Christmas came early for José Alberto Pujols Alcántara. He’s getting ready to make a heck of a lot of money.
Alcántara, more commonly known as Albert Pujols, was a favorite of many scouts when he graduated from high school. He apparently was not, however, highly regarded by organizations. Every major league team passed on him multiple times in the 1999 MLB Amateur Draft. He was ultimately selected by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 13th round with the 402nd overall pick.
Once promoted to the big leagues, Pujols rocked major league pitching and now many regard him as the greatest baseball player of the current generation. Over the last 11 seasons, Pujols has hit.328/.420/.616 and collection 445 home runs and 1,329 RBIs. He has been selected to play in 9 All-Star Games and has received 4 NL MVP awards. There is little doubt that Pujols would be elected to the Hall of Fame if his career ended this morning.
His career isn’t, however, going to end this morning or at any time in the foreseeable future. Instead, the media is reporting that the Los Angeles Angels have signed Pujols to a contract that will ensure he playing baseball throughout the next 10 years. The media has been reporting that this contract could be worth as much as $260 million.
That’s a heck of a lot of money.
Not surprisingly, many talking heads, commentators and experts are questioning the wisdom of an organization that would sign a baseball player – even a baseball player as talented as Pujols – to this type of contract. He’s almost certainly going to be worth $20 million during the next several seasons, but his skills are almost certainly going to decline during the final years of the contract. He’ll be in his 40s when the ten-year contract expires and likely will not be contributing to the success of the Los Angeles Angels nearly as much as he contributed to the St. Louis Cardinals. The Angles will probably not receive much value – at least as that term applies to on-field performance – during the backend of the contract. At that time, the organization may be saddled with a financial obligation that prevents it from signing more productive and less expensive players. The inability to sign other players could very well limit the ability to field a competitive team, and Pujols could very well be seen as a burden instead of a benefit.
Regardless, I’ve never been accused of being an expert, but I’d suggest that the Angels are making a fairly smart investment by signing Pujols a sizeable ten-year contract, even if the contract requires it to pay an astonishing $260 million during its term.
Athletes like Pujols don’t come around every day. He’ll greatly contribute to the success of an organization for the next several years. A very significant value, however, may well come near the end of a ten-year contract. That’s right – the Angles may greatly benefit during the portion of the contract that has been subject to the most criticism.
At that time, Pujols may could be competing for a significant piece of history. He’s already averaged over 40 home runs per season since he debuted in the big leagues, bringing his total to 445 home runs over the past eleven seasons. He now stands 318 home runs away from surpassing the current record of 762 home runs. If Pujols is able to average close to 32 home runs per season over the life of a ten-year contract, he’ll be the all-time home run champ.
Pujols may not continue to slug over 40 home runs per season during the next 10 years. His counting stats have slightly declined over the last several years, but it’s entirely possible – and maybe, just maybe, even probable – that he can at least hit an average of 32 home runs per season during the next ten years. Assuming that the record isn’t shattered by then, Pujols would no longer be considered just a great player, but also the most prolific home run hitter in the history of baseball.
The Los Angeles Angels obviously have the current financial capacity to invest over $260 million in Pujols’ performance over the next 10 years. They’re also certainly taking a sizable risk. Any investment of this magnitude, however, is going to have inherent risks. The potential return on the investment, however, is lucrative.
Personally, I’ll always remember Mark McGwire as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals, even though he began his career with the Oakland Athletics. I’ll always remember Barry Bonds as a member of the San Francisco Giants, even though he debuted with the Pittsburgh Pirates. These players shattered historic records while playing with their associated organization when they broke the long-standing marks for single-season home runs and career home runs. They generated excitement not only among baseball enthusiasts and sports fans, but also among the general public and folks who had never before attended a baseball game. Their accomplishments were closely tracked by the media and we were treated to regular updates of their progress.
These accomplishments really can’t be understated. Major League Baseball will produce a World Series Champion every year. Players will be selected to play in All-Star Games every year. Somebody will win the AL MVP and the NL MVP awards every year. There will always be Silver Sluggers and Golden Gloves. But shattering significant major league records – that’s an accomplishment that doesn’t happen every day.
The Angels may well find itself forever associated with this accomplishment. Its name will be imprinted on the jersey of every photograph of the champ and the team will become an inherent part of the excitement, the coverage, and the conversation. At the end of the day, the organization will be forever linked with the feat.
Of course, both McGwire and Bonds tarnished their reputations through their alleged use of performance enhancing drugs. Bonds has also since been convicted of a federal crime related to a grand jury investigation. He is currently set to be sentenced next week.
Pujols, however, has never given anybody any reason to question any connection to performance enhancing drugs. He hasn’t avoided questions about his productivity, either, by invoking his rights under the Fifth Amendment or simply dodging the inquiries. When questioned about the matter, Pujols has consistently attributed his accomplishments to hard work and invited testing:
My house is always open… They can come anytime to do all the tests they want during the offseason… I challenge them to try training with me during three months and a half. They can come and check every place in my house, they can even come with me in my bathtub. I have nothing to hide.
He has also invoked his upbringing and the influence of his parents by saying that his folks
… would be embarrassed, disappointed, because it would be stupid,” he says. “That’s not the way I grew up. Papa would give me a whoopin.’ I can’t make you believe what I stand for. I can only tell you my story.
Again, I’ve never been accused of being an expert, but part of me really wants to trust Pujols. I want to have faith in the purity of his game. Major League Baseball needs someone like him – an underdog who was dismissed by every organization when electing to play baseball, who has already become one of the greatest players of my generation and who may well attain true historic significant. It needs to embrace athletes who rise to this potential through dedication, commitment and hard work. It needs someone like Pujols.
The Los Angeles Angels can afford to take a chance Pujols’ potential contributions to the team, on being a part of Pujols’ potential accomplishments and on possibly being forever associated with a historic figure that is quickly becoming the face of Major League Baseball. There’s certainly a heck of a lot of risk involved in this type of investment, but there’s also the possibility of a tremendous payout at the end of the day.