What's sometimes lost in the "Is Pujols going to stay in St. Louis?" talk is a more fundamental question: "How much is Albert Pujols really worth?" And that one's got a corollary: "Whatever he's worth, should the Cardinals pay it?"
Granted, most of the Cardinals' fans probably don't care about any of those questions but the first.
The rest of us, though? Our interest might be more academic than passionate, but we do care. After the jump, a little Baseball Economics 101 from FanGraphs' Dave Cameron...
Mr. Pujols has averaged 8.1 Wins Above Replacement per year, a metric that encompasses a player's total value at the plate and in the field. This puts him essentially even with the pace Alex Rodriguez had set at the same point in his career.
Using a standard aging curve, Mr. Pujols is expected to produce about 48 WAR over the next 10 years, and estimating future salary inflation at 5% a year, those wins would be worth $286 million. That's above the $275 million the Yankees gave Mr. Rodriguez in a 10-year deal after the 2007 season.
Nobody ever talks about salary inflation, but it's highly relevant when you're talking about a super-long-term contract.
Granted, at $30 million per season, Pujols is likely to be somewhat overpaid at the far end of the deal, even considering salary inflation. But that's okay, because he'll actually be underpaid early in the deal. Those paths probably cross somewhere around Year 5 or 6, when he'll be perfectly paid.
All of that assumes that he's paid the same salary in every year, and he might not be. The point remains the same: Pujols projects like a $300 million player over the next 10 years, so it's reasonable for him to expect a contract that pays him $300 million.
Which isn't to suggest there's not risk for the club. It's easy to say he projects to $300 million, but sometimes going with the odds isn't the smart move. If someone said you could roll a pair of dice and have a million dollars if you didn't roll snake eyes, but would die an ugly death if did roll snake eyes, would you do it? Probably not, even though you've got a 35-in-36 chance of winning a million dollars (and not dying).
Well, the Cardinals' corporeal existence isn't at issue here. But what if something happens to Pujols when he's 36, and the Cardinals are on the hook for $150 million while getting little or no performance on the field?
Ultimately, I think the Cardinals simply aren't well-positioned to make a $300 million commitment. The Yankees could make a $275 million commitment because they can, if necessary, eat a big chunk of that $275 million and all you'll hear is a mild burp. But something like that could cripple the Cardinals for years. And the odds are far worse than 35-in-36.