When I went to bed Wednesday night, it didn't look like the Albert Pujols sweepstakes were close to being over. One might've thought they were close to being over when the Marlins dropped out of the running, because it seemed like that left the Cardinals as the only serious suitor left, but reports emerged that there were still two other teams in the hunt - a mystery team, and the Angels.
The degree of the other teams' interest was unclear. It felt like the Cardinals were still the heavy favorites. But the Angels engaged Pujols' agent in lengthy talks on Wednesday, and late in the night, ESPN's Jayson Stark concluded an update column with the following paragraph:
Just a few days ago, it appeared that Pujols was likely to sign with either the Cardinals or Marlins this week. Now, said one source who had spoken with Pujols' camp, there is "no shot" that Pujols will make a decision before the meetings end -- and, possibly, any time soon.
I went to bed relaxed. I set my alarm for a little later than usual. I figured that Thursday would be pretty boring. C.J. Wilson would probably sign, and there was the Rule 5 Draft, and some other small fish could sign too, but I didn't anticipate any huge, breaking news.
I woke up and I was behind. Way behind. The Albert Pujols sweepstakes were over, and the Angels had won. The Angels had also won Wilson, but on this morning, the top free agent starter signing a contract was secondary news, because arguably the top hitter in baseball had also signed a contract to leave the only team he'd ever known.
It's a difficult thing to process. It's an impossible thing to process. What we've been told is that Albert Pujols signed a ten-year, $254 million contract to leave the Cardinals for the Angels. But the only part of that that really makes sense right now is that Albert Pujols left the Cardinals for the Angels. Wow, neat for the Angels, Albert Pujols is really good! We can't quite wrap our heads around the idea of a ten-year contract for a 31-year-old player. Or at least, I can't. Pujols is part of the picture, and his contract is part of the picture, but all I can think about at the moment is the first part. I don't know what to make of the second part. It seems risky, but that's hardly scientific.
Pujols turns 32 in January. Some people think he's actually more like 35. I think those people are nuts, but, are they?
This changes so many things. Most directly and significantly, it changes the Cardinals and the Angels. The Cardinals just won the World Series, but this news is a splash of cold water. There's no more reflecting on the World Series, not now. Pujols is gone. One of the best players in baseball history, a franchise icon, is gone, and he's never coming back. The highest single-season OPS+ ever posted by an Angel is 165, by Tim Salmon in 1995. Albert Pujols has posted an OPS+ north of 165 seven times in 11 years. He did it most recently two years ago. His career OPS+ is 170.
Understanding the end of this is so hard. Understanding the beginning is so easy. Albert Pujols was always a St. Louis Cardinal. Now he is a Los Angeles Angel of Anaheim. Albert Pujols is absolutely amazing.
This is a picture that came across my Twitter feed earlier Thursday morning. The stadium is Busch Stadium.
Busch Stadium is not on fire. Something close to Busch Stadium is on fire. It's symbolic in a way you don't even have to try too hard to make seem symbolic.
Luhnow: I take over, and the division loses a Pujols!
Luhnow: I should quit and take over again
Luhnow: Maybe the division would lose a Braun!
Luhnow: What's that?
Luhnow: We're moving where?
If you only kind of glance really quick.
In a way, in a painful way, it's possible to see this as Albert Pujols doing the Cardinals a favor. Not consciously - Pujols was acting out of self-interest when he signed with the Angels, as he should have been. But think about it. 31 years old. Nearly 32. Nine-year contract. Ten-year contract. Pujols is amazing now. What are the odds that he stays amazing? What are the odds that he stays amazing for long enough to be worth the contract, or to be almost worth the contract?
The Cardinals were probably uncomfortable offering Pujols as much as they did, but willing because of what Pujols represents. Then the Angels offered more. (And the Marlins reportedly offered more still.) It allowed the Cardinals to look like they tried hard without having to make an enormous commitment to an aging player.
In PR terms, for now, this could be a mess. Maybe a disaster. I don't know. People will be emotional. But in baseball terms, this might be better for the Cardinals than the alternative in the long run. If it is, then it will be easier for the Cardinals to build a winner, and nothing cures everything quite like winning does. There's something to be said for the idea of Pujols being a Cardinal for life. Those players are rare, and good for team loyalty. But teams have survived excellent, beloved players leaving before, and so will the Cardinals. This is the end of one chapter in a much bigger book.
Based on my calculations, about $776 million has been committed to major league free agents this offseason. Combined, the Angels and Marlins are responsible for about $525.5 million of that.
Wilson: And so I'd like to announce that I've decided to sign with the-
Media: /check phones
Media: /exchange glances
Media: /rush away to other side of lobby
Wilson: With the
One Media Member: /rushes back
One Media Member: NOBODY CARES
One Media Member: /rushes away
Facing off later Thursday night will be the Anaheim Ducks and the St. Louis Blues, in St. Louis. The Ducks and Blues might not realize they have a rivalry, yet.
This is a great day for Angels fans, but this is an even greater day for Angels players. Angels players don't worry about other players' contracts. Angels players just know that their front office added Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson on the same morning. That's probably the best free agent position player, and probably the best free agent pitcher. Hard to make two bigger upgrades, and to make them at basically the same time?
That last embedded tweet is from LaTroy Hawkins. Hawkins signed one-year, $3 million contract with the Angels just the other day. He had no idea what he was getting into.
The word "cripple" is used too often when talking about a player who signed a big contract. A Google search for "Albert Pujols" + "contract" + "cripple" yields more than 200,000 results. Some people are saying that the Pujols contract could cripple the Angels' flexibility in its later years, when Pujols is expensive and worse.
Pujols' contract has an average annual value of $25.4 million. The Angels' opening day payroll in 2010 was $121 million. The Angels' opening day payroll in 2011 was $142 million. I don't know what the Angels' payroll might be in, say, seven years, but seven years ago, the Angels' payroll was $98 million. Inflation, and such. It matters, and Pujols' contract takes up only a small fraction of the Angels' budget even now.
Last season, the Angels got less than nothing from Vernon Wells. Vernon Wells cost the Angels a lot of money. The Angels won 86 games and subsequently signed Hawkins, Wilson and Pujols with Wells still on the payroll. Even if Pujols' contract ends up looking like a mistake, it will not on its own do that much damage.
Albert Pujols has played one game in Angels Stadium in his career. It was the 2010 All-Star Game.
Beane: /punches buttons on calculator
Beane: /punches buttons on calculator
Calculator: /has no batteries
Phone: pujols 2 angels
Phone: cj 2 angels
Beane: /stands up
Beane: /opens office window
Beane: /leans out
Beane: /looks down