Andrew Perna. 13th December, 2011 - 12:45 pm
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim agreed to only the third $200 million contract in baseball history on Thursday despite entering the offseason with a reported spending budget of only $15 to $20 million.
Albert Pujols agreed to a 10-year, $254 million deal to come over to the American League. The deal is the second-highest in history behind the 10-year, $275 million deal the New York Yankees gave Alex Rodriguez before the 2008 season.
Before we analyze this deal for the involved parties, Pujols and Rodriguez must be compared in the context of their mega-contracts.
Pujols, who will turn 32 next month, is coming off a season in which he had an OPS of .907 with 37 homers. He is also coming off his best postseason effort -- .353 with five home runs (three in a game) and 16 RBI. He had an OPS of 1.155 in 18 playoff games. He put up those numbers while battling an arm injury.
Pujols finished fifth in the National League MVP voting behind winner Ryan Braun, Matt Kemp, Prince Fielder and Justin Upton. He is a three-time winner.
Rodriguez was 32 when he signed his $275 million deal to remain with the Yankees. He was coming off what was in many ways the second-best season of his career and his best with the Yankees. He had an on-base percentage of .422 and an OPS of 1.067, while also tallying 54 home runs and 156 RBI in 158 games. In just four playoff games, Rodriguez hit .267 with a single RBI and six strikeouts.
The shortstop-turned-third baseman won the 2007 AL MVP award, his second with the Yankees and third overall.
It is impossible to predict with any true accuracy how Pujols will perform over the next decade, but Rodriguez represents the only real case study because of their historic contracts, transcendent talent and age at the time of their 10-year pacts.
In the three seasons prior to his $275 deal, Rodriguez hit .321, .290 and .314 with 48, 35 and 54 home runs and 130, 121 and 156 RBI. He also stole at least 15 bases in each of those years and played in at least 154 games. He scored at least 113 runs and was on base well over 40% of the time during the span. In two of the three seasons, he had an OPS over 1.000.
Rodriguez is only four seasons into his contract and his numbers have already taken a dip (thanks in large part to hip and knee issues). The numbers speak for themselves:
A-Rod Since Signing $275M Deal At Age 32
Season (Games Played): AVG/OBP/OPS, HR, RBI, SB, SO, BB
2008 (138): .302/.392/.965, 35, 103, 18, 117, 65
2009 (124): .286/.402/.934, 30, 100, 14, 97, 80
2010 (137): .270/.341/.847, 30, 125, 4, 98, 59
2011 (99): .276/.362/.823, 16, 62, 4, 80, 47
You can argue that Rodriguez has declined on a yearly basis, given that his 125 RBIs in 2010 come with full-season career lows in average and on-base percentage. His Yankee teammates were on base a lot, inflating his total.
He has also struggled to remain healthy after a 12-year stretch from 1996 to 2007 during which he played in fewer than 141 games just once and averaged 154 games played per season. Five times over that stretch he played in 161 or 162 games.
How does this all relate to Pujols?
As we all know, your body tends to break down a bit as you get older, even if you have been linked to PEDs as Rodriguez has. Is it possible that Pujols will sustain his level of play and remain on the field over the next four-to-five years? Absolutely, but there is evidence to suggest it would not be a surprise if he did not.
Pujols does have a little less tread on his tires than Rodriguez did at age 32. Entering the 2008 season, Rodriguez had played in 1,904 regular season games (plus 39 playoff games). Pujols had 1,705 regular season games under his belt with another 74 coming in the playoffs.
If you want to place double the importance and stress on games in October, then you can say Pujols has played in 1,853 games (1,705 plus 74 times two) and Rodriguez appeared in 1,982 (1,904 plus 39 times two). That is less than a season difference.
You cannot predict injuries, but we can look at what percentage of games each player has missed at specific points in time.
In his 11-year career, Pujols has played in 1,705 of a possible 1,782 regular season games (95.7%). Beginning with his first full season with the Seattle Mariners (1996) through the 2007 season, Rodriguez played in 1,839 of a possible 1,944 regular season games (94.6%).
Based on those numbers, if we give Pujols an extra season to match the 12-year period we looked at Rodriguez prior to his big contract, he would played in 21 more games. So maybe there is evidence, however questionable, that suggests he is a bit more durable.
Pujols and the Angels will tell you this deal is different and age is not a concern, but is it really?
Angels owner Arte Moreno will pay Pujols, who has a full no-trade clause, exactly $70 million more over the life of this contract than he did for the entire franchise when he bought it for $184 million just eight years ago.
You could have excused the Cardinals for giving Pujols such a gigantic contract because he was the face of their franchise and could have finished his career in St. Louis and retired as someone even more revered than the great Stan Musial, but there is no such immunity coming for Moreno and new general manager Jerry DiPoto.
As recently as Monday, the Cardinals and Miami Marlins were believed to be the leaders in the race to sign Pujols, but the Angels came late to the party and got a deal done just as the annual winter meetings were ending.
DiPoto does deserve credit for getting Pujols "on the cheap" if reports that the Marlins offered him a $275 million deal are true. When you consider the tax system in Florida the deal would have been worth more than just the difference of $21 million in the basic figures.
An underplayed angle for Pujols in his decision to sign with the Angels and jump to the AL after more than a decade in the NL is how important the designated hitter spot will be to the longevity of his career.
The DH slot also makes giving a 32-year-old this long and expensive of a contract more feasible. The Angels can play Pujols at the DH on occasion in the coming years and then, assuming his hitting remains top-notch, make him a full-time DH in the second-half of the contract. If they build a young roster around him, using the spot to keep the best hitter of this generation in the lineup will not be a problem.
As for Pujols, he saves himself the indignity of eventually eroding defensively at first base and having to sit out late in games or even slide into right field for spells in the NL. It is not unlikely that playing in the AL will give him an additional season or two of above-average productivity as he approaches forty.
Grade for Pujols: A-
Pujols got the second-highest payday in baseball history and put himself in a situation to succeed over the latter half of his 10-year contract, but he gets downgraded a bit for leaving St. Louis after eleven memorable seasons.
Athletes are rarely synonymous with the cities they play in these days, but Pujols was and it somehow made it more special since he was often the best player in baseball and St. Louis was not New York, Boston, Philadelphia or Los Angeles.
He will always be in the hearts of Cardinals fans and he will forever be "The Machine," but he can retire his "El Hombre" nickname because Stan "The Man" Musial is the only one remaining in St. Louis.
Grade for the Angels: B
Given their recent history of success -- six playoff appearances and a World Series title in the last 10 years -- and an above-average roster with a solid mix of veterans and young talent, the Angels have made themselves into a dangerous playoff club with a chance to run the table over the next four to five years.
If Pujols is able to avoid the erosion Rodriguez experienced after his landmark contract, the Angels will be vindicated and their grade bumps up into the A territory with ease. If not, he will go down as the second-most overpaid 42-year-old player in baseball history.