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Photo Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Albert Pujols Is (A) Great (Cautionary Tale)

Let me apologize up front about the first part this one if Buck and Pat talked about it ad nauseam on last night’s Sportsnet broadcast. I watched the Angels feed, so I have no idea whether or not they did, but it definitely seems like something they might have prattled on about.

Also, it comes from Arash Madani, who I’d wager definitely told it on the broadcast. Plus, it has been retweeted damn near a thousand times, so it seems very possible you’ve already seen it.

And yet, how can I not share it? Hot damn, Albert Pujols.

That’s some Tulowitzki level shit right there, but from a guy on the opposing team! And a damn legend, at that.

Arash shared a couple other Pujols tidbits this weekend:

Arash adds that Pujols says he’s just doing for others what players did for him as a youngster, and it’s a hell of a way for Pujols to be spending his twilight years in the league.

Er… or what would be his twilight years.

* * *

Over this past off-season Pujols passed the halfway mark on the ten year — ten year! — contract he signed with the Angels following the 2011 season. He still has four seasons to go after this one (which is still less than a month old), and gets a $1 million raise in each of them, from $26 million this year, up to $30 million in the final year of his deal, 2021.

He was worth 0.9 WAR last year, according to FanGraphs. So far this year he’s at -0.2. Here are his wRC+ marks for each season since 2008, including the first 20 games of this one (* denotes his first year with Anaheim): 184, 180, 164, 147, 133*, 112, 123, 115, 111, 77.

Pujols is a good enough hitter to rebound and have a respectable enough 2017. Look two and three and four seasons into the future, however, and things get wayyyyyyyy ugly.

How did the Angels end up in such a quagmire? Mostly because, at the time they went out and bet big on him, he was Albert fucking Pujols. I imagine their thinking was quite a lot like a quote in a piece I read this week by Michael Baumann of the Ringer: “he’s so good now that he’s got a long way to decline before he even slides all the way down to league average.”

The player Baumann is talking about? Josh Donaldson.

Now, before your eyes go red with rage and steam starts coming out of your ears, let me assure you that I recognize that this isn’t necessarily the best comparison. It is, in fact, for the most part a bad comparison. For Pujols the decline to league average and beyond was fast and fucking hard, and not everybody ages the same way. (Not everybody believes Pujols is the age he says he is, either, though that’s not an assumption I’m going to bother with.) Plus, Donaldson provides value with his glove that Pujols never could. He’ll stay more valuable for longer because he’s not so purely reliant on his bat — assuming his all-out defensive style doesn’t lead to injury troubles down the road. And, though both have been remarkably healthy players in their careers, Pujols had a whole lot more mileage on him when he hit free agency, too: nearly 8,000 plate appearances from turning pro at 20 through his age 31 season, compared to Donaldson, who turned pro at 21 and is just now in his age 31 year, at 5,600.

They’re not very similar at all, really. But there are some interesting parallels, too.

For example, in their age-29 and 30 seasons — Donaldson’s first two in Toronto, Pujols’ second and third last in St. Louis — they ended up within one win of each other. Pujols was the better hitter, at 172 wRC+ compared to 154, but Donadlson’s glove (and base running) more than closed the gap, putting his WAR at 16.3 to Pujols’ 15.3 in nearly the exact same number of plate appearances (1411 to 1400). Both won an MVP at age 29 and finished in the top five at age 30.

One hit free agency after his age 31 season, the other is due to hit free agency after his age 32 year.

Baumann’s piece, which is great, mostly argues against the Blue Jays rebuilding, using some key ideas that we’ve talked about around here for a long time, I think. “This team would be a contender if it had better injury luck and everything hadn’t gone suddenly and comprehensively to shit in the first two weeks of the season, and there’s no particular reason to think that wouldn’t be the case next year if they held it together and maybe picked up a free agent or two. But that requires running the Blue Jays like a big-market club, rather than the alternative.

“If Donaldson walks,” he writes, “it won’t be because the Blue Jays can’t afford him — it’ll be because ownership doesn’t care enough to keep him.”

I’m all on board for them to just fucking do it. There is zero excuse for this team to not be spending to at least the luxury tax threshold. Their ratings when they’re winning are massive. Shit, as I’ve been tweeting this afternoon, Booster Juice is buying up space on in-stadium ad boards when the Blue Jays visit places like Anaheim, just to take advantage of all the Canadian eyeballs that will be on the game. And I don’t think we live in a world anymore where the market for even a player as great as Donaldson, heading into his age-33 season, is going to reach eight or ten years.

But Donaldson’s next contract will be huge. The Jays should be the ones paying it. It will feel like a glorious goddamn gift if they do. And yet…

184, 180, 164, 147, 133*, 112, 123, 115, 111, 77, __, __, __, __.

And on the other hand, Baumann lays this on us:

If the Jays trade him before this year’s deadline — i.e., when the team acquiring Donaldson would potentially be able to use him in two postseasons — the prospect haul would likely be staggering. If they’re smart and lucky, like the Yankees were at last year’s deadline or the White Sox were this past offseason, they could restock their farm system with the core of the next good Blue Jays team in just one trade.

ARE WE HAVING FUN IN 2017 YET???

  • The Humungus

    I remember when I was just into coaching after “aging-out” of youth baseball at 20 and Pujols hit the majors. Half the dudes I was coaching (who were in the bantam-midget age group, so 14-19) were trying to emulate his swing. He was the man, and he came out of nowhere.

    It’s just so weird to me that he’s now a 37 year old man, elder-statesman in the game, aging toward his eventual exit. Probably because I don’t think of myself as nearly 37 as well.

