Albert Pujols is a great player and deserves to be the highest paid player on his team.
But, don’t stop reading there. This case isn’t as open and shut as you may think.
But, before diving into the semantics and positions in each argument, I first must commend Babe Ruthless for the best opening to any argument ever in this site’s almost two years of existence. If you missed the classic twist on a famous monologue from Princess Bride, do yourself a favor and go back to read it.
Now that we have that out of the way, on to the verdict…
Being the optimistic business person that I am, I fully expect the window for Pujols’ negotiating period to remain completely open. The whole “the window closed, better luck next time” gag has been tried for decades in sports. It is tried because it works. But, it is a just a tactic. Let’s not pretend the talking is REALLY over until the end of the season. Therefore, I don’t buy into the fact that the Cardinals have blown it in this respect, Babe.
I do agree with Babe Ruthless that Pujols is not at fault for leveraging his considerable talents to maximize his paycheck.
I am old school, however. If a player wants to pursue a career in one spot, they should be able to do that. In this instance, I believe the MLB Player’s Union is exhorting its desires and using Pujols as a figure to prop up salaries across the board again, as it did with Alex Rodriguez’s now infamous 10-year $225M contract from several years ago. Therefore, I do believe that Pujols truly DOES want to be a with the Cardinals for his entire career, but that nobility comes with a substantial price – which, as Babe Ruthless points out, he is free to pursue.
I agree with Babe also that there are players among the top salaries in baseball that are earning money they do not – and probably never did – deserve. However, this point is exactly why I am siding with Loyal Homer in this argument.
Pujols is letting outside forces cloud his judgment. As Loyal Homer points out, he is losing site of his roots, of what his driving force was as a youth – his love for baseball. He is celebrated by one of the best fan bases in all of sports (yes, I am writing that as a Cubs fan), yet he is still at the center of his debate about more money.
Loyal Homer makes another excellent point that a mid-market team like the Cardinals can’t afford to be cutting huge checks willy-nilly like this. Pujols has to know this, too. If he ever wants to win another championship, he needs to leave some money for other future free agents to sign with the Cardinals in the future. Greed on this magnitude kills a team’s ability to build a contender, and Loyal Homer is right to point that out.
Pujols has proven to be an outstanding player. But, at the time of the big contract signings, Alfonso Soriano, Barry Zito, and Carlos Beltran were similarly regarded, and their contracts were – and will painstakingly remain – busts. It is just as prudent for the Cardinals’ front office to cap its offer as it is for Pujols to pursue a huge contract. Only, in this case, the organization is right to hedge its bets.
No player – or employee – in any business is impossible to replace. As much as we may not want to believe that, it is fact. As good as Pujols is now, do the Cardinals really want a huge contract for a player who is aging, where he will be taking home the largest gobs of money as he ages and skills decline? That is an old way of thinking in both business and baseball – and it now makes sense in neither circumstance.
The smart move here for the Cardinals is to offer Pujols more money per season, but offer a contract of just four or five years. The organization can keep Pujols from getting lazy on his fat contract, and are paying top market money for a top market talent still in his prime. It just doesn’t make sense any other way.
The Cardinals have the leverage here. Pujols is a great player, but he’s not the only way to win. The team – and the league as a whole – must get over the fear of losing big players. Organizations build systems that scout for great players and build solid teams. The organization must rely on its strengths in this regard, keep the leverage, and let go of the fear.