Albert Pujols is the best player in baseball, and it’s been that way for the past 10 years. The Cardinals first baseman signed a 7-year $100 million contract prior to the 2004 season, exchanging three years of arbitration and four free agency years for the security of a significant financial commitment from the club. All the while Albert has continued to destroy opposing pitching like a mad man, run the bases well, and play good defense. He’s also vastly outproduced his $16 million annual salary the past three seasons and hasn’t complained when other inferior players signed contracts for more money.
Pujols has easily been one of the biggest bargains in baseball, playing for around half of what he’s been worth. Even his new teammate, Matt Holliday, signed for more money from the Cardinals. Michael Young and Adrian Beltre have matched his $16 million annual salary. Andruw Jones has surpassed it.
It’s time for Albert to get paid fairly, but can the Cardinals afford him?
In order for St. Louis to pay him what he’s worth, Pujols would have to make more than Alex Rodriguez’s 10-year $275 million contract. There’s little doubt that Albert deserves that sort of money — particularly after giving St. Louis a discount for five years — but such a deal would severely hamper the Cardinals’ ability to build a competitive team around him.
If the Cards were to give Pujols the biggest contract in the game — which he’s been rumored to want — they wouldn’t be able to sign guys like Lance Berkman (a one-year, $8 million deal) to bolster the lineup, and they would probably have to choose between pitchers Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright, who will be free agents after the 2012 and 2013 seasons, respectively. They likely wouldn’t be able to afford to pick up a guy like Jake Westbrook at the trade deadline, and then keep him after the year. They would still be competitive, but improving the team would be even more challenging.
Albert wants to be paid what he’s worth (or close to it), and he wants to be a Cardinal for life. He wants to win, he wants the fans to see a winner, and he wants ownership to create a winner. While are parties are aligned in their interests, it’s hard for everything to come together — concessions will have to be made.
In the end, I believe Pujols will sign an extension with the Cardinals similar to the one Joe Mauer signed with Minnesota. He won’t be the highest paid player after that, and he doesn’t have to be. We all know he’s the best player in the game and that he doesn’t need the money to prove it. For him to discount his services to stay with the franchise he loves would be another sign of his humble qualities and it would prove that winning is his highest priority.
It’s too bad that Albert belongs to a team that doesn’t have the financial capabilities of the Yankees or Red Sox because his happiness will come at the cost of what he rightfully has earned and deserves — to be the top-paid player in Major League Baseball.Google+