FanPost

Albert’s Future Contract


A significant amount of discussion on this and other Cards focused message boards has on AP’s future contract.  Any reasonable discussion about his worth involves three separate questions:

1.      What will be his on field value for the duration of his contract?

2.      If not Albert who?

3.      What is his off field value to the Cardinals organization?


The first question is the most complicated and is almost impossible to predict.  Before we can delve deeper I would like to take a look at this year’s performance.  There has been no shortage of information written about what a “down” year AP is having.  Some are using this assumption as an argument that he has started the inevitable decline in performance that occurs with age.  I think this deserves a closer look.  If we use Fangraphs WAR values as a surrogate for his on field value to the team we have a table that looks like this:

2001

7.7

2002

5.7

2003

9.5

2004

7.9

2005

7.9

2006

8.3

2007

8.4

2008

9.3

2009

8.7

2010

7.2

2010

8.0

2010

6.4

 

At first glance it looks like Pujols will finish this year with his lowest WAR since his sophomore campaign in 2002.  Let’s take a look at the entire table:

Season

Batting

Fielding

Replacement

Positional

RAR

WAR

2001

55.0

6.0

22.5

-5.1

78.5

7.7

2002

43.9

-3.8

22.5

-5.4

57.1

5.7

2003

78.5

3.6

22.8

-7.9

97.0

9.5

2004

65.6

3.8

23.1

-11.8

80.6

7.9

2005

65.3

1.7

23.3

-11.6

78.7

7.9

2006

65.2

10.6

21.1

-10.7

86.3

8.3

2007

49.7

24.7

22.6

-11.4

85.6

8.4

2008

71.1

11.3

21.4

-10.7

93.0

9.3

2009

72.1

3.1

23.3

-11.9

86.6

8.7

2010

53.8

7.8

21.1

-11.3

71.5

7.2

2010

63.2

5.7

22.3

-11.7

79.6

8.0

2010

48.9

2.2

21.9

-11.2

61.8

6.4

  As you all know WAR is a combination of both offensive and defensive runs above replacement.  I want to take a minute and remove defensive RAR from our consideration.  This may seem counterintuitive since more and more emphasis has been put on defense.  I want to remove it from the equation because:

1.      I believe our defensive metrics still have a ways to go in quantifying true value.

2.      I think year to year variability is too great to effectively use it to compare (small sample size).

If we look at offensive RAR only we see that this year’s numbers look very similar to three other years (2001, 2002, 2007).  Combined with this year that makes up 40% of his career.  30% of his career has been made up of insane 70+ RAR years and 30% merely superhuman 65 RAR years.  I think that Mark Twain would agree that the reports of Pujols’ demise are premature.

If you have made the leap of faith with me that this year does not represent the beginning of the end of Pujols’ career what can we say about the rest of his career?  There lies the main problem.  Pujols has so few comparable players that it is difficult to make any prediction of his future performance by looking at others with similar career paths.  Baseball reference lists the following players as the most similar to AP through age 29:

Jimmie Foxx

Hank Aaron

Lou Gehrig

Ken Griffey

Frank Robinson

Mickey Mantle

 

Not a bad list but most of these players saw a significant and rather abrupt decrease in their performance around 33-35 years old.  Only Aaron and Robinson continued to put up career similar numbers into their later 30’s.  You can argue (correctly) that better training, less drinking, fewer injuries, few diseases named after you, will allow AP to follow in Aaron and Robinson’s footsteps.  You could also name some other players that were pro players that have excelled into their late 30’s (perhaps chemically enhanced).  The real answer is we have no idea.  In any contract you often pay more for past performance than future.  I think it ridiculous to assume that he can continue to replicate his last 10 years in his next 10.  To pay him to do so is equally ridiculous. 

 

The second question is still one of value.  Can we replace AP’s on field value with other players?  That again depends on what his on field value ends up being.  I think it is safe to assume it will take more than one player to reach his WAR at least for the next 3 years.  Let’s throw out some numbers:

 

2011

7

2012

7

2013

6

2014

5.5

2015

5.5

2016

4.5

2017

3.5

2018

2

2019

1

 

I’m totally pulling these WAR numbers out of my ass based only on how others have declined.  I hope I’m on the low side.  This would give him 35 WAR over a 8 year contract (again just my best guess).  Since each WAR is worth a little over 4 mil in today’s dollars in value he would have about 145mil in “value” over the life of that contract.  I doubt we are going to sign him for 18 a year.  Based on these numbers we would need to account for an average of 4.5 WAR a year.  There are only six first basemen in the majors that will likely get close to 4.5 WAR a year on any kind of a regular basis.  Only two or three of them are young and not fat enough to be even remotely likely to keep it up for 8 more years.  With the exception of votto each of them is going to cost a bundle (20 mil +) and the Reds are sure not letting Votto leave anytime soon. 

 

My point here is that we are not going to come close to finding one player to make up even a declining AP’s WAR (more proof at just how incredible he is).  That means that we need two players.  The current Cardinals have several positions with “replacement level” players (I’m looking at you 2b, RF, fifth starter).  I think it is a safe assumption that we could find two players to replace AP’s WAR plus the WAR of the other player they replace for less money than we will be paying him, particularly in the last few years of his career.  Strike two, ouch.  

 

When I started writing this article my goal was to show that keeping AP was the right thing to do.  Just as my dad talks about Gibson and my grandfather about The Man I will talk to my kids about Pujols.  He is a once a generation player and seeing him in anything other than “my favorite color, Cardinal red” would be devastating.  I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that way.  In that feeling lays the one legitimate argument for keeping him on the team.  I want to meet my family at the Albert statue outside the stadium.  Let me digress for a moment.  The summer of 98 was a magical summer.  Big Mac was larger than life.  My wife and I had just started dating and watching as he chased the record was one of the things that brought us together.  I want to watch Albert hit 500, 600, 700 and even 800 in a Cards uniform not in a Yankees or Angels uniform.  I’m not sure how to calculate Albert’s value to the team off the field.  Winning sells tickets but so did Big Mac.  I’m sure the front office has someone with multiple masters in statistics and economics calculating this right now.

 

At the end of the day I think the team has two choices if it wants to win.  One, we do not resign AP and instead use that money to replace his value at two or more positions of “need”.  Money Ball tells us this is the right thing to do, my heart does not.  Two, we sign AP.  The payroll has to go up to cover his cost while keeping the team aggregate WAR the same.  Countless others have shown that teams who have one or two players who make up a large percentage of their payroll do not win consistently.  Albert’s contract will be a relative constant; the only way to lower the percentage is to increase the total payroll.  I for one hope that happens.

 

Chow              

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