over-year payroll changes, so it’s difficult to identify a trend at this time. It is a nearly unavoidable certainty that payroll must increase for 2012 to bring back the team’s core, and it must increase significantly to field a team that does not include a lot of “Baby Birds”. That may very well explain why Theriot and Berkman are on 1 year deals.