The Curious Case of Albert Pujols’ Free Agency

You’ve probably heard by now that Albert Pujols is changing addresses. No matter what your opinion of the contract awarded to Pujols by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim – and there seems to already be one overwhelming consensus – this marks the end of era in St. Louis and the National League alike.

Pujols, who turns 32 prior to the 2012 season, got an incredible offer from the Angels in order to leave the St. Louis Cardinals on the heels of a World Series championship. In his 11-seasons, Pujols terrorized NL pitchers while putting together a Hall of Fame resume. The fact remains, he is not going to be getting any younger and his best days have probably already passed.

So, who exactly won and lost with this deal? It’s a little more complicated than money, statistics or age. In some ways, all of those things favor both the individual and the clubs involved. In other ways, those same things befuddle the mind when it comes to rational spending and/or decision making.

Right out of the chute, I am going to call this a WIN for the Cardinals – though they may not want to hear it. Not signing Pujols to a 10-year contract may end up being in the best interest of St. Louis. The staggering length of contract puts Pujols in his early 40’s by the time this deal has reached a conclusion. Are we to believe that he’ll be capable of playing the field at a high level on a regular basis while making an incredibly high salary and being essentially untradeable? Highly unlikely. A regular soapbox that I may jump on later states, “You cannot get caught up in simply paying for the past without reasonable regard for the future.”

The consensus as I interpreted it, believe this contract would have been a terrible decision for National League team. It’s certainly questionable for the American League club that landed him. By the way, not signing Pujols to a 10-year contract is also a WIN for the Marlins, who were likewise spurned in the pursuit of Albert’s services. All the same reasons I listed above would have applied to any NL suitor.

The very fact that the Angels will be able to utilize the designated hitter rule in the waning years of this contract makes it a WIN for the Angels. Of course, a healthy Pujols, which we have no reason to doubt at the outset, will make an obvious impact in the Angels lineup – and that’s the biggest WIN for L.A. They’ll be making more than a few extra bucks on season tickets, jerseys and other merchandise that Pujols’ signing generates as well. It’s not everyday that you acquire  “the best hitter in the game,” so Angels fans have plenty to be excited about.

On the other hand. St. Louis fans are obviously crushed by this turn of events. As team legend Ozzie Smith said Friday on MLB Network, there’s a lot to appreciate Pujols for in his time in St. Louis. The Cardinals got 11 great years, two World Series titles and 3 MVP’s from Pujols. He certainly won’t be Stan Musial, who was, is and always will be “The Man” in St. Louis. Could Pujols have eclipsed Musial? We’ll never know.

It’s a WIN for Pujols, who got the big money, long term contract that came with that coveted no-trade clause. He’ll be well compensated for 10-years on the playing field, and retained for an additional 10-years as a consultant to Angels owner Arte Moreno when his playing days are over. That was not readily apparent when the initial facts and figures of Pujols moving out to Anaheim were coming across the wire.

Speaking of money, here’s another tidbit I gleaned from MLB Network: Musial made roughly $1.26 million over his 22-year playing career (according to Baseball Reference).  Pujols will make that same sum every 2 1/2 weeks in his new deal. Times have most definitely changed.

I guess it’s time for me to point out the losses and/or losers in this deal. The Angels aren’t exactly winners simply because they can DH an aging Pujols in the twilight of his career. It will probably be around that time (2019-21) that Angels fans start wondering what exactly they are paying for. I’ll call that part a LOSS for the Angels in all likelyhood. He may be equally loved by Angels fans at that point. He may stay healthy and age gracefully. He may continue to be good, if not great at the plate. That certainly is a lot of money to be tied up in a lot of maybe’s.

The Cardinals get a LOSS for ever allowing their franchise figurehead to reach free agency to begin with. The fact that he was not re-signed at some point over the past two seasons was a strong indication that the two sides had a pretty serious difference of opinion on the money or the years… or both. Why Pujols should have be forced to settle for considerably less than the contract signed by Alex Rodriguez in December of 2007 is a valid point.

Rodriguez was roughly the same age when he signed a record 10-year $275 million extension with the Yankees. A-Rod is the only other player who’s been in a similar situation as Pujols. That is being perhaps the best in the game, just past his prime and looking for a long term contract to close out a legendary career. We’re seeing the declining numbers in New York for Rodriguez. Could that be a harbinger of things to come in Anaheim?

I’m going to go ahead and give the man himself a LOSS as well. That’s right, despite the years, the money and the no-trade clause all going his way, Albert Pujols lost out here too.  I’m not one for making the remark, “What’s a few million if you get to stay with the one club you’ve grown up with?” However, I would have to utter something along those lines in this case. If the years were there and the money was substantial, why would you walk away from your legacy and a city that adores you? It’s a valid question. And it’s one that will only be answered in time.

Did he make the right decision? That too will be answered in time.

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