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What Mark means to Albert

Derrick Goold touched on something Wednesday that I’ve been waiting to address for some time. I was waiting (and, to be fair, he probably was, too) for Mark Teixeira to sign his big money contract before delving into the inevitable question – how much is Albert going to be worth when his contract reaches its end?

Teixeira’s contract doesn’t make him the highest paid player in the game but it is substantial – 8 years, $180 M – and, given next year’s free agent class, it’s probably going to be the best barometer of where contracts are headed for the next couple of years. There simply doesn’t appear to be anybody in next year’s free agent class who will eclipse Teixeira’s current deal. Of course, we also cannot forget the contract ARod signed just slightly more than a year ago either. He’s the highest paid player in the game and really the only one who calls into question Pujols’ status as the best player in the game so we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that Albert’s agent won’t use ARod’s 10 year, $275 M contract as a sign of Albert’s worth.

When discussing Walt Jocketty’s successes and failures during his tenure as GM w/ the Cards, Albert’s current contract rarely enters the discussion alongside the trades for Edmonds, Kile, and McGwire. However, it shouldn’t escape notice what a beneficial contract it’s been from the Cards’ standpoint. In February of 2004, Pujols signed a 7 year, $100 M contract w/ an option for an 8th year at $16 M. Sure, Albert’s gotten rich from it but he’s been worth far more to the team than he’s been paid. Below is an estimate of Albert’s worth over the duration of the contract, courtesy of fangraphs (damn, I love that new feature!).

Year Worth Salary Value to team
2004 $24.9 M $7 M $17.9 M
2005 $26.1 M $11 M $15.1 M
2006 $28.6 M $14 M $14.6 M
2007 $31.0 M $15 M $16 M
2008 $40.5 M $16 M $24.5 M
Totals $151.1 M $63 M $88.1 M

The value the team has gained – above and beyond the amount paid to Pujols – during this 5 year time span is almost as great as the Cards’ payroll in ’08. The $100 M contract was a tremendous investment by the Cards in 2004 even if Pujols is hurt tomorrow and never plays another game as a Cardinal (bite your fingers, chuck!). The team owes him 2 more seasons at $16 M per season and then the team has that $16 M option for 2011.

Many Cards’ fans have already broached the subject about extending Pujols’ contract to keep him in St. Louis the rest of his career. With 2 years + an option remaining, however, it’s a little early to go there, or have we learned nothing from that awful extension given to Chris Carpenter? Still, it would be foolish to allow Pujols to become a free agent w/o trying to extend him -- or even to be forced into the position of having to pick up his 2011 option. In all likelihood, the best time to approach Pujols about an extension is after next season since 2010 would be his last guaranteed year in a Cardinal uni. The Cards’ brass will have to weigh the fact that the longer they wait, the higher contracts rise w/ the increased knowledge they gain by allowing Pujols to play more. Before entering into another long-term deal, they’re going to need to decide how long Albert’s going to be productive, how healthy he’ll be, and how great he’ll be as he enters his mid-30s.

Albert will turn 29 in January, 2009 so that’ll be his age during year 1 of any contract signed next offseason. An 8 year contract will take him through his age-36 season and a 10 year contract will take him through age-38. It’s reasonable to think that there will be considerable degradation of his skills and ability to stay healthy as he ages considering the fact that he’s suffered through one injury after another over the last several years. Also, unlike ARod or Teixeira, the Cards wouldn’t be able to move him to DH in order to keep him healthy as he ages or to protect the team against the degradation of his defensive skills. While Teixeira signed his long-term contract as a 28 year old, ARod’s long-term contract was signed when he was 31. Still, when ARod signed his deal he had played at least 154 games 7 seasons in a row while Teixeira’s played in 145+ games every season except for 2007 in his career.

Some might also point to the 8 year, $153 M contract Miguel Cabrera signed last offseason as a barometer of Pujols’ worth but that deal is a little different than the other two. Notably, the Cabrera deal bought out the final 2 years of arbitration and added 6 years to it. Cabrera simply didn’t have the leverage for 2008-2009 that Pujols will Teixeira or ARod had or that Pujols will have for it to be considered a very good gauge of Pujols’ market. Perhaps we could look at the final 6 years and $126 M as a decent measure. As with Teixeira’s deal, we’re looking at an annual rate of nearly $22 M. Maybe we can use those 6 years for comparison’s sake but I wouldn’t weight them the way I would the Teixeira or ARod deals.

The table below shows ARod’s, Cabrera’s, and Teixeira’s WAR numbers from the 3 years prior to their contracts being extended. Year 1 is the most recent year. Year 2 is 2 years prior and year 3 is 3 years prior. The idea is that these 3 years should be weighted, when attempting to determine future WAR numbers, on a 3/2/1 scale. Year 1 numbers count 3 times. Year 2 numbers twice and year 3 numbers once.

