Well, it looks like the expected is happening — the Cardinals and Pujols will not reach a deal, Pujols will spend the year not talking about his contract, and then the best player will become a free agent. After that, there are many possibilities.
One common thought about the Albert Pujols negotiations — handled ably here by Mark Kriegel — is that his efforts to get a huge deal will be badly hindered because the biggest of the big market teams are already locked in at first base. This mostly means: No New York Yankees. I’ve had that thought myself. The Yankees, of course, have Mark Teixeira at first base (8 years, $180 million). The Phillies will have Ryan Howard playing first base no matter what happens to his game* — his 5-year, $125 million contract doesn’t even START until next year. The Red Sox have the absurdly young (and thus absurdly affordable for one more year) Adrian Gonzalez and though he apparently has not signed a once-reported extension, the common feeling is that Gonzalez-Boston seems a good fit.
*That Howard contract still blows my mind. Ryan Howard the last three years — we can now put this in three-year increments — hit .269/.350/.541. He was TENTH among first basemen in WAR over those three years, closer to Lyle Overbay (Howard’s 9.7 WAR to Overbay’s 9.1) than Joey Votto. He’s 31 years old, he had an injury-plagued 2010, he has mostly stopped walking, his strikeout numbers have always been huge, his numbers are on clear descent and he has a history of being unable to hit lefties. I’m going to beat the rush and preemptively call that the worst contract in baseball.
Anyway, the thought is that without those three big spenders in the mix — OK, let’s be honest, without the New York Yankees — Pujols’ options for the big money are dramatically limited, perhaps even doomed. The thought is that to get a record breaking contract, which seems to be what Albert Pujols wants, you need to have the Yankees to drive up the price.
As mentioned, I’ve had that exact thought. But then I remembered something.
The craziest contracts in baseball history have almost NEVER been given out by the New York Yankees.
Think about this for a moment. What are the craziest contracts in baseball history? You could start, I suppose, with Alex Rodriguez’s 10-year $275 million deal if you want. The Yankees did give that one out. But that deal was a direct descendent of the truly insane 10-year, $252 million deal that Tom Hicks gave A-Rod before going broke. The Yankees just ended up holding the bag on that one. Hicks was trying to get attention, apparently with money he really didn’t have, and after A-Rod had big years and the Rangers still stunk the Rangers and basically were just looking anywhere and everywhere to abandon that contract. Not long after, the Rangers found themselves in bankruptcy court.
The craziest deals? San Francisco’s deal with Barry Zito comes to mind. Toronto’s deal with Vernon Wells comes to mind. The Cubs deal with Carlos Zambrano … the Angels deal with Torii Hunter … the Nationals deal with Jayson Werth … the Cardinals deal with Matt Holliday … the Mets deal with Jason Bay … the Dodgers deal with Andruw Jones … the Rangers deal with Michael Young … the Rangers deal with Chan Ho Park … the Cubs deal with Alfonso Soriano … the Royals deal with Gil Meche or Jose Guillen … the Angels deal with Bartolo Colon … the Mets deal with Carlos Beltran … the Dodgers deal with Jason Schmidt … the Orioles deal with Miguel Tejada … Philadelphia’s deal with Ryan Howard. …
Some of these worked better than others, of course. I’m not saying these were all bad deals or that they were all ill-advised. Baseball talent costs a lot of money. And I’m not discounting that the Yankees have some doozies too — A.J. Burnett, Jason Giambi and so on. The Mark Teixeira deal could be a real albatross when the Yankees are paying him $22.5 million a year in 2014 and 2015 and 2016.
But when it comes to breaking the bank, it seems to me that the Yankees might get too much credit — or blame — for driving the market price. A friend who once sold luxury cars told me that the most likely person to overspend for an absurdly expensive car is not the richest guy in the room but the one who LONGS to be the richest. A look at the amazing Cot’s Baseball Contracts page gives a fascinating look at the highest paid players (based on average annual salary) in baseball history at each position.
NOTE: I’m putting the team that gave the player the gigantic contract.
Cliff Lee, Philadelphia. ($24 million per)
— The Phillies have two of the top four of all time, with Roy Halladay on the list as well.
Mariano Rivera, Yankees ($15 million per)
— The best ever in the town that made him famous; Philadelphia’s Brad Lidge gets $12.5 million per.
Travis Hafner, Cleveland ($14.25 million per)
— The cash-poor Indians gave a designated hitter more than $14 million a year. Injuries and age have wrecked him, but even so this was a dreadful signing from the start.
Joe Mauer, Minnesota ($23 million per for eight years)
— The feeling in Minnesota was that the Twins HAD to sign their hometown hero. I wouldn’t argue with the thought, but it’s the “HAD to sign him” impulses that give us some remarkable contracts. The second richest contract was Jorge Posada with the Yankees, but it’s for $10 million a year less.
