What If Albert Pujols ISN'T Worth It?

Mark McGwire uses an iPad to take a photo of Albert Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals during a ceremony celebrating the team's 11th World Series championship in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Whitney Curtis/Getty Images)

If the Angels don't win a World Series or two before Albert Pujols' abilities start to decline, things could get real ugly in Anaheim.

Last month, I wrote a feature here at Baseball Nation saying that Albert Pujols would be worth his huge 10-year contract and be productive until he's 40:

Pujols is a first-ballot Hall of Famer who might end his career as the greatest righthanded hitter in the history of the game. If he never played another game, he'd still be a first-ballot Hall of Famer off his performance to date.

I still believe this is true and that Pujols will be that once-in-a-generation player who will be productive at age 40. But reading the details of exactly what Pujols will be paid gave me a little pause:

Pujols has a full no-trade clause and will be paid a base salary of $240 million through the 10 years of what is a heavily backloaded player contract. As previously reported, that contract will pay him $12 million in 2012, $16 million in 2013 and $23 million in 2014, then increase by $1 million each season until reaching $30 million in 2021.

As I said, I personally believe that Pujols will be productive and be worth his contract. But what happens seven years from now, when he's 38 and making $27 million, if he then does begin a decline phase and the Angels haven't won a World Series or two in that time span? You could call this "Alfonso Soriano Syndrome".*

* Note, I am NOT in any way suggesting that Soriano is as good a player as Pujols. But hear me out.

Five years ago, in the 2006-07 offseason, Soriano, like Pujols now, was the premier free agent on the market. And the Cubs signed him to an eight year, $136 million deal that was, like Pujols' contract now, the biggest contract of its offseason.

Soriano started off well -- the Cubs couldn't have won the NL Central in 2007 without his incredible September that year (.320/.354/.754 with 14 HR in 28 games) -- and overall, he has been above-average as a Cub (.818 OPS and 109 OPS+). But he has had several leg injuries, missed a lot of time, and has been made the favorite whipping boy of Cubs fans. New Cubs management appears to be desperately trying to deal the $54 million left on his deal, but it seems the Cubs might be stuck with him for three more years.

All of this would be OK if the Cubs had won the World Series in 2007 or 2008. They'd stil be stuck with him, but they'd have a trophy or two, so the deal would have been seen as worth doing.

Since they didn't, it wasn't.

And that's why the Angels have to win a World Series or two with Pujols to make this monster contract worthwhile. If a late 30s-early 40s Pujols as a Cardinal would suffer a down year or two, Cardinals fans would likely have been more forgiving. By that time, he'd have put up enough numbers to be designated "greatest Cardinal of all time", and the people in St. Louis would still have the memories of the two World Series they won with Pujols.

Angels fans don't have that. If they do win a World Series or two before Pujols begins his inevitable decline, they'll surely be OK with this contract.

If not, it's possible there will be quite a bit of griping about it six or seven years from now.

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