The Cardinals-Pujols Negotiation Debate

February 17, 2011

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Babe Ruthless.

These types of issues in sports always perplex me. Albert Pujols is clearly the best baseball player the St. Louis Cardinals have, and likely the best player in all of Major League Baseball. But, with his contact up after the 2011 season, it is time to work on a new deal. If no deal happens by the end of today, talks will continue after the season – when Pujols is a free agent with a maximum amount of leverage

Ten years and $275M is the first baseman’s starting point. That is big time A-Rod type money that many would agree Pujols likely deserves. But, the St. Louis Cardinals are in a tough spot. The franchise is not among the richest in the league (unless the conversation turns to tradition). It seems if Pujols really wanted to play for the Cardinals he would move off of his high price tag and get a deal done.

So, here we are at yet another annual, typical sports standoff between star player and franchise. But, in this case with Pujols and
the Cardinals, which side is right and justified?

Loyal Homer will argue that Pujols is being outrageous in his demands while Babe Ruthless will argue it is the franchise that is failing to see value

It all comes down to today. A deal must be agreed upon, or the deadline passes and Pujols reports to camp, where anything can happen with contract negotiations… from a calmly negotiated deal (unlikely since Pujols said he does not wish for talks to continue into the season) to a standoff that will continue indefinitely and begin to impact how effective the player can be (far more likely). Which is it? But, more importantly, which side is right?

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The Cardinals-Pujols Negotiation Debate… Pujols Threatens to Put St. Louis on Lockdown

February 17, 2011

Read the opposing argument from Babe Ruthless.

This whole Albert Pujols situation really exploded in the past two weeks or so. We’ve known for awhile that his contract was set to expire of the end of the 2011 season, and that he was going to be a wealthy man. We all just assumed that he would either reach an extension with the St. Louis Cardinals and there would be a general consensus that it would take place. That doesn’t appear to be the case after the passing of Wednesday’s self-imposed deadline to reach a new deal. So who is to blame? I think this is an easy one. It’s Albert Pujols. He’s being outrageous, actually.

I have a lot of respect for Albert Pujols. I was in attendance when he hit his 150th home run on a Sunday night in Atlanta nearly seven years ago. Until this point, he’s been worshiped in a city that worships baseball. But the fans in the Gateway City, as St. Louis is often referred to, know their baseball and I have a feeling those knowledgeable and passionate fans could turn on him. Who could blame them?

According to sources, St. Louis had offered Pujols an eight year contract that was believed to be worth in excess of $200M with a possible stake in ownership once his playing days are completed. With Pujols, currently 31 years old, the life of that type of deal would take him to the age of 39, and presumably, to the near-end of his career. As a middle-class American who earns considerably less than my sports idols, how I am supposed to feel toward Pujols for turning down such a contract, especially since he grew up in less than stellar conditions in the Dominican Republic?

There is no conceivable way to question Pujols’ credentials. He is arguably the game’s best player and deserves to be paid handsomely. But I don’t know if it is realistic to compare what he could make to what players on the New York Yankees make. That throws out the likes of Alex Rodriguez, C.C. Sabathia, and Mark Texiera. A-Rod and Texiera also have the option of playing DH the last few years of their contract if age begins to take away their fielding skills. Besides, the Yankees are a whole other gorilla to tackle, and well, Albert, if you want that kind of cash, Brian Cashman would probably love to talk to you because he needs something positive going for him.

The Cardinals have stated that they can’t get into the payroll stratosphere with the likes of the Yankees and Red Sox. By signing Pujols to an A-Rod type deal, not only would the organization blow its payroll through the roof, but the chances of building a championship-type contender around the star first baseman would be severely limited.

There’s no question that the Cardinals are taking a risk by not reaching a deal with Pujols yet. Truth be told, it never should have gotten to this point. But it has, and the Cardinals are going to have to dig deep into the coffers because Pujols is asking for the bank vault and the keys to lock the vault up after he’s done with it. Signing Pujols to a contract that exceeds either of A-Rod’s last two contracts will make it less likely that Pujols will add another ring to that hand. Way to cripple your organization, Albert!

