WTNYJanuary 27, 2004
The Cardinal Clipper
By Bryan Smith

As I said yesterday, today I was hoping to tackle the Albert Pujols case. Aaron Gleeman beat me to the punch earlier in the week, going into detail on the Cardinal slugger. The two sides are talking long-term contract, but remain undecided on a 2004 salary. Pujols is asking for the largest sum ever by a first-year eligible player, $9.5M, while the Cardinals stand 3.5M less. That represents the highest difference between two players, and barring a long-term deal being inked, is likely to go to an arbitrator.

In the Gleeman piece, Aaron points out that Pujols finished tied for 12th all-time in home runs through the age of 23, tied for 10th in doubles, and 10th in RCAA. Using the indispensable Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia, I ran a few more tests, and discovered this coincidence:

A Pujols	.334	.412	.613	.279	259	438
Player A	.331	.384	.610	.279	261	449

While Aaron compared Pujols to Teddy Ballgame in his article, Player A is Joe Dimaggio. While Pujols was better in OBP than Dimaggio, Joltin' Joe had a leg up in Runs Created. Their Isolated Power is the exact same, and the AVG, SLG, and XBH numbers are eerily close. After his first three seasons, the Yankee Clipper peaked during his ages 24-26 seasons. He had averages of .381, .352, and .357 during that time, and topped a .600SLG for the final time. If Joe's numbers are indicative of what Pujols will do in the next three seasons, the Cards can expect a .360/.430/.650 player that will flirt with .400 at that point.

Using just statistics, Pujols would be guaranteed his $9.5M, and probably more. But as I pointed out with Gagne yesterday, Albert is likely to lose his case. Giving a first-year eligible player $9.5M increases prices given to those in his same category, and more players will go to the arbitrator. So instead of deciding whether Pujols will/should make $6M or $9.5M in 2004, I set out to find what his long-term contract terms should look like.

By setting the Sabermetric Encyclopedia's parameter to just 1994-2003, only six players were in the top ten in AVG, OBP, SLG, ISO, XBH, and RC at least five times. They are:

Pujols- 6
Alex Rodriguez- 6
Vladmir Guerrero- 6
Scott Rolen- 6
Eric Chavez- 6
Edgar Renteria- 5

I then looked at what the five players from above made from their team before hitting free agency. Before signing a record deal with the Texas Rangers, A-Rod made about $11M in his time with the Mariners. In September of 1998, the Expos signed Guerrero through his arbitration years, inking a five-year, $30M contract. It should be said that the timing of that deal would be synonymous if Pujols had signed a year ago, so it's a bit late. Scott Rolen made about $17M before signing a long-term deal with the Cardinals after the 2002 season. Eric Chavez was signed through his arbitration years at $11.75M, and Edgar Renteria is finishing out a four-year, $20M contract (with two option years) that he signed a year after Pujols would be signing.

The mean for the five players above is $20M, but none have scratched the surface on what Pujols means to this team. The Guerrero deal makes the most sense, but Pujols is looking beyond five years, and beyond $6M per season. Let's also look at the contract obligations the Cardinals currently have for every season beyond 2004:

2005: Rolen (11.25), Edmonds (10M), Izzy (6.75M), Suppan (3M), Sanders (3M), Tavarez (2.1M)= 36.10M
2006: Rolen (11.25), Edmonds (10M)= 21.25M

After assuming that the Edgar Renteria option years will be picked up, each of those totals have about $5M added to them. So before the Cards even begin to start talking to Pujols and Matt Morris about contract extensions, they have to worry about the $41M already spend towards the 2005 season, and the $26M geared towards 2007. Considering that the Cardinal payrolls hover around $85M, signing Pujols and Morris to $10M+ per year deals would be a burden on the franchise.

If I were Walt Jocketty, I would make Pujols an offer of about eight years, at an average of 11M per season. Build the contract so that the team pays less in 2004, 2005, and 2006, and more towards the end of the contract. Also put in incentives that can take the deal to about 14M per if Pujols performs well.

And then, there is the age issue. I might be naive in thinking that Pujols is telling the truth here, but I'm going to assume he is 24 until proven differently. Those who argue against me will say, "Well, look at what he's done so far..." to which I'll respond, "Albert Pujols has had a great first three seasons, but it's not even in the top 5 of Major League players ever, it is possible for players this young to do that." Any contract likely would/should have an age stipulation, in which the Cardinals can opt out if his age is proven different.

Albert Pujols is a very gifted player, and likely the favorite for the 2004 NL MVP. I mean, the Yankee Clipper won an MVP in his fourth year...