Tuesday, May 31, 2011

One-third way through a dismal Season 11, what's 10-year wonder Pujols worth?

Say this about Albert Pujols: He's not one of those slugs who underperforms for several seasons only to use monster stats in his contract year to land the deal of a lifetime.

Pujols is doing the opposite of that, and it will be interesting to see if:

A. It continues, resulting in the only bad season of his 11-year career.

2. Such a poor performance will matter once he hits the free-agent market.

I tuned in just long enough to Monday's Cubs loss to hear beleaguered Cubbie owner Tom Ricketts respond to a question about advice the fans have been giving him. He said most of the advice concerns another first baseman in the division.

That was a nod to rumors about the Cubs being the main suitors for Pujols -- a move that would have the double benefit of adding this generation's best hitter while subtracting said hitter from the archrival Cardinals. (Curious to see if Bud Selig believes that just mentioning Pujols, albeit not by name, amounted to tampering.)

Pujols supposedly wants one of the richest contracts ever bestowed upon a ballplayer. And if any ballplayer has proven worthy of such ridiculous moolah, it is Pujols.

His first 10 years rank among the best career starts in baseball history, as he never batted below .312, never hit fewer than 34 homers, never drove in fewer than 103 runs and never posted an OPS below .955.

Then came this season, when Albert's numbers are down significantly across the board. Incredibly, 21 first basemen have a higher slugging percentage.

One could say: Hey, he's Albert Pujols. He'll start hitting again. Even if 2011 ends up being substandard, everyone's allowed one off year; his track record speaks for itself. He'll have 5, 7, maybe even 10 more great years. He'll be worth every dime his next team pays him.

Or one could say: He's only 31, but it's a "hard" 31, as he rarely has missed any games while playing through numerous injuries. Throw in the steroid whispers, and it's strictly a Buyer Beware situation.

Or maybe there's some middle ground. Maybe he'll be another Frank Thomas -- who had a similar Ted Williams/Jimmy Foxx/Joe DiMaggio/Frank Robinson start to his baseball life while leveling off to a fine-but-hardly-eye-popping second half of his career.

How much would the latter be worth on the open market?

Of course, worth means only one thing: Whether you are tremendous, terrible or something in between, you are worth exactly what some owner will pay you. Not a penny more or a penny less.

And so, as Pujols' season unfolds and then free agency arrives in November, we will see what he is worth to the Cubs, Cardinals, Yankees and the few other organizations that have the money and/or inclination to get in the mix.

It will be interesting, indeed, especially if he has un-Albert numbers at the end.

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