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The Cardinals-Pujols Negotiation Debate… Pujols Deserves To Play Hardball

February 17, 2011

Read the opposing argument from Loyal Homer.

The St. Louis Cardinals have fallen victim to one of the classic blunders – the most famous of which is “never get involved in a land war in Asia.” But only slightly less well-known is this – “Never go against a Dominican power hitting first baseman when free agency is on the line!”

The St. Louis front office has engaged in a potentially disastrous game of chicken with Albert Pujols, and by all outward appearances, the front office has lost. Pujols and the club have been deadlocked in a contract standoff for weeks, and it appears the window to get a new deal done before free agency (which has been graciously extended multiple times) has finally closed. This virtually assures that the Cardinals will have to pay an even greater price to reacquire the services of the man who has become the modern face of the franchise and is arguably the greatest player in baseball today – that is, if the team is even able sign him again, considering the sizeable number of suitors he is sure to attract.

Is Albert Pujols at fault for wanting to be compensated as one of the highest paid players in the game today? Certainly not! Some 24 other contracts have surpassed the 7 year $100 million mark that Pujols’ current deal set back in 2004. While it might be expected that a few of the recent splashy contracts of players like Alex Rodriguez ($275,000,000 for 10 years), Joe Mauer ($184,000,000 for eight years) and C. C. Sabathia ($161,000,000 for seven years) might have exceeded that of Pujols significantly older deal, it should come as an absolute shock that the contracts of Alfonso Soriano ($136,000,000 for eight years), Barry Zito ($126,000,000 for seven years), and Carlos Beltran ($119,000,000 for seven years) surpassed that of Pujols considering the players’ comparative values.

The Cardinals should be kissing Pujols’ cleats right now for the simple fact that he has played for the franchise at below market value for as long as he has. This is after all Albert freakin’ Pujols we are talking about, the man who has been an unstoppable force both at the plate and in the field since bursting onto the scene as the Rookie of the Year in 2001. The same man who is a three time MVP, a nine time All-Star, a six time Gold Glover, and six time Silver Slugger winner. This is the same man who is the active career leader in batting average, slugging percentage, and on-base percentage. He deserves whatever contract he wants. Considering he isn’t even the greatest compensated player on his own team – a distinction which Matt Holiday holds with his seven year $120M dollar deal – it seems as if Pujols has every right to demand more money.

While critics of Pujols will point to his desire for a 10-year deal worth around $300M as unreasonable, it is honestly just fair market value. Alex Rodriguez is probably the closest player to Pujols in terms of caliber of talent, and the deal Pujols is requesting is only $25M more than what A-Rod got just three years ago. Admittedly Alex Rodriguez’s numbers have dropped as of late, making a similar deal look like a bad investment for the Cards. But it must be considered within the greater context of the economics of the league.

Albert Pujols would be the most coveted free agent of this off-season, if not of all time. Nearly every team in the league would attempt to acquire his services. There is a common misconception that Pujols may not demand A-Rod type money in free agency because most of the clubs with deep pockets – namely the Yankees, Red Sox, and Phillies – already have serviceable options locked up at first base, but this theory has some serious holes. It would be foolish to count the Red Sox and Yankees out of any free agent bidding war, as an American League team can always find ways to work a bat, especially one of Pujols caliber, into the lineup. Add to that the fact that Adrian Gonzalez only has a one year deal in place in Boston, as well as the fact that the Yankees could have a spare $90M if C.C. Sabathia opts out and walks after this season, and suddenly these two unmotivated teams have a reason to give Pujols a good look. Even if its not Boston and New York that offer to shell out the big bucks for him, some team will. Teams like the Cubs, Giants, Dodgers, and Angels all seem to have the bankroll and the desire to ink a game-changing player like Pujols. Unfortunately for Cardinals fans, baseball is a sport without a salary cap. A team’s unwillingness to meet his demands may very well mean that the franchise must sit idly by while the single greatest asset in team history leaves with absolutely nothing to show for it.

So how did it all come to this? Who is to blame?

