Ever since Mark Teixeira signed with the deep-pocketed New York Yankees for eight years and $180 million this past week, articles have appeared all over the country as writers begin to agonize over what this means to the market value of Albert Pujols.
I may be in the minority, but I don’t think this news substantially changes anything with regard to the long-term relationship between Pujols and his employer, the St. Louis Cardinals.
One angle could be played that the Teixeira deal may actually prove to be a slight positive for the Cardinals and their fans.
Other than playing the same position, Tex, while a very fine first baseman, is not in Pujols’ class. Few if any current players are.
Still, Teixeira is now committed to be the Yankees’ first baseman from now through the 2016 season. As a result, the highest-spending club in the majors would seemingly have no room to play Albert, even if he reached free agency and they wanted to sign him.
Could they dump Tex in a few years down the line? Perhaps, but it would be difficult. In addition to all that money, Tex scored a full no-trade clause in his new deal.
Not all that long ago, the Yanks bestowed a lot of money on the doorstep of one Jason Giambi. Though they later regretted paying Giambi over $20 million per year, they ended up having to hold onto him anyway.
The defensively-challenged Giambi did serve a lot of time as the designated hitter, but when a team is engineered around aging veterans as are the Yankees, there are many more DH candidates than there are places to play them.
Now, one might argue that there are other clubs that could and would pay one player $33 million, especially one with the resume of an Albert Pujols. That is true. The Mets, Red Sox, Dodgers and Angels certainly come to mind, though the latter just lost both Tex and K-Rod to the New Yorkers.
Yet it is impossible to ignore that the most formidable prospective competitor to the Cardinals if Albert hit the free market, the club that sets prices for all the others, just took themselves out of the first base market for the next eight years.
How did I come up with $33 million?
It is very simple. It doesn’t require a lot of deep statistical comparisons. We already know Albert is the best player in the game. Therefore, he should be paid as such. Teixeira and other lesser players’ salaries are completely irrelevant.
Today, that player is the Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez, who will make $32 million in both 2009 and 2010. In what is a surprisingly realistic structure in an out-of-this-world contract, A-Rod’s annual salary will actually decline as he moves into his mid-to-late 30’s to “just” $20 million per year in 2016 and 2017.
In my view, for the Cardinals and Albert, the only question remains “when?”
Pujols is under contract for the next three seasons, all at his 2008 rate of $16 million. (Technically, the final year, 2011, is a team option.)
The Cardinals have two basic options with Albert:
1) Act now, making a serious offer to extend Pujols for essentially the remainder of his career.
As is customary in these kinds of deals, the Cardinals would likely need to increase the amounts to be paid Pujols in each of the 2009, 2010 and 2011 seasons, despite them having him already under contract at the bargain $16 million rate.
That could easily add another $30 million or more to the extension – money that would not have to be spent.
There are several other risks inherent in this move. One is medical, the other financial.
They relate to the case of Pujols’ balky throwing elbow. If the recent nerve relocation surgery doesn’t alleviate the constant pain or if his ligament finally gives out, Pujols would likely miss an entire season recovering from “Tommy John” elbow ligament replacement surgery.
Would you rather see the Cardinals pay Pujols $16 million on his current deal or $33 million under a new contract to spend a year off the field while rehabbing?
2) Wait and see what the future holds and delay making a new offer for a year or more.
Here, the risk for the club is the market. In few years, the top salary dog may not be A-Rod. It could be someone else, but likely not. Let’s face it, there does not seem to be the next Albert in the on-deck circle. This is what may be a one-in-a-lifetime player.
For Pujols, the only risk is his health. Salary-wise, the reason he is underpaid today is because he opted for the security of a long-term deal earlier than was required. He may not be so inclined to leave money on the table like that again.
That is why I believe, as painful as it will feel to some fans, the best business decision for the Cardinals and for Pujols himself is to wait and talk contract in a couple of years.
A lot can change between now and then… or maybe nothing will.