Sunday, October 30, 2011

Where will Albert Pujols go and how much can he get?

The question that's on everyone's mind is where Albert Pujols will go and how much he can get.

I think there are a few contracts to look at to really get a gauge of the type of contract Pujols can get.

Alex Rodriguez, Age 32, 10 year $275 million
Adrian Gonzalez, Age 28, 7 year $154 million
Mark Teixeira, Age 28, 8 year $180 million
Ryan Howard, Age 30, 5 year $125 million extension

Ryan Howard's extension was given to him after he had completed 1 year of a 3 year contract. So to some extent, the extension is really a contract for Ryan Howard at age 32, not 30.

First, lets look at the Adrian Gonzalez, Mark Teixeira, and Ryan Howard contracts. Together the three average about $23 million a year, with Ryan's howards $25 million/year the highest. I suppose we can use this as a measurement for what an elite first basemen has been able to obtain over the last few years. Albert Pujols is certainly in a class above these first basemen, so one can reason that he can obtain a premium above these players.

However, there are a few differences between Albert Pujols and these first basemen. Albert Pujols turns 32 in January 2012. Mark Teixeira and Adrian Gonzalez were able to obtain their lengthy contracts at an age 3-4 years younger than Albert Pujols. Ryan Howard's 4 year extension perhaps gives an indication of the hesitation teams may have in giving an older first baseman a 7-8 year contract.

On the other hand, Alex Rodriguez was able to receive his 10 year contract at the age of 32, the same age as Albert Pujols. At the time he received the contract, Alex Rodriguez was arguably the best player of his generation and had just won his 3rd MVP. So perhaps its Albert Pujols could get a similar contract?

I have scepticism Albert Pujols can obtain a contract of such magnitude. The baseball marketplace will be much different for Albert Pujols than it was for Alex Rodriguez. First, the two highest spending teams, the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, have already secured long term contracts to elite first basemen (Mark Teixeira and Adrian Gonzalez respectively). While its always possible those teams may attempt to move those players or attempt to sign Albert Pujols as a DH, the odds are low. With the Yankees and Red Sox presumably out of the picture, it takes two big spending teams off the market in the Albert Pujols sweepstakes.

In addition, the marketplace may not be willing to suffer giving a player in his early 30s a 10 year contract after baseball saw how injuries have affected Alex Rodriguez. In 2011, we saw Alex Rodriguez hit only 16 home runs over 99 games and eek out a measly .823 OPS. Certainly not the production you expect from a player you're paying $27.5 million for.

So taking into account the current "market rate" for elite first basemen, Albert Pujols' success, age, and the removal of the Yankees & Red Sox, it stands to reason that Albert Pujols can get a contract that is better than the other elite first basemen, but less than the Alex Rodriguez contract. If I had to guess, Albert Pujols will get a 8 year contract in the range of $210-$230 million. (As a note, it is rumored the Cardinals offer during the 2011 spring training was 9 years for about $190-$200 million.)

Naturally, that's a conclusion is based on some amount of logic and reason. What can't be determined is if some team will go crazy with a contract. That's the one thing that will be difficult to determine.

So where will Albert Pujols go? Well presumably, the team that signs him will:

A) Need a first basemen or could move their current first basemen
B) Has the financial resources to sign Albert Pujols
C) Has the organizational fortitude to offer such a contract

Based on these criteria, which are the teams that I think have the best shot?

California Angels - Could use a big upgrade over Trumbo. Have signed Torii Hunter and Vladimir Guerrero in past big moves.

Chicago Cubs - New ownership might like to make a splash and take away Albert Pujols from their rivals. Theo Epstein and crew are not shy to big signings. An issue for the Cubs is the lingering big contracts on their roster.

Los Angeles Dodgers - Assuming the financial issues of the owners is settled (it apparently is), could make a run.

San Francisco Giants - A team badly in need of offense. Their signings of Barry Bonds and Barry Zito show the willingness to make a big move.

St. Louis Cardinals - The question is how high will the rest of the league go. If Albert Pujols gets something crazy, its unlikely the Cardinals will bite.

Washington Nationals - When I was first told they could make a run at Pujols, I laughed. But now that I think of it, there's a decent chance. They have shown the willingness to spend money, and while the team isn't a serious contender now, they were 80-81 last year and have a good group of young players.

Teams I don't think it could happen with despite chatter on the topic:

New York Mets - With all their financial issues related to Madoff, my feeling is the Mets can't make a run at Pujols like they normally might try to go after big free agents.

Atlanta Braves - Financially have the resources, but traditionally this organization doesn't go crazy and try to make huge moves.

Baltimore Orioles - Financially good resources, probably organizationally could make the move, but I have a funny feeling Albert Pujols wouldn't want to go to the AL East. The odds of making it to the playoffs ever again are just that much worse when the Yankees and Red Sox are in your division.

Texas Rangers - The fit is good, they could use an upgrade to first base, and they've shown the willingness to throw around money (Cliff Lee). However, I would assume they will go after pitching instead. They got so many good bats in that lineup that more offense isn't a concern.

Well, it'll be an interesting off-season. I'll update this post when we figure out the answer.

Update 12/8/11:

Well, my guesses were pretty on spot on. The push by the Miami Marlins was a tad unexpected, but the players involved were pretty well known. Albert Pujols got a little more many than my guesses, $254 million.

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