Albert Pujols’ decision to take his talents to Southern California has inspired great joy among Angels’ fans and, not surprisingly, a considerable amount of vitriol from those who root for the Cardinals. Phony, trader, liar, mercenary, and fraud have all been used on twitter and talk radio to describe Pujols because he opted for a mega 10-year deal worth $254 million (with $30 million in extra incentives) over a hometown discount. Apparently, charity begins in St. Louis.
Although it’s understandable why Cardinals’ fans might feel betrayed, such sentiment is both incredibly naïve and logically absurd. According to fangraphs.com, Pujols has provided $194 million worth of performance in excess of the $104 million the Cardinals have paid him since 2002 (if 2001 was included, that figure would be even higher). In other words, the Cardinals already got their discount. What’s more, not one, but reportedly three different teams offered Pujols a better deal than the Cardinals, so it sure seems as if it was the team, and not the player, that had an unfair sense of his worth.
Albert Pujols shouldn’t have to apologize for signing a deal that was commensurate with his talent, and he certainly shouldn’t have to supply the Cardinals’ revenue deficiencies. After all, it’s not Pujols’ fault that ownership undervalued the team’s television rights. Besides, team owner William De Witt is a billionaire several times over, and the Cardinals’ franchise value has more than tripled since he bought the team for $150 million in 1995, according to Forbes. So, if fans in St. Louis really need a place to direct their frustration, they might as well start at the top.
Because of the sheer size of his contract, there’s a good chance Pujols will not only be public enemy number one in St. Louis, but perhaps around much of the major leagues as well. Such was the case when Alex Rodriguez signed a very similar 10-year, $252 million (during a winter meetings held in the same hotel no less) with the Rangers in 2001. In retrospect, that original contract actually proved to be a bargain, but at the time, it put a giant bull’s-eye on Arod’s chest, and his image has never recovered.
Another interesting parallel to Arod has to do with the current 10-year, $275 million deal the Yankees’ third baseman signed after opting out of his previous contract in 2007. Like Pujols, Arod was also coming off his age-31 season, but unlike the Cardinals’ slugger, he had just wrapped up the best, not worst (which for Pujols is a relative term), season of his career. Considering Arod played a more valuable position and was probably one of the most marketable names at that time, the Yankees’ lucrative offer makes much more sense. If Pujols could attract significant interest from three teams besides the Cardinals, it stands to reason that Arod could have done the same had he remained a free agent heading into that year’s winter meetings. And who knows, it might have been the Angels who stepped up with the money.
Now that Arod finally has company in his tax bracket, many will wonder whether the two contracts are destined for the same fate. Over the last four seasons, Rodriguez has underperformed his $126 million salary by over 33%, according to fangraphs, so at first glance it seems as if the Yankees have already reached a stage of buyer’s regret. However, that doesn’t factor in the contract’s significant frontloading (compared to the average annual value, Arod’s value deficit is approximately 25%), nor does it take into account Rodriguez’ historic 2009 post season, without which Joe Girardi would likely still be wearing #27. All that doesn’t mean Arod will come close to approximating the value of his current contract, but it does suggest the deal has not been (at least not yet) an “albatross”, as so many people suggest.
Much of the decline in Arod’s performance since 2007 has been due to injury, so if Pujols, who plays a less demanding position, can avoid a similar fate, there’s every reason to believe he could provide more performance value than Arod has or will. Regardless, the Angels are paying for more than just what Pujols will do over the next 10 years. They are also buying into the legend he has created over the previous 11 seasons. As much as we’d all like to derive players’ salaries from a performance-based formula utilizing normalized projections, the real driving factor is supply and demand. In addition, a figure like Pujols is more than just a performer; he is also an intangibles asset, and that has a value too.
Despite the conventional wisdom that has suggested all mega-contracts end up with regret, the truth is they are really a mixed bag. Maybe the Pujols deal will work out and maybe it won’t. Regardless, the Angels were well within reason to take a chance on one of the best players in the history of game, and Pujols was justified in demanding a contract befitting that status. In 1947, Stan Musial held out because he wanted to be paid the highest salary in the game. He deserved it. So does Albert Pujols.