Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Pujols Contract: A Worst-Case Scenario

Most MLB analysts generally regard the $240 million deal Albert Pujols signed with the playoff-hungry Angels as a probable short-term bonanza (3-5 years), but long-term bust (5-10 years).  There is little doubt that the former Cardinals icon is going to have a monster year for his new team in 2012; quite possibly good enough to reclaim his stake as the Game's Greatest Player, which would more than likely earn him his first American League Most Valuable Player Award, and fourth overall; especially if the Halos do indeed make it back to the postseason.  I think they will; in fact, I think they'll take the AL West title away from the Texas Rangers this year, in a very heated division race.  That would likely have the Rangers still making it back into the postseason, as one of the two Wild Card teams.

Of course, the best-case scenario for Pujols and the Angels would have them going all the way - winning the World Series (the second in franchise history), as King Albert basks in the singular glory of being the only "repeat champion" - unless of course, the Cards deal one of their players to the Angels during their magical late season run; I wouldn't count on it.

Let's explore another scenario for Year One of the Pujols Contract.  This one would be every Angels fan's worst nightmare.  It has Albert experiencing a relentless barrage of injuries all season long; from a nagging strained oblique (it's the latest craze) to a pulled hamstring, and from a case of food poisoning to a broken big toe; Albert just can't seem to stay in the lineup with any regularity, as the Angels barely hang on to second place in the AL West, 27 games behind Texas; one game ahead of Seattle; two games ahead of Oakland.  All told, Pujols only plays in 81 games, hitting .238 with 12 home runs and 37 RBIs.  That's not likely, of course; but it could happen.  If it did, most fans would probably sympathize with their fallen hero; after all, it's just one bad, injury-marred year.

Scenario Number Three would be less shocking, but still disappointing for the Halos and their loyal fans; maybe even more so.  The team finishes a distant second behind the Rangers; just like last year.  Unfortunately, their overall record just isn't quite good enough to get that newly created second Wild Card berth, as the Rays win Game 162 (Evan Longoria does it again), while the Angels, in the midst of a September swoon, cap it off by losing Game 162 (blown save).  Pujols has neither a great year nor a horrible year; just another slight decrease in his production; consistent with his recent past history.  The good news:  Pujols will lead the team in every offensive category.  The bad news:  He'll hit .286 with 28 home runs and 93 RBIs; all career lows.

Taking this scenario a few years into the future; by Year Five of the Contract, Pujols has once again reached new career lows in offensive production, hitting .271 with 22 home runs and 82 RBIs.  In 2016, the Angels will finally reach the postseason; by this time, they are being led by a young superstar heading into his prime - right fielder, Mike Trout who will win the AL MVP Award on the strength of 49 home runs and 137 RBIs, while winning his third consecutive Gold Glove Award.  Unfortunately for the Angels, the team loses the ALCS to the Kansas City Royals in Game Seven, by a score of 7-6, on a two-out two-strike ninth inning grand-slam home run by Eric Hosmer.  This time, the Cardinals finally avenge their 1985 World Series loss to Kansas City, by sweeping them in four straight games; but, that's another story.

As the 2017 season unfolds, a 37-year old Albert Pujols has lost his first base job to hard-hitting Mark Trumbo, and is now the full-time designated hitter on a team in transition.  By the end of the season, several key players will become free agents, including the reigning MVP, Mike Trout.  Other players have already been unloaded in exchange for a slew of minor league prospects; none of whom will be ready for the major leagues any time soon.  A sulking Albert Pujols has asked the team to trade him; preferably to a National League team, so he can return to his coveted first base position.  Unfortunately, no team in either league has any interest in an overpaid has-been who still has five more years left on what has long been regarded "the worst free agent contract in MLB history".

After struggling through another dismal season of diminished offensive production (.258 - 18 home runs -  67 RBIs), a distraught Albert faces the harsh reality of the situation:  He can no longer play the game in a manner that won't completely tarnish his Hall of Fame credentials.  Yet, his contract will pay him for another four years.

What will he do?

PLAN A:  Continue taking the money, while his skills continue to deteriorate, further tarnishing his legacy as one of the game's all-time great players.

PLAN B:  Do what Joe DiMaggio did when he knew he could no longer perform at the level he demanded of himself:  Quit.  Ask the team to release you -without pay - from your contract, while issuing this statement:

"At this point in my career, I realize I can no longer play the game like the Albert Pujols we have all come to know and love.  Right now, I'm just one notch higher than Vernon Wells was back in 2011; remember him?  If I keep playing, I'll be performing at a level somewhere around "Adam Dunn - 2011"; remember him?  Yikes!

Anyway, thanks to my past earnings and some shrewd investment strategies, I am able to retire from the game, without having to get a real job.  Thank you, my wonderful fans, for all your support over the years; especially those who refrained from booing me mercilessly while I was going through my rapid decline.  I never thought it would happen so soon; believe me.  But, we all know baseball is a funny game.   Well, I suppose this may not seem funny right now, but maybe there will come a day when we can all look back on this chapter of my life, and get a good laugh out of it, after all.

I hope you all realize I had no choice but to walk away from that earlier chapter of my life, known as my Great Years; my St Louis Cardinals years.  But, for some reason, they seemed reluctant to give me the long-term contract I so richly deserved.  But, I forgive them; they knew not what they were doing.

In closing, I'd like to thank the wonderful owner of the Angels, Arte Moreno, for having enough faith in me to give me the contract I so richly deserved.  It was nice playing for you and all the wonderful Angels fans who made me feel - at least temporarily - wanted; not that the Cardinals fans didn't make me feel wanted.  They did, but just not enough to offset being insulted with that lousy short-term offer the organization tried to get me to accept."

Sure, this scenario may seem ridiculous; after all, even if Albert's skills do deteriorate at such an alarming rate, would he really turn down all that money just to preserve his legacy?  Unfortunately; probably not.

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