For guys like me, baseball is all year round (I've already made a fantasy baseball trade). But it's official today as pitchers and catchers are reporting to spring training. I haven't been blogging regularly (or at all, really) because of some new ventures that have been taking up the majority of my time, but I'm hoping to blog more regularly during spring training and into the season. I appreciate your sticking with me.
The big question heading into spring training is what happens with the Cardinals and Albert Pujols. Right now, it looks like the answer to that is, "nothing." It seems very unlikely that the two sides can strike a deal by Wednesday, Albert's self-imposed deadline. Let's start this discussion with Albert's value. He's played ten seasons in the big leagues. In seven of his ten seasons he finished first or second in the MVP voting. In his "worst" season, he finished ninth. The other two years? Fourth and third.
He's never hit below .312, never hit fewer than 32 home runs, never knocked in fewer than 103 runs, and never slugged below .561. Once, he scored fewer than 100 runs (99 in '07) and once had an OBP below .400 (.394 in '02). He's never missed as many as 20 games in a season. Here is his 162-game-average stat line:
596 AB, 123 R, 198 H, 42 HR, 128 rbi, .331/.426/.624.
As Jim Memmelo (a Cubs guy) said on MLB Network Radio this morning, he's not a first-ballot hall-of-famer, he's a pre-ballot hall-of-famer.
So where does that leave us with the contract negotiations? They're not about how much he's worth; he's worth a lot more than any other player and probably more than he can be paid in this market. It's about what the Cards can (or are willing to) pay. Rest assured, if he goes on the market after 2011, he will find a team willing to pay his demand.
But the Cards aren't being asked to pay for this Albert, they're being asked to pay for the next Albert. When the Reds gave Jr. a huge payday after the '99 season, he looked like a sure thing to be worth every penny. At that point, Jr. had a career slash stat line of .299/.380/.569. Not quite Albert (no surprise, we spent the first part of this basically arguing there is no other Albert) but certainly the superstar everyone thought he was. After that, his career stats were .262/.355/.493. When you factor in diminishing defense and stolen bases, Jr. was just a tick better than Mike Cameron over that period, one of the guys the Reds traded to get Jr.
The current salary structure in baseball is out-dated. Players are reaching the pinnacles of their careers in terms of pay grade right when they should be starting to decline in their on-field skills. It's the second time a guy hits free agency. (Albert already signed a big $100 mil. deal -- this is his second big contract.) One look at the prospects list and it's clear where teams are going. Baseball is going to look like a fantasy roster with the top top players getting huge contracts (with marketing and ticket sales a huge driving force) and the rest of the team filled out with cheap pre-free agency players. With the fans' rabid interest in prospects, it's easier for a team to use a prospect because all the fans know who he is. In fact, sometimes it's hard for a team not to. (See Buster Posey and Aroldis Chapman from last season.)
What does Albert's future entail? That's the $64,000.00 (or $300 mil.) question. So the Cards only have to predict if Pujols will play the next ten years like his last ten, or follow Jr.'s career path. If it's the former, he's worth the $300 mil. If it's the latter, and they sign him, Pujols will do for the Cards what Jr. did for the Reds, provide a decade of below .500 baseball.
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