UPDATE (2/5/2011 at 6:55 p.m.): If you want to see how much Cardinals fans are freaking out about the possibility of life without Pujols, check this link out. Compliments of D.J. Short of Hardball Talk.
Original Post (2/5/2011 at 5:49 p.m.): With less than two weeks remaining until the end of the Pujols contract extension season, one would hope the two parties are making strides toward coming to terms on a contract extension. According to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, "discussions are not going well."
"Contract talks are fluid, and a breakthrough toward a record extension might be only one phone call away. But the Cardinals are balking at Pujols’ price, sources say, increasing the possibility that Pujols will become a free agent at the end of the 2011 season...Sources paint an increasingly pessimistic view of the negotiations...While the Cardinals are making a sincere attempt to complete a deal, they are not in as strong a financial position as other clubs in larger markets. The team is frustrated that Pujols’ aggressive negotiating stance does not match his public declarations of loyalty. Pujols, however, has been paid below market value for virtually his entire career."While I understand that these deals can come together rather quickly and unexpectedly, I don't have high hopes for that happening here. The last report I saw (via Jon Heyman from SI) was that the two sides were as much as three years and $70-$100M apart. With both sides agreeing to keep contract talks confidential, there's no word as to whether they've gotten any closer over the last couple of weeks. Based on Rosenthal's report, I'm going to guess they haven't.
I'm a little taken aback by the Cardinals frustration with Pujols's "aggressive" negotiating stance. While I can understand why they might have hoped he was a little less rigid in his demands, his stance is anything but disloyal. As a baseball player that's been grossly underpaid for the entirety of his career, Pujols is only trying to be paid fair market value for his production. The Cardinals, on the other hand, seem to have this notion that Pujols should be grateful and accept whatever contract they offer him. I'm sorry, but loyalty in this situation doesn't just lie with the player, it lies with the team as well. While Pujols is likely reduce his price to fit within the team's economic parameters, the Cardinals need to realize Pujols is a special situation, and typical negotiating tactics don't apply. We're talking about one of the greatest players in baseball history, not an All-Star first baseman. Offering him Mark Teixeira or Ryan Howard money is, quite frankly, insulting to a player of Pujols's caliber.
So how much will Pujols be worth over the next ten seasons? Dave Cameron of Fangraphs did an excellent piece a few weeks ago, where he determined just that. According to Cameron:
"Let’s start with the working assumption that wins are currently being priced at about $5 million apiece this winter. For his career, Pujols has averaged +7.1 WAR per 600 PA...Let’s project him as a +7 win player for 2011, just to play it safe. You could argue for a bit higher number, but this will at least give us a baseline...If we use the standard half-win-decrease-per-year aging curve, our ten year projection for Pujols would have him producing +47.5 wins between now and 2020. But he’s already under contract for 2011, so we should remove that from the equation, and just focus on 2012 and beyond. A deal that took him through 2021 would produce an expected +42.5 WAR, and if we assume a steady rate of 5% salary inflation, the value of those wins would be $267 million."That's right folks. Cameron projects him at $267M for the next ten years. I can't say I disagree with him either, although I had his value a little bit higher because I used a slightly higher performance baseline. Either way, it's pretty clear that Pujols's demands are pretty reasonable. Just for fun, I did an accumulative WAR graph (compliments of Fangraphs) between Pujols, Gonzalez, Howard, and Teixeira.*
* I couldn't fit Fielder on the graph, but through five-plus seasons, he's accumulated 20.3 fWAR. This would put him 26.7 fWAR behind Pujols at the same age.
When compare him to supposedly similar comps (i.e. Teixeira, Gonzalez, Howard, Fielder), it becomes even more obvious that Pujols is in a class of his own. To me, it's pretty clear. Pujols is absolutely deserving of the contract he's seeking from the Cardinals. If the Cardinals want to retain him, they're going to have to show him the money.