Ryan Howard, Philadelphia ($25 million per)
— The Yankees gave Teixeira what looked to be a break-the-bank deal. Maybe that played a role in Howard’s contract, but now Howard’s deal is the standard Albert Pujols’ folks are salivating over.
Dan Uggla, Atlanta ($12.4 million per year)
— I originally thought Uggla had signed the deal with Florida before he was traded to Atlanta. He did not. That’s an Atlanta deal. … Robinson Cano figures to destroy this deal.
Derek Jeter, Yankees ($18.9 million per year)
— He’s making $17 million per year now. Troy Tulowitzki is signed for 10-years, $158 million. The Rockies can only hope it works out as well as the Jeter 10-year deal worked for the Yankees.
Alex Rodriguez, Yankees ($27.5 million per year)
— This it the deal that Pujols reportedly is looking to eclipse.* Our own Jon Heyman reports that the Cardinals offered an eight-year deal worth more than $200 million (but, apparently, less than $240 million). If that’s true then … well, already some people are saying it’s not true. Who really knows?
— Here’s something that will give you an idea of just how much money we are talking about here: Pujols reportedly asked for a 10-year, $300 million deal. The 10 years sound ludicrous — it really IS ludicrous when looked at specifically — but I think the point is that Pujols wants the $300 million to break A-Rod’s full package deal, which was worth a total of $275 million. The 10 years is just to make it happen. I’m sure he’d take $300 million for six years if they wanted to give that to him.
How gigantic a package are we talking about here? Well, someone asked if the Cardinals could make an offer so that Pujols’ last five years would be included in the contract. In other words, could the Cardinals offer Pujols a five-year deal that, added together with the last five years of his current contract, would total $300 million and get him the record he seems to crave (without having to stretch out for 10 more years).
OK — do you know how much money per year the Cardinals would have to pay Pujols the next five years to make that happen? Take a stab in the dark. … Pujols the last five years — including this year which is a club option year — will have made $84 million. To get him to $300 million, the Cardinals would have to offer him a 5-year, $216 million deal — or $43.2 million per year.
I’d take that.
Manny Ramirez, Dodgers, ($22.5 million per year)
— The Red Sox’ Carl Crawford deal (7 years, $142 million) is really more lucrative. … Special mention must be given here to Houston for the 6-year, $100 million deal they gave to Carlos Lee. I’m not even sure you could call the contract a “disappointment” because that would suggest that the Astros thought Lee would play better than he has. Lee is, by the numbers, an abysmal outfielder and was when the Astros signed him. He was 31 when he signed the deal. He hit .300 the first three years of the contract and drove in 100 runs before descending into the abyss last year. So I’d say he has absolutely lived up to whatever the Astros could have expected. Now, he has still two more years left on the deal and he’s turning 35 and he’s coming off a year when he was one of the worst players in baseball. That contract was historically atrocious the day it was offered … and history has simply played out.
Andruw Jones, Dodgers ($18.1 million per year)
— The Angels Torii Hunter got $18 million per year, but his was a five-year deal compared to Jones’ two years. The funny thing about the Torii Hunter deal is that according to all parties, he was just about to sign with the Kansas City Royals when the Angels swooped in with the biggest money package offered to a center fielder since Ken Griffey. So it was the KANSAS CITY ROYALS who drove up the price. … Vernon Wells also got $18 million per year from Toronto.
Ichiro, Seattle and Jayson Werth, Washington ($18 million per year)
— That Jayson Werth contract alone should tell you that you don’t need the Yankees to get an absurd deal. The line from Citizen Kane fits here: “It’s no trick to make an awful lot of money, if all you want to do is make a lot of money.”
And I think that’s where I stand now: If Albert Pujols and his people are determined, at any cost, to get that $300 million deal, I think they have at least a fair shot of getting it. Fangraphs does a nice job breaking down Pujols’ projected value, and some other people do as well, and their figures generally show that it’s unlikely for Pujols to be worth that much money if you look at aging patterns and so on. But here’s the thing: He’s the best player in baseball. He’s widely acknowledged to be the best player in baseball. There are a lot of owners out there who would like to say that the best player in baseball plays for their team.
I also think Albert Pujols still means more to the St. Louis Cardinals than he does to any other team. I don’t know how much the Cardinals offered, and I don’t know if there are bad feelings between the two sides now, and I don’t know where Pujols’ head is when it comes to playing the rest of his career in St. Louis. But I think once all that fades, the Cardinals will be in the bidding process. And I think that the money will be flying, even without the Yankees cash in the whirlwind.