As a baseball Fan that grew up fascinated by the backs of baseball cards and the stat section of the Sporting News, going over to baseball-reference.com to look at Albert Pujols' stat page is a study in the surreal. In the modern era, there has never been a player as consistently devastating. Year after year, he puts up eye popping numbers that just make your head swirl. There is no way to completely wrap your head around how good a player he is.
Alex Rodriguez was long the glory guy of the major leagues. He was considered by most to be the best player in baseball. But at no time in A-Rod's career did he ever put a ten year streak together that looked anywhere near Pujols. For his CAREER, Albert's slash line is .331/.426/.624. He barely missed .600 in slugging in 2010 and it's like a major upset. In ten years of playing for the Cardinals, Pujols has averaged 119 runs, 190 hits, 43 doubles, 40 homers, 123 RBI, 91 walks and 64 strikeouts. There is no way to fathom that kind of continuity. Yeah, we could probably insert Barry Bonds into this conversation. And Bonds cleans up on even Albert Pujols. But that is an entirely distasteful conversation, isn't it (unless you are a Giants' fan)?
So while we can't even get our minds around how good Albert Pujols is, how are the Cardinals supposed to figure out how to compensate him? The $14 million he made last year is such a joke compared to the value he built for the team. But what are the Cardinals supposed to do? Say they budget around $110 million for player salaries. If they paid Pujols what he was worth, they would have to pay him upwards of $28 to $30 million a year. That would be 25 to 28 percent of their payroll. Add in the ridiculous sum they paid Holliday and you have two guys making over $45 million. So what can they do?
The Cardinals picked up Pujols' absurd option for 2011. Should they hope he regresses quickly? Should they just try to get through the year and then let another team have him? Should they break the bank and pay him what he is worth? It's really a no win situation for the Cardinals, isn't it? Maybe they have to get creative and give him a percentage of ownership or something. Teams are now using player analysis to ensure that they don't overpay for talent. But Pujols is the type of player that breaks all the models. He turns the tables around so that the tools teams use to keep payroll down, make Pujols so expensive that they can't afford him. It's certainly a conundrum, isn't it?
As for Pujols, is any amount too much? Or is any amount enough? He certainly has built the value. Does he insist on getting it? Or does he figure that $25 mil is more than enough to be happy? If you think the Jeter story is interesting now, just wait. The Pujols puzzle for the Cardinals is going to be the biggest story of the coming year. Pujols has expressed a desire to have an extension in place before the season. The Cardinals reply that there is no rush. That is a dangerous stance for the Cardinals, but if it were the Fan's team, the Fan would probably be doing the Russian two-step too. It has to be a day the Cardinals have dreaded for a long time. And now it's upon them.
It would be nice if something could be worked out. Pujols belongs in St. Louis and we fans don't really like talking about money and negotiations. We just want to sit back and watch the best player of his generation (and many other generations) play baseball.