“What If” for $200M, Alex

by on November 17, 2011 · 6 comments

Baseball’s offseason is a great time to play “Armchair GM”, and there may be no better way to engage other players than by posing a question that starts with “What if”.  Just present a reasonable scenario to a group of avid baseball fans, and then sit back to enjoy the show.  In no particular order, here are a few examples that might keep you and your fellow baseball fans entertained for at least an hour or so of intense discussion.

What if St. Louis media personality JC Corcoran is correct in saying that Albert Pujols will announce on Friday that he is re-signing with the St. Louis Cardinals?

First, I’d have to admit that I’m more than a little surprised that Albert’s free agency due diligence could be completed so quickly.  Second, a Friday announcement would indicate to me that the market is a lot softer than even most experts expected.  Finally, I would be inclined to repost something I wrote over a year ago about how free agency would likely play out for AP. Basically, I suggested that stalling contract talks in order to reach free agency was intended to make his agent (and close friend), Dan Lozano, look good at doing his job.  I also suggested that doing so could increase the available negotiating leverage without Lozano even needing to ask for a significant increase in any counteroffer. 

What if the Cardinals offer Pujols something in the neighborhood of 8 yrs/$200M, and AP accepts the offer?

As a fan, my immediate concern would be the likelihood that Pujols will perform well enough to actually meet the expectations that would certainly accompany such a contract.  One method of estimating a player’s worth over a period of time is to estimate the player’s production in terms of WAR and use a multiplier to convert WAR totals to dollar values.  If 1 WAR is currently worth approximately $4.5M, then a 4 WAR year is worth about $18M.  Consider some random-ish numbers below that I used for calculations for an 8 year contract:

  1. 2012 (32):  6.0 WAR * $4.5M/WAR = $27.0M
  2. 2013 (33):  5.5 WAR * $4.6M/WAR = $25.3M
  3. 2014 (34):  5.0 WAR * $4.7M/WAR = $23.5M
  4. 2015 (35):  4.5 WAR * $4.8M/WAR = $21.6M
  5. 2016 (36):  4.0 WAR * $4.9M/WAR = $19.6M
  6. 2017 (37):  3.5 WAR * $5.0M/WAR = $17.5M
  7. 2018 (38):  3.0 WAR * $5.1M/WAR = $15.3M
  8. 2019 (39):  2.0 WAR * $5.2M/WAR = $10.4M

This works out to about $160.2M over 8 years and 33.5 WAR.  Based solely on his performance as a player, the 8 yr/$200M contract would represent roughly a $40M overpay.  Given an over/under of 33.5 WAR over the next 8 years, where do you think Pujols will finish?  Barring a catastrophic injury or alien abduction, I’m seriously considering the “over”.  Consider that Jim Thome only had 320 plate appearances in his age 39 season (2010), and he was worth 3.2 WAR solely as a DH.  Paul Konerko managed a 3.6 WAR in his age 35 season, but he produced 5.1 WAR the previous year.  I’m not implying that Pujols will meet/exceed the numbers put up by Konerko or Thome.  Their performances do show what is possible for really good players in the latter stage of their careers.  Pujols has always been an elite player, so it isn’t a huge stretch to imagine him putting up 3.0 WAR at age 39. 

Of course, there is no way to fully account for the uncertainty that injury brings to the discussion.  However, any career ending injury takes the discussion to a completely different place that involves considerations such as insurance, timing of injury, and protective clauses built into a contract.  Despite that, I do think it is fair to pick a season and pick a number of games missed just to play with the numbers a bit.  The more you do so, the more you will see that long term contracts involving hundreds of millions of dollars involve a huge amount of risk for the team taking on the risk. 

So, what is he worth to St. Louis?  Even if his productivity is ONLY worth $140-150M over the course of the next 8 years, I can’t imagine that St. Louis wouldn’t take the risk.  I don’t know what not having Pujols in the lineup would do to the various revenue streams, but I bet someone within the organization knows the projected numbers by heart.  I’d also be willing to be that it’s not a notion anybody really wants to entertain. 

Making the call on something like this must weigh heavily on the mind.  There are a significant number of factors to consider not the least of which is whether or not the 2011 version of Pujols (or worse) is what the team can expect for the next 8 years.  Is it?

I’ve heard and read just about every explanation for Albert’s 2011 season.  He was pressing, because it was a contract year.  The pressure got to him.  He is simply in decline, and his physical tools will continue to deteriorate.  His alien body is degrading due to prolonged exposure to shadows at Busch Stadium.  Pitchers are approaching him differently and found weaknesses that they could attack.  He simply isn’t the same player that he once was.

