November 2, 2011
At 6’3″ and 230 pounds, Jose Alberto Pujols better known as Albert Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals, is a tree of a man. He has broad, powerful shoulders, thick muscled lower extremities, and huge hands. Pujols is built like the prototypical first baseman; he is enormous. And, watching him swing a bat is a thing of beauty. The bat rests behind his head, above his shoulder waving subtly. Once the ball is delivered it glides through the strike zone smoothly and effortlessly until it connects. Then there is a thunderous “CRACK!”, and the baseball is on its way out of the park. St. Louis fans and management have watched that scene hundreds of times over his eleven year career. In fact, they have watched that scene 445 times to be exact. Albert Pujols has been one of the best players and most prolific hitters that has ever played for the Cardinals, and one of the most decorated players in the history of Major League Baseball.
Despite being so productive as a baseball player, at the start of this season, Pujols struggled against the Cardinals management team to reach a deal for a new contract that would make him a Cardinal for the rest of his career. In 2012, he will become a free agent for the first time in his career and he wanted settle all contract negotiations before the season began. Given his extensive resume, he expected a big contract extension. Albert was a three-time MVP, a ten-time All-Star, a six-time Silver Slugger winner, a two-time Gold Glove winner, a one-time champion and has lead the league or is amongst the leaders in every hitting category every year. Until this season, Pujols had at least a .300 batting average with 32 home runs in each of his seasons; in this season he hit .299 with 37 home runs. The management team in St. Louis thought that he was nearing the end of his career and allegedly preferred a moderate extension with the option to cut ties with the hitter if necessary.
The St. Louis Cardinals have some valid concerns. Pujols has been injured more often than usual in this season, playing a career low 147 games this season. His batting average dipped to .299 from his career average of .328, and his home run and RBI totals are lower too. But these discrepancies in his numbers could be a product of injury rather than being caused by aging. Pujols missed a month of baseball with a broken wrist. Then, he had to play himself into baseball shape. Pujols nearly reached the exact numbers that he produces every year despite missing a month of baseball.
The Cardinals gambled by not signing Pujols to a lucrative contract before the season. Now, they are completely removed from winning an unexpected World Championship with Albert Pujols as the marquee name of the franchise. Pujols performed as well as only two players have in the history of the World Series. He joined Babe Ruth and Mr. October, Reggie Jackson, as the only players to hit three home runs in a single game of the World Series. Pujols who was already among the best ever in the regular season and the playoffs, has now reached World Series immortality too. Since the start of the season, Ryan Howard has gotten a $125,000,000 contract (he lost in the first round of the playoffs this year), Jayson Werth pulled in $126,000,000, and Carl Crawford received $142,000,000 (and neither of them reached the playoffs). Pujols’s career overshadows all of their careers and is only comparable to some of the best hitters in baseball history, like Stan Musial and Mickey Mantle. Pujols has 3 MVP’s and Howard has one. The highest that Crawford has finished in MVP voting is seventh and the highest finish for Werth is 8th. The last player of his stature, Alex Rodriguez, received a ten year, $275,000,000 contract at the age of 35. Pujols is 31. With his second championship ring and his standing in the Cardinal’s franchise, Albert could hypothetically command more than any of these players.
Right now, Matt Holliday, a teammate of Pujols, has a higher pay rate than him, and the Cardinal’s payroll always hovers around $99 million, the middle of Major League Baseball team salaries. This means that unless the Cardinals are willing to stretch their payroll into the upper echelon of salaried franchises, then they chance losing one of the best players in the history of the game to the market. With the willingness of the New York Yankees, the Boston Red Sox, and the Philadelphia Phillies to overpay free agents, and the rigidity of the St. Louis Cardinals on giving him a contract at the start of the year, Pujols will probably have a new team at the beginning of the 2012 season.