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What if Albert Pujols becomes Mark Teixeira?

If the Cardinals ever reach the point of considering the unthinkable, trading Albert Pujols, Mark Teixeira’s history provides an important lesson.

    In my earlier post, “Time to act on the Holliday-Pujols contract FUD”, I concluded with a case why I think the timing is right for the St. Louis Cardinals to push to secure a contract extension for Albert Pujols on the heels of Matt Hollliday’s seven-year, $120 million deal. I said this despite the fact that Pujols is still two seasons away from free agency, an indication that perhaps there should be no urgency.

    I also raised the possibility, albeit remote, of trading Pujols at this July’s deadline if it could be determined he would be unsignable. It would be a year and a half prior to his reaching free agency, but the last time the Cardinals could deal their franchise player without his consent. This has significant bargaining value for the organization if needed.

    Many disagree with this entire line of thinking for different reasons.

    • Some would not consider the notion of voluntarily parting ways with a franchise icon under any circumstances. I can understand that, though I think it is bad business not to thoroughly evaluate every avenue.
      • Others feel that since both sides appear to be amenable to a deal, the boat should not be rocked. I can see that point of view, too, but waiting may become increasingly distracting to all involved due to external pressures. Good intentions alone do not always lead to the desired result.
        • Yet others suggest Pujols’ re-signing price could actually decline over the next two years due to market, performance or injury factors. This is a real possibility, though one I think is less likely than the alternative. I am also concerned that the closer it gets to Pujols reaching free agency, the chance he ends up testing it may increase.

        Mark Teixeira and Scott Boras, 1/6/09 (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)A first baseman with recent circumstances most similar to Pujols may be the New York Yankees’ Mark Teixeira. Last winter, agent Scott Boras extracted a mammoth commitment for $180 million over eight years for Tex, then a free agent. His $22.5 million annual salary is second only to teammate Alex Rodriguez in all of Major League Baseball.

        What makes Teixeira’s story even more fascinating is his trade history. It is unusual for a player of his caliber to be dealt once, let alone twice, yet that is precisely what occurred. Better yet, the trades were one-and-half and a half-year respectively prior to his free agency.

        As such, this offers an extraordinary view into the declining trade value of a top talent as free agency neared.

        In July 2007, the Texas Rangers, Teixeira’s home since he was taken in the first round of the 2001 draft, dealt him to the Atlanta Braves. Their justification was the feeling they could not afford to keep their first baseman when he would achieve free agency following the 2008 season.

        The Rangers’ take was immense – five of Atlanta’s top 20 prospects at the time, including their top three. (An aged journeyman lefty reliever, Ron Mahay, also joined Teixeira in Atlanta.) Three of the five prospects the Rangers received are now established major leaguers, exciting shortstop Elvis Andrus, hard-throwing pitcher Neftali Feliz and catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. It is certainly not entirely due to this trade, but it is still worth noting that the Rangers have improved in each of the two seasons since trading Teixeira away.

        Date Tex time to FA From To With For BA team rank
        July 2007 1.5 years Texas Atlanta Ron Mahay Jarrod Salatamacchia #1
        Elvis Andrus #2
        Matt Harrison #3
        Beau Jones #14
        Neftali Feliz #18

        One year later, the Braves found themselves in a similar situation, unable to keep Teixeira. With the first baseman closing in on free agency, their take from the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim was much less. For Teixeira, they received just two players – former top prospect and major leaguer Casey Kotchman plus the Angels’ then-sixth-ranked prospect.

        Date Tex time to FA From To For BA team rank
        July 2008 .5 years Atlanta Angels Casey Kotchman MLB #1 2005
        Steve Marek #6

        With a year-and-a-half of hindsight, this second trade looks even worse than it did at the time. Kotchman has since been flipped twice, to Boston then Seattle, first for a partial season of Adam LaRoche, then for a major league reserve, Bill Hall, and a player to be named later. Kotchman is still struggling to establish himself as a front-line first base starter.

        Once the 2008 season ended, Teixeira spurned the Angels for the Yankees and their hefty contract. Los Angeles received two draft picks in compensation. They became the 25th and 40th selections in the 2009 draft.

        Date From To For Draft position
        Jan. 2009 Angels Yankees Michael Trout Rd 1/25th overall
        Tyler Skaggs Rd 1/40th overall

        In summary, Teixeira’s market value dropped from five top prospects at 1.5 years out to one major leaguer and a top prospect at .5 years prior to free agency to finally a pair of future draft picks at signing, two players far from being able to contribute at the major league level.

        While this may not have a direct relationship to Pujols’ situation with the Cardinals, it does illustrate that in the unlikely situation it is determined that he needs to be dealt, sooner is better than later, lest his trade value take a similar negative trajectory as Teixeira.

        I want to reiterate that I am not advocating a trade, but I do believe the Cardinals need to push the Pujols camp into providing them a clear signal as to his signability within whatever long-term financial planning guidelines club officials have established. The Holliday trade opens the door to do this if it hasn’t already been done.

        We as the public will likely not be informed of any discussions between the two sides, as it should be. The other edge of that sword is that no news will not be perceived by many as good news as the pages of the calendar slowly flip toward Pujols’ free agency.

        If not now, at some point over the next two years, the external noise over Pujols’ future will become so deafening and the repetitive questions will become so distracting that perhaps both sides will just sit down and get the deal done.

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        Brian Walton

        Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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