What is Albert Pujols worth?

Thanks to some insomnia, there’s going to be an early morning post here at Redbird Dugout. I’m going to try to answer a question, what is Albert Pujols truly worth? I’ve been doing some research and consideration on this topic for months now, but I recently came up with something that I felt could value him as accurately as possible. But maybe I just wanted to find a spot in Pitchers Hit Eighth’s Daily Pujols for today!

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Geez, another Albert Pujols post. Can I go a day without seeing one? Probably not, and I apologize. But I hope to add something to the Albert Pujols discussion with this post.

It’s a difficult thing to figure out and everyone has an opinion on it, but where are the facts? We have many people saying he’s worth $30 million per year and we have Bobby Cox saying he’s worth $50 million per year. With so many big numbers thrown around, many of which no teams can really afford while keeping a winning ball club around him. Truth is though, no information as to what both sides are looking for has come out.

There have been rumors that Pujols is looking for 10 years, $300 million. Meanwhile the Cardinals are rumored to either be willing to give 10 years or the $30 million average annual value, but not both. Whether these are true, we may never know.

The first thing we need to realize when looking at the Albert Pujols situation is that we are not a winning team right now. In the last four seasons, the Cardinals have made the playoffs once. They got swept by the Dodgers in 2009. This is probably the worst opening day roster we’ve had from 2007 until now. I would consider putting the 2008 Cardinals below the 2011 team right now simply because we knew we were going to miss Chris Carpenter for the first half of the season.

So we can’t say that we need Albert Pujols to stay a winning ball club because the Cardinals simply aren’t winning right now. I think that’s something that’s easily missed in these discussions. Now, onto some valuation numbers.

When you look at player comparables, you have to look at the biggest contract in baseball. That would be Alex Rodriguez’s 10 year, $275 million contract he signed in December of 2007 at the age of 32 years old. So just how comparable are Rodriguez and Pujols?

In Rodriguez’s 10 years prior to signing his 10 year, $275 million contract, his numbers break down to a 162 game average of .304 batting average, 48 home runs, 133 runs batted in, 130 runs scored, a .394 on base percentage, a 151 OPS+, and an average WAR of 7.6.

In Pujols’ first 10 years in the league, his numbers break down to a 162 game average of .331 batting average, 42 home runs, 128 runs batted in, 123 runs scored, a .426 on base percentage, a 172 OPS+, and an average WAR of 8.6.

The numbers are pretty close. Albert was the better hitter and Rodriguez provided more thump in the lineup. The OBP difference is pretty much absorbed by the difference in batting average as well. Once you take into account the market Rodriguez plays in and the fact that he plays a position where defense is at a slightly higher premium than first base, the contract is pretty much the perfect comparable.

You also need to consider that, in baseball, you are only as good as your last year. It’s why Adrian Beltre keeps getting big contracts. He puts up a great year during a contract year and pulls in far more than he’s worth and then rides. Now, maybe that’s unfair to him, but looking at the stats the correlation is definitely there.

In 2007, Alex Rodriguez posted a 9.9 WAR. In 2010, Albert Pujols posted a 7.2 WAR.

Personally, the $27.5 million average annual value would be my limit in negotiations with Albert. If I needed to sign the 2007 Alex Rodriguez or the 2010 Albert Pujols, I would sign the 2007 Rodriguez. He’d played better up until that point, and played a premium position that would allow me to get a guy who really can’t play defense but can hit the lights out of the ball to play first base or outfield, the two positions you traditionally put a player who can’t play defense.

However, thanks to our friends the Philadelphia Phillies, we also have to consider the new contract of Mr. Ryan Howard. Howard is nowhere near the player that Pujols and Rodriguez are, yet there he is with a freshly signed 5 year, $125 million contract that goes into effect in 2012. I guess that the buyout of $10 million is included in the contract because his salary averages $23 million over those five years according to our friends at Cot’s Baseball Contracts.

I’ll agree with the crowd that claims that we have to make Albert Pujols the highest paid first baseman in the league. Even though Howard is being overpaid by the Phillies, we are pretty close with Mark Teixeira’s 8 year, $180 million deal he signed with the Yankees in December of 2008 that pays him, on average $22.5 million per year.

So using comparables, I can see that a fair price for Albert should be between $23 million and $28 million.

This also stands up against other comparables from this season’s free agent signings as well.

What I did was take some of the top free agent signings on ESPN’s free agent tracker and break them down on average annual value and the Wins Above Replacement of that player. I ended up with a total of 25 signings. I broke it down three different ways in the end.