This worst-case scenario nightmare that the Cardinals are now in was COMPLETELY avoidable. The team had the resources and means to sign the slugger, even given his self imposed pre-Spring Training deadlines, but the organization chose not to. That blame sits squarely on the shoulders of the St. Louis front office staff.

It should be remembered we are not talking about resigning just any old player, but rather the preeminent player of this era – Albert Pujols. Can you really put a price on that? Apparently the Cardinals did and time will tell if it was worth it.

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The 2010 National League MVP Debate… Pujols Continues to Reign Supreme

September 15, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Sports Geek and Loyal Homer.

The Holy Grail of hitting in Major League Baseball is to win the Triple Crown as the league’s leading hitter in home runs, runs batted in, and batting average, all in the same season.

Usually by this time each year, hopes of seeing the first Triple Crown hitter since 1967 (when Carl Yastrzemski became only the 16th player in history to do it) have been long since forgotten. This year, though, there is not only a possibility of one player contending for the Triple Crown – We actually get to enjoy a race between THREE of the best hitters in the National League!

Albert Pujols, Carlos Gonzalez, and Joey Votto each have a genuine opportunity to close out the 2010 baseball season by winning the first Triple Crown in over 40 years.

These three hitters each stand with a very real chance to earn the greatest hitting accomplishment in baseball, and have created baseball’s most exciting LEGITIMATE batting race (sorry Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Barry Bonds, your races just don’t count anymore in my book) since Pete Rose chased Ty Cobb’s career hit total.

It will be fun to watch, and we can only hope that one of these three players can accomplish the seemingly impossible.

But that is not the only race that Pujols, Gonzalez, and Votto have created. As a side effect of this quest for possible baseball immortality, another very real competition has been formed between Pujols, Votto, and Gonzalez that is far more relevant to the context of baseball today. That is the race for the National League MVP.

Obviously, if any one of the three is able to pull off the Triple Crown, they should be a shoe-in for the MVP award. But let’s assume that things will play out in similar fashion to where they stand right now, and once more a season passes by without a Triple Crown winner.

Who wins the MVP award then?

While each can stake a claim for the crown, the clear frontrunner for the award in 2010 is once again Albert Pujols.

Pujols is already a three-time winner of baseball’s highest individual season honor, and has reigned uninterrupted as the National League MVP since the close of the 2008 season, and with good reason. No player has meant more to his team, and to the game of baseball, than has Albert Pujols.

Triple Crown statistics are one thing, and they already speak very highly of Pujols’ individual performance over the 2010 season. He leads the NL in homers and RBIs with 39 and 104 respectively, and has the fifth best batting average in the league.

But that is only the tip of the iceberg when you are discussing Pujols’ contributions to his team. There are other areas, arguably more meaningful to a team in the game of baseball, where Pujols also sets himself apart as being far more valuable than Votto or Gonzalez.

For starters, Pujols is not an all-or-nothing hitter. Some batters may swing for the fences with each at bat. Sure, they get their share of homeruns, but they also fail to have their share of quality at bats, often striking out in their quest for big hit glory.

Albert Pujols is different.

Compare his homerun and strikeout numbers to those of Votto and Gonzalez. Joey Votto has 34 homeruns and 112 strikeouts so far this season, and Carlos Gonzalez has 32 homeruns with 122 strikeouts.

Basically, Votto and Gonzalez are good for nearly four strikeouts to go with every one homerun they hit.

So where does Pujols fall? With his aforementioned league-leading 39 homeruns, Pujols has struck out only 69 times this season. That is less than two strikeouts for every homerun hit!

Now, let’s add walk totals into the mix – Once again, it is Pujols at the top with 85 walks, leaving Votto (83) and Gonzalez (33) trailing.

How about extra-base hits? You guessed it. Pujols leads the NL with 74, while Gonzalez (72) and Votto (66) once more fall short of Pujols’ exceptional standard.

Oh yeah, he also happens to lead the league in runs scored with 100 so far in 2010.

All of those numbers point to one single fact – Pujols is by far the most productive hitter in baseball. He is extremely smart at the plate, and is good for considerably more QUALITY at bats than either of his two likely MVP competitors.

