Is Albert Pujols really worth it?

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Signing the best player in the game to a long-term deal is not a no-brainer.

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by Charlie Miller

Question: Would you rather be the GM that allowed Albert Pujols to walk? Or would rather be the GM, who seven years from now, will be associated with a contract that is crippling an organization?

That, in a nutshell, is the dilemma for St. Louis Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak. There are no shortage of stories from writers citing this source or that source saying Pujols is close to reaching a deal with the Miami Marlins, or the St. Louis Cardinals, that the Chicago Cubs are squarely in the mix and even the Los Angeles Angels are in the hunt. And I’m sure they are all true, to a certain extent.

However, the decision rests with the Cardinals. They know what it will take to convince Pujols to finish his career in St. Louis. They know the dollars and they know how many years they must guarantee. And St. Louis ownership appears committed to the cause of keeping King Albert in Cardinal red.

But is the price worth it? Seven years from now, as Pujols approaches 40, there could be another three years of guaranteed salary if the contract is for 10 years. That is a tough pill to swallow. Unless, of course, you plan on being the general manager of another organization by that time, then of course, it doesn’t matter to you.

It appears the Cardinals and Pujols are on the cusp of reaching an agreement. All will be smiling, as will fans from every corner of Cardinal Nation.

But the follow-up question to the one above is: Will the next five years of Albert being Albert outweigh the next five years of an aging star approaching 40 and carrying an albatross of a contract?

If Pujols begins to show signs of age, gets injured or we discover that his 2011 season has become the norm rather than the anomaly, this contract will quickly strangle the organization. And that is a real possibility.

In order to answer either of the questions we’ve posed here, you must determine whether you are signing the player whose 10-year average production was off the charts, or the 2011 player whose numbers were merely above average.

Last season Pujols had 14 fewer doubles, four fewer homers, 24 fewer RBIs, hit 32 points lower and saw his OPS drop by 0.144 from his 10-year averages.

It says here that Cardinal fans are getting what they’ve clamored for (re-signing Pujols at any cost), and the front office is getting what it fears (an aging star’s astronomical salary hamstringing the team in seven years).

Of course, by that time, Pujols will have cemented his legacy in St. Louis much like Derek Jeter has in New York and will own numerous records, and potentially be within reach of 763 home runs. But it will take another World Series title to make this a PennyWise contract, rather than a DollarFoolish deal.

Follow Charlie Miller on Twitter @AthlonCharlie.

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