The first thing I did though, was remove the outliers. The five highest and five lowest Dollars/WAR were removed. We can all agree that we aren’t going to give Albert $13 million per WAR as the Yankees did with Derek Jeter, and we can all agree that we aren’t going to give him $357,000 per WAR like the Giants did with Pat Burrell. This ensures that we get a good, solid average.

First, I took the average cost for the top-10 in WAR. I figured that as your WAR got higher, your Dollars/WAR would decrease. This held true as it came out to just over $3 million per WAR.

Second, I had an age defined average. I took the players that were within two years of age of Albert and figured out that, and that was the highest valuation at $3.7 million per WAR.

Third, I took the straight up average for position players, which was $3.5 million per WAR.

That comes out to an average cost of $3.4 million per WAR. So if you base his contract on his 7.2 WAR from 2010, since most free agents get contracts based on their last season, that’s a value of $24.48 million for Albert. If you base it on his career average WAR of 8.4, that’s a value of $28.56 million. That’s with valuations from this offseason.

That puts the value for Albert Pujols between $25 million and $29 million, pretty much on par with the last valuation.

Ultimately, I believe that every single Cardinals fan would like to see Albert Pujols back in a Cardinals uniform in 2012 and beyond. There is no doubt the if he stays he would be a legend in St. Louis for the rest of his life, much in the way that Stan Musial is today.

The question that remains to be answered is: What is too much for Albert Pujols?

Certainly the Cardinals could offer him a 10 year, $350 million deal and guarantee that Albert would be in Cardinal red for the rest of his career. In that situation though, he would likely be surrounded by the Memphis Redbirds for the rest of his career and the Cardinals would struggle as a team.

I’m all for re-signing Albert, but he is just one man. There are 24 other players on the team that will make or break this team’s success. We need to be able to maximize their quality with or without Pujols.

What kind of deal would I offer Albert?

Albert Pujols is 31 years old, but he’s shown signs of decline. His strikeout rate is up and his walk rate is falling. I don’t agree with the school of thought that you have to overpay him because we’ve underpaid him the previous 8 years of his career. Albert knew what he was doing when he signed that contract and he even said that he wanted to play it out and not renegotiate it early when he could have had the chance. He was also the second highest paid first baseman at the time he signed that contract.

Management also has to look beyond just 2012. They will need to make a decision on whether to give Chris Carpenter his $15 million option next season. They’ll also need to figure out how to keep Adam Wainwright, who has pitched like a pitcher who will command a $20+ million contract. Meanwhile you have key young players like Jaime Garcia and Colby Rasmus who will likely both hit arbitration next year.

It’s easy to get tunnel vision and say, “We need Albert Pujols to win.” But the truth is that we haven’t won the last four seasons with Albert Pujols in the lineup. Because it’s the players around him that are lacking. And if we can’t put those players around him while he’s making $16 million, why would we suddenly be able to when he’s making $30 million?

The fear for some Cardinals fans, and I agree with it, is that the Cardinals will turn into the Texas Rangers after they signed Alex Rodriguez. After putting that $25 million on the books, they struggled to build a team around him and ultimately spent the better part of that entire contract as a losing team. Until this season, the final year of that contract, where Rodriguez helped send the Rangers to the World Series when he got the final out of the ALCS for the Yankees.

I really can’t know what I would offer Albert. I would love to offer him an 8 year, $225 million contract that would give him an MLB record $28.125 million in average annual value, placing him just above Roger Clemens’ 2007 contract. But can the Cardinals truly afford that?

When you look at the list of highest average annual values, there have been 14 contracts handed out to players that are worth more than $20 million per season. Three were given outside the top-4 media markets. One was given outside the top-10 media markets. That other one, the $23 million per season deal given to Joe Mauer before last season by Minnesota, the #15 media market. The Cardinals come in #21 on the media market size list.

His contract is certainly deserving of being at the top of the average annual value list. His individual on field performance backs that up. I don’t think you can go much higher than $28 million. I understand that he’s the best player in baseball right now and perhaps all-time, but you can’t pay him based on his position in the history of the game. Pay him for the on-field production and let history make it’s own judgements. His being the best player in baseball isn’t winning us any extra games.

So where are we now?

I don’t know. Same place we were before I started writing this an hour ago. Hopefully I haven’t rambled on and I’ve actually contributed something to the Albert Pujols discussion.

I want Albert Pujols back in Cardinals’ Red for the rest of his career. What I worry about is whether the Cardinals can truly afford to do that. I would much rather see the Cardinals win than Albert Pujols playing for us.

I’m a Cardinals fan. I was before Albert, I am during Albert, and I will be after Albert.