So allow me to sum up the 2010 National League MVP race for you:

Albert Pujols has hit for more homeruns and bases than any other batter in the National League. He has personally crossed home plate more than anyone else, and has driven more teammates across the plate than anyone else. Even when he DOESN’T hit the ball, he manages to make it on base more than just about anyone else in the league.

Contrarily, Joey Votto and Carlos Gonzalez strike out almost twice as often as Pujols, walk less, and produce much less offense.

If my team is down to their last out, and I can pick the one person I want stepping up to the plate, I am going to take Albert Pujols every single time.

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The 2010 National League MVP Debate… An MVP Run in The Mile High City

September 15, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Bleacher Fan and Sports Geek.

It is September, and the Colorado Rockies are once again making one of their patented runs towards a playoff spot. Despite losing their last two games to the first place San Diego Padres, the Rockies sit just three and a half games back in both the National League West race and the NL Wild Card race. And they have made their charge largely on the shoulders of one man – Carlos Gonzalez.

Both Albert Pujols and Joey Votto have had outstanding seasons in their own right, and Gonzalez is arguably the lesser known and lesser established of the three players. However, all three players have spent their majority of their summer chasing the Triple Crown, and today it is my job to focus on CarGo (I’ll let my colleagues focus on the merits of those other two guys).

Gonzalez’s numbers for the 2010 season are outstanding. After last night’s game, he is currently hitting .340 with 32 home runs and 104 runs batted in. That batting average leads the league by a fairly significant margin at this point (though Braves second baseman Omar Infante may eventually come into play, and will likely provide a challenge for him). He is fourth in the league in home runs, and tied for the lead in RBIs with Mr. Pujols (he also hit for the cycle earlier this year). He is what manager Jim Tracy likes to call a “six-tool” player.

What is truly amazing about Gonzalez is the tear he has been on the second half of the season, which has coincided with the annual run the Rockies seem to always make towards a postseason berth.

Ironically, his surge began after he was snubbed from the All-Star team and lost out on the final fan vote to Votto of all people. Since the All-Star break, he has hit .375 with 15 home runs and 41 RBIs, with an extremely high slugging percentage of .735, and an on-base percentage of .418. That, my friends, is lighting it up. Compare those second half numbers to those of his main competitors for the MVP award.

Albert Pujols, in the second half of the season, is hitting .307 with 18 home runs, 40 RBIs, a slugging percentage of .623, and an on base percentage of .378. Votto, meanwhile, is hitting .332 with 12 home runs, 43 RBIs, a slugging percentage of .596, and an on-base percentage of .422.

It is not like any of them have slumped down the stretch, but neither has kept pace with Gonzalez’s performance (and Pujols’ team has certainly faded a little).

It is going to be a dogfight these last two and a half weeks to see who takes the lead in this battle for the MVP award. All three guys have had outstanding seasons, but Carlos Gonzalez literally came out of nowhere the second half of the season, and brought his team along for the ride. That is what puts him at the top and that is why he gets my vote for National League MVP.

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The Mauer versus Pujols Debate Verdict

June 4, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Sports Geek and Loyal Homer.

What are the most important qualities that a team should look for in a player that they intend to build their franchise around?

Performance is clearly at the top of the list. This player should almost be guaranteed to produce All-Star caliber stats on an annual basis. Building a team around an average producer will net only an average team.

Leadership is another important factor that the player must possess. Being a high-producer is worthless when it comes partnered with locker room poison. A franchise player must be someone who can motivate both in words and actions. He must be someone respected within the organization, and who will hold his teammates accountable to the same high standards he holds himself to.

Finally, the player must demonstrate reliability, because you cannot build a team around a player that you cannot count on in terms of longevity, health, and commitment. As a team, you must be able to look to that player whom you have designated as keystone to provide the highest levels of sustained production and leadership at all times.

So between Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer and St. Louis Cardinals first-baseman Albert Pujols, which of the two better represents those qualities that help set “franchise” players apart from your run-of-the-mill ball player?