Yr 1 Yr 2 Yr 3 Est WAR
ARod 8.7 4.8 8.9 7.4
Cabrera 5.6 7.0 4.6 5.9
Teixeira 6.8 4.0 3.2 5.3

I took the estimated WAR numbers for each player and decreased them by ½ a win per year for ARod and .3 WAR per year for Teixeira due to age. I kept Cabrera’s constant through year 3 and then devalued his at .3 WAR per year as well. They’ll age and get slightly worse due to declining skills or health. I also increased the average contract value by 8% per year to account for inflation in the market. Now, it’s true that we don’t know if that will continue for the next couple of years due to the current economic situation so that estimate might be slightly high for the first couple of years, but it also might be slightly low for the ensuing years since contracts have increased by about 10% the last few years.

Summing ARod’s value over ten years means that he would be worth roughly $315 M over this time period. Cabrera’s value over 6 years comes to about $200 M, and Teixeira’s value come to roughly $213 M over 8 years. Subtract roughly 10% from each player’s value to estimate the stability that a long-term contract provides – what the player gives up in order to get an 8 year contract, for example, instead of 8 1 year contracts – and that brings ARod to $283.7 M over 10 years, Cabrera to $180.8 M over 6 years, and Teixeira to $192.1 M over 8 years. The ARod and Teixeira contracts are pretty close to their actual worth as determined by this exercise while Cabrera’s isn’t that close. Cabrera’s 2 arbitration years play no small part in this discrepancy.

So what will Albert be worth? Let’s do the same 3/2/1 exercise w/ Albert’s last 3 seasons. He’s been tremendously consistent over his career so it may make this easier to predict. This makes Albert worth 8.3 WAR and we’ll assume Albert’s WAR will decline by .3 wins per season. Whoa! The sum over 10 years is nearly $490 M. Goold asked in his article if Albert would be the first $300 M player. Wow! Maybe we should assume a greater degradation of Albert’s skills and health throughout the 10 years. Let’s assume a ½ a win decline – barking feet, bad elbows, and an inability to DH will have their impact. That’s more like it – now we’re down to $415 M over 10 years.

Ok, we’re really going to be conservative now. Let’s take Albert’s worst season in terms of wins since his rookie year – 2007’s 7.6 WAR and reduce them by ½ a win per year. Now we’re at $365 M. We’ll reduce it by 10% as we did the others to account for the stability of a long-term deal and that brings us to a 10 year contract worth about $328 M. Will Albert be baseball’s first $300 M man? Probably, yes. He certainly will deserve to be.

Let’s call it an even $300 M over 10 years. Interestingly, ARod’s contract is front-loaded – w/ him earning $32 M in 2009-10 and declining to $20 M in 2017. What a smart move by Brian Cashman! I don’t know that either the Cards or Albert will go along w/ that for many reasons. Nevertheless, it’s reasonable to ask the question, "Is it really in the Cards’ best interest to pay anyone – I don’t care how great he’s been or will be -- $30 M + per season?" That’ll be in the neighborhood of 25% of the Cards’ payroll. Can we afford to put together a competitive team if we give 1 player, regardless of who that player is, $30 M?

Now, some will say that Albert isn’t about money and won’t want $30 M per season. If we give him $22 to match Teixeira’s – he’ll be satisfied. I don’t think so. There’s an ego thing w/ all ballplayers and you don’t get to be as good as Albert w/o an ego. He’ll want to be paid as the best player in the game and, I think, will expect the Cards to reward him for being underpaid all those years. That would absolutely be the wrong thing to do, IMO. It is a colossal mistake when teams pay for performance they’ve already received rather than performance they’ll get in the future. Now, in this case it’s likely that Albert will earn that $300 M and then some so that admonition may not apply here but it’s still one to keep in mind.

No other team in baseball pays 1 player ¼ of its entire team’s payroll and we all witnessed what happened to the Rangers when they signed ARod. Is Pujols worth 2 #2 starting pitchers? We could have 2 good starters and Brett Wallace at 1st w/ Freese or Craig manning 3rd. I don’t know (and I’m really playing devil’s advocate here) but I’m not convinced it will be in our interest to pay Albert what he’ll be worth. We’re not the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers or Angels and we can bad mouth them all we want, it’s not going to change the fact that the Cards may not be able to afford to pay $30 M per season to anyone – even Albert. Will it be in the Cards’ interest to wait a year, until just prior to the team’s option year? I don’t think so. Salaries will only escalate overall and Albert’s been amazingly consistent. It’s not like we don’t know what to expect from him. The only way it benefits the team to wait is if he spends a good portion of ’09 injured.

If the Cards can’t (or decide not to) resign him, should they try and trade him after ’09? What kind of bounty could the team get for Albert w/ 1 year and an option left on his deal? I know that I’m blaspheming now but these are all questions the front office is going to have to face in the coming year. I guess it’s a pretty good problem to have though, huh?