It's still wild to me that the Los Angeles Angels snapped up Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson at pretty much the same time. I went to bed a few Wednesdays ago with both of those players available on the free-agent market. When I woke up, the Angels had signed the best free-agent position player, and the best free-agent pitcher. It was an overwhelming morning. It would have been an overwhelming morning even if my job weren't to write about baseball.
Soon thereafter, details of Wilson's contract emerged. He will earn $10 million in 2012, and then his salary climbs all the way up to $20 million in 2016. It is, therefore, heavily backloaded.
And so, it turns out, is Albert Pujols' contract. From Jerry Crasnick:
Pujols agreed to a backloaded deal -- taking significantly less money in the first two years -- to aid the Angels in their pursuit of free agent pitcher C.J. Wilson, baseball sources told ESPN.com.
Pujols will make a base salary of $12 million in 2012 and $16 million in 2013, said a source.
Towards the end, Pujols' salary will exceed $30 million. In 2012, though, Pujols and Wilson will combine to make $22 million. Plus $0.5 million for part of Wilson's signing bonus, and any additional incentives. For the sake of perspective, Torii Hunter will make $18 million next season. Vernon Wells will make $21 million. Alex Rodriguez will make $29 million.
A year ago, Pujols and Wilson combined to make something like $23 million. Both players escaped team control, entered free agency, signed, and took a combined immediate pay cut. It gets made up for down the road, obviously, but it still sounds weird.
Backloading is not uncommon. The Marlins have given out three big free-agent contracts so far -- to Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell -- and all three are heavily backloaded. Aramis Ramirez's contract with the Brewers is heavily backloaded. Backloading works as a kind of soft no-trade protection, and it can work in the team's favor given that money tomorrow isn't worth the same amount of money today. Inflation and all. Of course, agents know that and surely take it into consideration in talks. So.
It's easy to look at this and think that the Angels might be in trouble in the future. Albert Pujols isn't getting any younger. C.J. Wilson isn't getting any younger, and he isn't undoing any miles on his arm. In some years, those guys will earn a combined fortune. Not that they aren't already earning a combined fortune, relative to my meager income, but the future fortune will be even more substantial, with the players presumably trapped in an irreversible decline.
But the Angels don't care only about the future. The Angels also care about 2012, and they probably care more about 2012. They think that 2012 will be an opportunity, and so they used heavy contract backloading as a means of luring two of the biggest available talents. With those two talents on board, the Angels are set to challenge the Rangers for the AL West, and to challenge whoever for the World Series. It might not work out, but the Angels will have certainly put forth a hell of an effort.
So much in baseball comes down to balancing present value against future value. By backloading the Pujols and Wilson contracts as they did, the Angels probably hurt themselves down the road, but if this was the only way for them to afford both players now, then it's understandable why they did what they did. The Angels want to win. They haven't won since 2009, which is a long time ago for the Angels. They want to win in 2012.
Plus, now they get to say that they're paying Albert Pujols less than the Cubs are paying Ryan Dempster. That one's good for a year.