After reviewing the arguments presented by Sports Geek and Loyal Homer, the answer of which player would make for a better foundation around which to build a team is Albert Pujols. And although I know that I will be subjected to a barrage of emails and comments from Sports Geek contesting this verdict, it is Loyal Homer who wins the debate.

In considering the qualities of Performance, Leadership, and Reliability, all of which are essential for a player around whom a franchise will be built, Mauer only takes the edge over Pujols in Leadership.

As highlighted by Sports Geek, the mental demands placed on a catcher certainly exceed those of a first baseman, and Mauer has undeniably mastered his position. The ability to lead a team while on the field is extremely valuable, and although Albert Pujols has demonstrated a tremendous ability to lead in his own right, Sports Geek is correct in arguing that Mauer as a player brings more to the table than Pujols in this regard.

Leadership, though, is only one piece of the puzzle, and in terms of performance and reliability, Mauer comes up shy of Pujols’ mark.

Both Sports Geek and Loyal Homer agreed that Pujols is the better offensive asset (although Mauer comes in VERY closely behind). Pujols has never hit below .300 for a season in a ten-year career, and carries a greater career average. Pujols’ at-bats also produce greater results in terms of runs, extra bases, RBI, and HRs.

Defensively, the two players are essentially equal. Mauer may have greater responsibility as a catcher, but in the strictest terms of output, their fielding percentages are virtually identical.

While the debate was not solely about production, batting statistics cannot be ignored, and Pujols clearly owns this category.

The next item that both writers agreed upon was the additional physical strain that Mauer is subjected to as a catcher. While Sports Geek argues that this fact makes Mauer more valuable for succeeding in a more demanding physical position (something I don’t entirely disagree with), Loyal Homer raises the issue of wear and tear, which also cannot be disregarded.

Mauer may be three years younger than Pujols, but the rigors of playing catcher in the Majors will catch up with Mauer far sooner than will the demands of playing first base for Pujols. In fact, statistics show that the average career for a first baseman spans 250-300 games longer than that of a catcher. When you consider the number of games that Mauer is good for in an average season, that number equates to a career that will essentially fall two to three years SHORTER than that of Pujols, essentially negating the age difference between them both. While Pujols career began three years sooner, his remaining shelf life is virtually the same as Mauer’s.

Compounding that ongoing wear and tear is the already present history of injury that Mauer has demonstrated. While those injuries have not been particularly serious, Mauer has shown a greater susceptibility than Pujols at finding himself sitting out of games, earning a moniker (whether deserved or not) as being injury prone. In his BEST season, Mauer still missed 16 games, while Pujols’ WORST season by comparison saw him miss only 19, and in his entire career he has missed more than 10 games only twice.

Mauer may be the better leader in a single-game comparison, but Albert Pujols can be relied upon to provide his own exceptional leadership along with better, more consistent results over what is likely to be a greater number of games to come.

When considering the TOTAL package for who I would rather build my team around, I will take Albert Pujols.

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The Mauer versus Pujols Debate

June 3, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Sports Geek and Loyal Homer.

Joe Mauer and Albert Pujols are arguably the two best players in baseball today. They are perennial All-Stars, both are reigning MVPs for their respective leagues, and their respective trophy cases are already overflowing with the accolades they have earned in careers that likely still have many years yet to be played.

In addition to their on-field success, both seemingly possess the intangible qualities prized by a professional sports organization. Both are leaders within the team, and both act as outstanding ambassadors for the individual franchises and the greater league they represent.

They sit atop the baseball world, both in terms of performance and respect, and every indication points to continued, consistent success for 2010 (to the surprise of no one).

Every single team in baseball would consider itself lucky to claim either of these players. But for today’s debate, we are once again going to dissect and compare the merits of two superstars.

Between Joe Mauer and Albert Pujols, which player would you rather build your franchise around if you were starting from scratch?

This is not necessarily a debate about which player has been the most valuable, or which is the better of the two (although both topics are open for discussion). Instead, it is a debate to consider which player serves as a better foundation for a team in the throes of complete rebuilding.

Sports Geek will argue the merits of Joe Mauer, while Loyal Homer will contest that Albert Pujols is the man for the job.

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