Monday, February 28, 2011

Why The Cardinals Should Pay Pujols

The fact that the St. Louis Cardinals didn't sign Albert Pujols to a new contract before the season started is ridiculous.  Since first being called up in 2001 he has been far and away the best player in the league and has had one of the best 10 year stretches in baseball history.  If he continues on his current pace he may end up breaking a number of records and could possibly go down as the best to ever play the game.

So why didn't the Cardinals give him an extension?  Because the contract extension Pujols wants is for 10 years and $300 million.

Now I understand that conventional wisdom says you don't pay any player $30 million a season no matter how good they are.  And you definitely don't give a 31 year old (he may actually be older) a 10 year contract. But Albert Pujols is anything but conventional and if St. Louis was smart they would have given him his extension and here's why:

Albert Pujols IS the St. Louis Cardinals

Albert Pujols was drafted in the 13th round by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1999 and made his major league debut with them in 2001. Since then he has become synonymous with the Cardinals.  He is the face of the franchise and one of, if not the most, recognizable faces in all of baseball.  He is the National League Derek Jeter (except without all the dating of high profile celebrities and jealousy of Arod).  Ask any random person to to name 5 baseball players and he would no doubt be on every persons list.

The man is a franchise player and is one of the most marketable athletes today due to his amazing on field skills as well as his sparkling reputation off the field as a humanitarian and a family-oriented individual.  According to Major League Baseball Albert Pujols has the #3 best selling jersey behind only Arod and Jeter.  He also has sponsorship deals with Nike, Gatorade and Milk which bring extra exposure to the team.   

But his impact on the Cardinals goes beyond advertisements and jerseys.  He is a pillar in the St. Louis community and works with many charities and foundations to help raise money for a number of different causes.  In 2005 he, along with his wife Deidre, founded the Pujols Family Organization which is dedicated to helping people with down syndrome as well as their families.  He also helped in an effort to bring an MLS team to the city. 

The man is an icon in the city of St. Louis and rivals the great Stan Musial in terms of his legacy with the community and the team. Not many players spend their entire career with one team anymore and it would be a shame to have to watch Pujols play for another team and then possibly enter the Hall of Fame not wearing the Cardinals hat.

So if Pujols leaves who do the Cardinals market as their franchise player?

Adam Wainwright is out for the season due to Tommy John Surgery, Chris Carpenter is a solid pitcher but he's hardly bringing fans to the ballpark, Colby Rasmus is emerging as a star but not in the same mold as Pujols and Matt Holliday hasn't exactly lit the world on fire since signing his massive contract which leads me to...

The Cardinals Aren't Exactly a Small Market Team

In 2010 The Cardinals ranked 12th in terms of overall team payroll spending nearly $94 million.  In terms of the National League they were 6th behind only the Cubs, Mets, Phillies, Dodgers and Giants.  Since owner William DeWitt Jr took over the team in 1995 the Cardinals have shown a willingness to spend money in order to compete.

St. Louis has the money to spend on players as evidenced by the 7 year $120 million contract they gave to Matt Holliday in 2010  It would be tough to sell to the fans that Pujols will be leaving the team for financial reasons when you just spent $120 million on an average left fielder.

Plus compare the contract Pujols wants to some of the other big time first basemen around the league.  In 2010 there were 5 first basemen that made more than Pujols, they were Mark Teixeira ($20 mil), Ryan Howard ($19 mil), Miguel Cabrera ($20 mil), Todd Helton ($17.75 mil) and Justin Morneau ($15 mil).  Albert Pujols is better than all of those guys and deserves to be paid as such. I mean Todd Helton is making more than Albert Pujols that's just not right. 

Pujols is homegrown talent that has been consistently terrorizing the record books and piling up awards for 10 years which brings up another point...

The Age Argument

One of the biggest concerns people have with this deal is the length of the desired contract.  10 years is a long time and Pujols is already 31 (he very well might be older than that however as determining the age of some Dominican players has proven difficult in the past) so by the time the contract expires he will be 41.

I can understand the validity of this argument as most athletes decline with age and very few baseball players are productive in their late 30s and early 40s but this is Albert Pujols we are talking about.  The man is a model of consistency having never hit less than .312 and never hitting fewer than 32 home runs in a single seasons.

He is just entering the prime of his career and should have realistically 6-7 more years of "best of all time"  baseball before he tapers off into being just great.  He has never played less than 143 games and plays the least psychically demanding position in the game plus first basemen tend to have longer careers than other position players.

Plus looking at the rate in which salaries are going up and the way mediocre players are being overpaid (Jayson Werth) by the time 2016 rolls around paying $30 million for Pujols might seem like a real bargain.

These are all solid points but they fail in comparison to my last point which I feel is the strongest:

It's Albert Pujols

Seriously this man is beyond a beast.  His career numbers and accomplishments are crazy and he is by far the best baseball player in the world.  He is a constant Triple Crown threat and one of only a handful of guys I watch where I assume every time up he is going to hit a homerun.  But his stats really speak for themselves.

Here is his career line: 1900 hits/408 HR/1230 RBI/.331 AVG/.426 OBP/.624 SLG

*He is the leader among all active players in AVG, OBP, and SLG

By the way he is also a 9x All-Star, 3x MVP, 2x Gold Glove Winner, 6x Silver Slugger Award Winner, 2x Hank Aaron Award Winner, 2001 Rookie of the Year and oh yeah he won a World Series for the Cardinals in 2006.

How valuable is he to the Cardinals?  In terms of WAR (wins above replacement player) he has ranked 1st in the NL for 6 straight years.  last year his WAR was 7.2 meaning he alone was worth 7 wins which means without Pujols in 2010 the Cardinals would be a sub .500 baseball team.

He is a 1st ballot Hall of Famer and if he continues at his current pace may go down as the best hitter in the history of baseball but I completely understand why the Cardinals wouldn't want to keep him around.

Random YouTube Video

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