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Home Lance Gurewitz Albert Pujols and the Future of the St. Louis Cardinals (Part Two)

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Albert Pujols and the Future of the St. Louis Cardinals (Part Two) PDF Print E-mail
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Lance Gurewitz Article Archive
Written by Lance Gurewitz   
Monday, 21 February 2011 10:15

UPDATE: As commenters have indicated below, the article did not address Pujols’ 10-and-5 rights, which permit him to veto any trade, an option that reports have indicated he would exercise. This is obviously a significant caveat. However, under the conditions described in the article, it is entirely possible that Pujols would change his stance. If the Cardinals decide and inform Pujols that they will not meet his demands, he will know that his time in St. Louis is nearly over, and there would be little for him to gain by refusing a trade if his goal is to become baseball’s highest-paid player. The Cardinals could ask him to waive his 10-and-5 rights for the good of the team once they find a team that will agree to the trade and the extension. If Pujols refuses, it could help give the Cardinals some PR-based leverage over the man who supposedly wants to remain a Cardinal for his whole career. After all, that would mean he would rather negotiate with the Cardinals than immediately sign with someone else, and if the Cards play hardball when the time comes, they may get their man at a smaller contract than expected. If Pujols wants to block all trades, that is certainly his prerogative, but approaching the situation as outlined in this article would still be better for the Cardinals than doing nothing until November.

Well, the infamous deadline has come and gone, and the Cardinals opted not to meet Albert Pujols’ demands. As promised in Part One, here is a look at how the Cardinals should approach their looming decision.

Even though several valuation methods suggest that Pujols stands a very good chance of being worth over $280 million over the next 10 years, such a deal would to some extent fundamentally alter the way the Cardinals’ front office operates. If they do not already put as much money into payroll as they possibly can, they may have to start. On top of that, developing more top prospects to supplement Pujols when he is no longer an MVP candidate will become even more important a goal than it is already. (Then again, if Pujols leaves, the Cardinals will need prospects just as badly.) Pujols and Mozeliak will also take hits in the press if Mozeliak fails to build a contender around Pujols.

Still, for the first five years, Pujols would be a near lock to exceed the value of his contract—see the chart in Part One—which cannot be said for most free agents. Consider that if Pujols posts 6.5 Wins Above Replacement in 2013, which would be one of the worst seasons of his career, his season will have been worth $34.8 million to the Cardinals before even accounting for their place on the marginal win curve. Thus, barring catastrophic injuries, Pujols should have no problem justifying the value of his contract early on, and even if he struggles toward the end of the deal, it is very likely that the excess value at the beginning will have made up the difference. Most of that is old news, though.

Here’s the twist. The Cardinals need to decide whether they are willing to give Pujols the biggest free agent contract of all time… before the trading deadline on July 31. If they decide to pay him, they can wait until the offseason to negotiate and try to minimize the commitment but ultimately sign the deal. If they decide not to pay him, they need to trade him away.

Yes, trading away Albert Pujols sounds crazy, but sounding crazy and being crazy are very different. The problem is as follows. By the time the season ends, some teams will recognize the merit of offering Pujols a megadeal, if they have not already. That means if the Cardinals will not pay up, someone else will. To hope that Pujols will sign for something like eight years and $220 million is foolish and unrealistic. (For reference, that’s asking Pujols to sign for only $5 million more per year than Mark Teixeira, and the difference between the two is clearly much greater than that.) So when the Cardinals lose the bidding, they will be compensated with two draft picks.

The basic condition that would justify a trade of Albert Pujols is that the prospects received have to be more valuable than the sum of half a season of Pujols and those draft picks. If the Cardinals decide beforehand that they will not be able to re-sign Pujols, though, they should focus on getting as much future value as possible. (Note: That could arguably change if the team turns out to be a surprise World Series contender, but that would indeed be a big surprise.) Based on what the Rangers paid for Cliff Lee and what the Yankees almost paid, Pujols would almost certainly be able to draw prospects more valuable than those draft picks, especially if the Cardinals offer a negotiating window prior to the trade. If that offer is there, the Cardinals should pull the trigger.

So what teams would be interested in trading for Pujols? The highest bidder would most likely be one of the teams with the willingness and ability to sign Pujols to that historic extension. Cross-referencing Ben Nicholson-Smith's Yahoo! article with personal analysis leaves the Cubs, Blue Jays, and Giants as the most likely suitors. A deal with the Cubs almost definitely would not happen due to the unanimous fear of trading within the division from all but the most progressive of general managers, even though the Cubs seem likely to pursue Pujols after the season if they get the chance. The Jays certainly have the prospects to get a deal done, and with Vernon Wells’ contract off their books, the stage would be set for them to reinvest that money in the game’s best player and launch themselves into competition in the AL East. The Giants may have a bit more trouble fitting Pujols in, but he is the perfect solution for a team with a dominant pitching staff and a subpar offense, which may make him enticing enough for them to find a way to make it work.

If one of these teams is willing to pay Pujols, the prospects it would offer—given the possibility of signing the extension as part of the deal—would easily exceed what the Cardinals could get in the draft. If the Cardinals hope to compete in the short term without Pujols on the team, they’ll need to replace him with the best prospects they can get, even if it means shipping him out a few months early.

Lance Gurewitz is currently a freshman at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. He also serves as the MLB Trade Rumors Florida Marlins Team Coordinator. You can read and discuss his baseball analysis and other sports musings in 140 characters or less by following @LanceWG42 on Twitter

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