The St. Louis Cardinals are not in an enviable position regarding Albert Pujols. Well, scratch that. They are in the least enviable position possible when talking about Albert Pujols. His current contract will expire after the 2011 season, meaning he will be a free agent if he doesn’t agree to a contract extension this offseason (he said he will not negotiate during the season).
Being the best player in baseball right now, and the 5th best first baseman all-time according to this, he has a lot of leverage. And, like Alex Rodriguez before him, he is not afraid of using that leverage to its fullest extent. In fact, his agent has said he is using Alex Rodriguez’s 10-year, $252 million contract as a starting point for discussions. Albert Pujols is certainly in Alex Rodriguez’s company on a talent level, so that doesn’t initially offend.
Age-wise, though? A-Rod played his first season of the megadeal at age 25, while Winnie the Pujols (thanks, Berman) will play 2012 at age 32. That’s a big difference. Still, though, if anyone can shine like this into his late 30s and early 40s, it’s a machine like Albert. But that begs the question: can anyone shine like that?
Pujols has had an OPS+ above 170 6 times in his 10 seasons. He’s had a WAR above 8.0 in 7 seasons. He’s walked more than 90 times in 6 years and struck out fewer than 70 times in 8 seasons. Remarkable numbers. His worst numbers in those categories are 151 OPS+, 5.8 WAR, 68 BB, and 93 K.
I looked for anybody to have at least those bottom-barrel numbers in a season at age 32 or older. A staggering 39 players have done that. But, nobody doubts that Pujols will still be dominant for the next couple of years. The question is will the last half of a 10-year deal be earned. Increasing the age requirement by 5 years (up to 37), the list leaves just 6 men standing: Barry Bonds, Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Ted Williams, Bob Johnson, and Tris Speaker. Bonds, the Babe, and Teddy Ballgame are three of the top five hitters ever, so that’s not completely surprising. Hank Aaron’s highs weren’t as high as Pujols’, but he was definitely consistent for a long time, so I wasn’t shocked there, either. Tris Speaker’s presence wouldn’t catch any historian off-guard, as the guy hit an unbelievable 52 doubles at age 38. Finally, Bob Johnson was a beneficiary of a very diminished American League due to World War II in 1944, so his OPS+ and WAR (which are based on league average) were inflated.
In other words, not many people have done better than Pujols’ worst-case-scenario in the latter stages of their careers. The only ones who have done it have been the best of the best. That’s a cause for worry as the Cardinals consider their next step in the contract negotiations. On the other hand, Pujols IS the best of the best. But I guess that is Albert Pujols’ only flaw- he won’t be Albert Pujols forever.