Thursday, December 08, 2011

The Pujols Effect

Since I live in St. Louis, I suppose I knew this was coming.  On the day Albert Pujols signed his new contract, wherever he signed, St. Louis was going to explode with emotion.  If he were to sign with the Cardinals, it would be a day of celebration.  If not, it would be a day of bitterness and anger.  Unfortunately, it has proven to be latter rather than the former.

As I have listened to, read, and flinched from the various emotional reactions many in our fair city have publicly shared today, one particular feeling has been surfacing most often -- betrayal.  This seems to me to be wholly unfair.  Albert Pujols did for St. Louis what is almost unthinkable:  he played the first 11 seasons of his career at an MVP caliber level.  Let me be clear; I'm  not saying he has played like a hall-of-famer over his first 11 seasons (he has).  I'm saying he has contributed 11 consecutive MVP caliber seasons.  As a life-long baseball fan, such a feat seems to me to be almost entirely unfathomable.  Had I not witnessed much of it, I'd have trouble believing it.  To put it in perspective, here are some numbers from Aaron Gleeman at Hardballtalk:
Pujols was paid around $104 million for his 11 seasons with the Cardinals, during which time Fan Graphs calculates his overall value as being approximately $330 million.
And that’s regular season only, so the $330 million in value doesn’t even include Pujols hitting .330 with 18 homers and a 1.046 OPS in 74 postseason games while winning two World Series titles.
Those figures are based on Wins Above Replacement and the typical cost of acquiring players on the open market, so there’s certainly some room to quibble one way or another, ...[but] the Cardinals, while paying him handsomely for most of that time, also paid dramatically below market rates for more than a decade of Hall of Fame production.
Albert led the Cardinals to three (3) NL penants and two (2) World Series championships and made the Cardinal organization FAR more money than they ever considered paying him.  Yet the general sentiment seems to be that Albert abandoned his fans for more money -- that he should have given a "home town discount" to the Cardinals and stayed for less years and less guaranteed money.  This despite the fact that Pujols clearly took less than market value in his last contract extension with the Cards in 2004.  Still, many fans are furious he did not take $40-$70 million less (depending who you believe) from the Cardinals to stay.  Why not the fury at a franchise which is worth more and made more last year than the Angels?  I'm not suggesting the Cardinals owned it to Pujols to match the Angels, or even come close.  They made a choice, and so did Albert.

As it turns out, Pujols signed with the Angels for $20-$40 million less than the Miami Marlins were offering (never, in my life, did I believe I would write that phrase), so money must not have been his only motivation.  And for what it's worth, I think the Cardinals made the right call in not signing him to a contract which would have been paying him over $20 million per season into his 40s.  10-year contracts for players about to turn 32 aren't likely to turn out well (ask the Yankees about their current deal with A-Rod), and I have a feeling the Angels will regret this one, eventually if not anytime soon.

But Cards fans should not waste their time being bitter or feeling betrayed.  St. Louis owed Albert nothing more or less than it gave him -- support for 11 years.  Likewise, Albert owes St. Louis nothing more or less than what he gave us.  Truthfully, we received among the greatest 11 consecutive seasons in the history of the game and we got them at about 1/3 of the cost.  This bitterness is not fair or becoming for the self-proclaimed "baseball heaven."  As one who is also a fan of a couple of other teams in MLB (in addition to the Cardinals), I'd rather see that Cards fans are grateful for what they had and justifiably sad for what they've lost.

I get the sadness.  I cried when Tom Glavine (my favorite player) left the Braves and signed with the Mets after the 2002 season.  Look at it this way:  at least Albert Pujols didn't sign with the Cubs.

Grace and peace,
James