Fine.  I can accept some of the explanations to a degree, but I’d like some numbers to look at as well. 

  • In 2010, Pujols drove in 118 runs, and that number dipped to 99 in 2011.  Well, he did have almost 50 fewer plate appearances in 2011.  More importantly, he came to bat with runners in scoring position 201 times in 2010 but only 162 times in 2011.  It’s kind of hard to drive in runs without men on base who can score.
  • In 2010, AP went to the plate with men on base 337 times and was walked 65 times (hitting .323/.454/.589/1.043 with 26 strikeouts).  He faced that same situation only 297 times in 2011 and was walked just 37 times (hitting .316/.401/.552/.953 with 25 strikeouts).  There is definitely a marked difference, but it’s hard to criticize a guy who hits .300+ with men on base and has an OBP above .400.   
  • Consider Albert’s performance in certain counts which may be indicative of his level of aggressiveness (or not).  He faced a 3-0 count 58 times in 2010 and took 53 free passes.  He only faced that count 35 times in 2011, and he walked 27 times.  Feel free to check out his 2010/2011 splits to see what he did on other counts, but the overall trend appears to be that he didn’t take as many pitches in 2011.  Maybe he was being more aggressive, or maybe pitchers were simply throwing more strikes.  To really know which is accurate, we have to look at PitchFX data, and I’m not that motivated today.  HINT:  If you have a baseball blog and want to delve into the PitchFX data, please send me the link when you finish posting it, thanks.

While it is certainly true that Albert had a down year, I’m not sure that he deserves all the blame.  The batters ahead of him did him no favors by putting more pressure on pitchers, and he wasn’t quite as efficient at driving in runs when he had the opportunities.  That said, I don’t think we’ve seen the last of 100 rbi seasons from Pujols.

What if Pujols spurns the Cardinals and signs elsewhere?

I’ll miss seeing him play while wearing the Birds on the Bat, but I don’t see this scenario as the end of all things baseball-related in the Lou.  The Cardinals could move Berkman to 1B and Allen Craig to a fulltime spot in right field, or they could leave Berkman in the outfield and put Craig at first.  By the time Berkman hangs up his cleats, it is possible that Matt Adams could be ready for the big time.  There is also the potential windfall to consider.  It’s not likely that the Cardinals would go out and pursue a premier free agent to use up the entire $20-25M potentially earmarked for Pujols.  However, they could use a significant portion of it to absorb a big contract that another team would like to get off the books. 

With or without Albert, the Cardinals need somebody to play shortstop in 2012.  Based on the roster they have now, it seems likely that Tyler Greene would be the guy.  If AP doesn’t return, then I could see the Cardinals looking for an upgrade.    Fortunately, there are potential upgrades out there for buyers with piles of cash at the ready.  Jimmy Rollins?  It’s likely that the Phillies will get Rollins to sign on the dotted line, but it wouldn’t hurt to help drive up the price.  Jose Reyes?  The asking price is pretty darn high, but the Cardinals could sign him and still fill out the rest of the roster all while staying under 2011’s opening day payroll number.  Ronny Cedeno?  Probably not, but he is a viable option for a relatively low cost just in case Greene can’t get it done.

TIDBIT:  Based on nothing but conjecture and what our dogs have told me, I’m hoping that the cut lines for the Cardinals and AP are around 8 yrs / $210M  or 9 yrs / $230M.  Anything beyond those numbers would make me really, really nervous about the word “albatross” becoming a frequently used part of the Cardinal Nation lexicon. 

MORE BITS OF TID:  Based on what the team currently has now, I’m projecting the opening day lineup as Jon Jay (CF), Allen Craig (RF), Lance Berkman (1B), Matt Holliday (LF), David Freese (3B), Yadier Molina (C), Daniel Descalso (2B), Tyler Greene (SS), and Pitcher (but really should be batting 8th, and we all know it).

FINAL TID:  If the Cardinals re-sign Pujols, I’m estimating the opening day payroll at $115-117M.  Not bad for a team that just won the World Series.

Follow gr33nazn on Twitter for more “What ifs”!

 

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Cardinals fan since I could hold a fishing pole steady. Accidental blogger. Opinionated. I could care less about what you think of me. Constantly confounded, bemused, and confuzzled (ie I'm a pc and a mac). I'm an IT infrastructure analyst with a penchant for breaking tech toys. I ate a sabermetric primer for breakfast. I love playing "All-powerful GM of MLB". The 2010 Cardinals represented a good, practical definition "cognitive dissonance". The 2011 version got by on duct tape and a prayer, and I'm fine with that. They just need new tape for #12 in 12.
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