    But, seriously, this is the worst thing about Donaldson. Pujols and Beltre are less than 9 months apart by birthdate. Beltre is in his age 38 season, Pujols age 37. I love Donaldson, I really do. But there’s at best a 50/50 shot he ages like Beltre and not Pujols. After seeing what the White Sox got for Adam Fucking Eaton, there’s a part of me that wants to trade Donaldson regardless of how the season goes, especially if his next contract ask isn’t what should be considered reasonable considering the crapshoot.

    But, I talked to my boss about this one, and the serious question is “Who Needs Donaldson?”

    I get that he’s one of the top 5 position players in baseball and he’s an upgrade for most teams, but which contending teams have a real need for a third baseman?

    Here’s the list we worked through:

    AL
    Boston – Monster payroll, likely not willing to trade Benintendi, has Sandoval
    Yankees – I don’t see them splurging at the moment
    Houston – Maybe if Bregmann is terrible, but I doubt it. They’re focused more in on pitching.
    Cleveland – resigned Jose Ramirez for a reason
    Detroit – Castellanos is off to a great start; not trying to add payroll
    Seattle – Can’t see them making more trades; also, Seager is passable

    NL
    Washington – maybe? I mean, they’ve gotta go for it before Harper goes Free Agent, right?
    Mets – not adding payroll, for sure
    Marlins – pretender/contender status is up in the air, not likely to make deals
    Cubs – c’mon
    Cardinals – maybe? Jhonny Peralta is playing there right now, so, yeah
    Rockies – Arrenado
    Dodgers – Turner? Unless you can get Urias and Puig (plus more) back and Turner can move to LF
    D-Backs – are they for real? Or not? What is Jake Lamb? He seems to be pretty OK.
    Giants – YES! YOUNG BEEDAH! GET HIM! (or not)

    So, realistically, there are three teams, maybe four you trade him too. Then you have to consider that the White Sox are selling and Todd Frazier is a Free Agent this year, maybe teams don’t want to see what Donaldson’s last arb year looks like (it looks like $23M to me at least, based on his $17.8M this year).

    Christ. It’s a big mess. Mixed emotions.

    Hey Jays, just fucking win games. Please. Don’t make us think about this.

    • Troll

      Dodgers- I think they would be in on him like you said, Turner can move off 3rd and with top prospects like Bellinger and Urias I think that might be a good match.

      Washington-I think they would look to send Rendon back to us to reduce the prospect haul they would have to give up and I’m not high on Rendon and his injury proneness

      Cardinals-Do they have any elite prospects who are close to the big leagues? I think they are pretty much waiting to move Matt Carpenter back to 3rd next year as it is.

      Cubs-Do it for Schwarber

      Mets-Makes a lot of sense. They have no 3rd baseman and a bunch of big expiring salaries coming off the books (Bruce, Granderson, Duda, Walker). I would only do it if they were willing to take Tulo and his contract as well and give up Amed Rosario. No point in getting an elite SS prospect if he’s blocked at the big league level.

      Houston-Bregman for Donaldson is interesting. I don’t know how good Bregman’s glove is, but if he’s good enough to play short, if seems like a waste to keep him at 3rd and Houston wouldn’t be interested in Tulo.

      Consider the framework of the first David Price trade. He also had a year and a half left of control over what would be a very expensive final season. He netted Drew Smyly who was already established at the big leagues and other lesser prospects. This compares to the Bregman for Donaldson trade.

      We should consider too that we can always trade Donaldson at the deadline next year and still get a very nice haul and not have to punt on that year unless we are out of it at the deadline.

      What are your thoughts.

      • The Humungus

        Dodgers – I don’t know if Turner can play LF, but they’d certainly be better if he could and they got JD. And they have the prospects to do it.

        Washington – you may be right, both on Rendon and the prospects. Maybe the Jays could get a Joe Ross in return, though?

        Cardinals – no elite prospects, but do they ever have elite prospects? I mean, aside from Oscar Tavares/Shelby Miller, when was the last time people we super stoked on the Cards pipeline. But, they produce players of quality (usually)

        Cubs – not a chance. they have Bryant at 3rd. C’mon.

        Mets – they can’t take on any salary at all. the rumoured reason they couldn’t trade Bruce or anyone else was that they wouldn’t eat salary to get better prospects, but also wouldn’t lower the prospect ask.

        Houston – they’re working on The Cardinals Way. They’re not trading 5 years of control on Bregman for a season and a half of Donaldson

        I just don’t see where the market is for Donaldson outside of Washington (maybe), the Dodgers and the Giants. It’s a weird time for 3B in MLB. 3B, SS and 2B are all stacked positions on contending teams. Moreso than anywhere else on the diamond.

  • Mule or etc...

    There is also the question of if Donaldson is willing to sign an extension with a club going through a rebuild. He might also want to test free agency to see how much he can get which would explain why the last extension he signed only covered his arbitration years. Then you have to ask yourself how much of an over-payment he’s worth for a few years of production. Also his 10-5 rights would kick in right about when you’d really want to get rid of him.

    If you trade him for prospects you don’t have to worry about any of that nonsense as you basically own their poor souls. Plus you have some payroll space to augment your young prospects with some (hopefully) decent role-players.

  • fred2

    Pujols was NL rookie of the year the first year I watched a significant amount of baseball.

    I thought that was the year that the AL rookie of the year was another “1st ballot hall of famer”, Blue Jay legend Eric Hinske, but no, it was some guy called Ichiro. Hinske won in 2002.

    Hinske – three world series appearances and two rings. Ichiro? None.