Peyton Manning and Albert Pujols have one thing in common. That one thing is if they both retired today, they would both be locks to make the Hall of Fame. That’s where the similarities end. I’m writing this entry because a friend of mine who says we should sign Albert at all cost said that Albert is every bit as important to the Cardinals as Manning is to the Colts.
I’ve long felt that Manning was the one player in sports worth every penny he makes. I stated in an article about a year ago that the Colts would be lucky to go 2-14 without him. In the 2011 season, that’s a very real possibility, and the Colts will be lucky to win 2 at this point. I think there have only been a few players like that in professional sports, the problem is, none of them are in MLB. No matter how young or inexperienced a team in MLB is, there’s no shot of anyone ever going 0-162. The only player in MLB in my lifetime that I could honestly say a team needs to re-sign at all cost was Mariano Rivera. Let’s face it, when the Yankees have the lead after 8 innings, the game is as close to over as it’s ever going to get.
Some would jump on me here and argue that Tom Brady is one of those guys. Well, a few years ago, Matt Cassel stepped into Brady’s role and led the Patriots to a 10-5 record after taking over in week 2 and after not playing much since high school. Until that moment, he previously had 22 completions in the NFL at that point. What do you think Manning could have done with that Patriots team? How many more Super Bowls would Manning have if he and Brady had switched teams?
Manning makes both the offense and the defense better. He puts pressure on the opposing team to take chances to score early and often, forcing opposing offenses to take chances they normally wouldn’t take. He allows defensive players like Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis to shine because of the opposing team’s sense of urgency in trying to pass and score. He rarely has a 3 and out, giving his defense time to rest and play fresh. I could go on and on, but I think you get the point.
No MLB player can do these things. It takes a complete team. With Pujols, the Cards were going nowhere in 2011, until the team fixed a few of the problems, most noticeably the defense at shortstop and the bullpen, along with adding a starting pitcher. If the Cards re-sign Pujols, they are going to have to strike gold with a big number of prospects in the coming years to put together a consistent winner. While we all like to dream about Shelby Miller, Carlos Martinez, Ryan Jackson, Matt Adams and others, the chances of all them working out and being successful at the major league level are not good.
The Cardinals are going to need payroll flexibility to deal with in season issues like they did in 2011, adding pieces along the way due to injuries, old players hitting the wall, etc. If the Cards re-sign Pujols, you can forget about that. The Cardinals payroll is around $110 million and probably isn’t going to increase anytime soon. Having $42-$45 million tied up in Matt Holliday and Pujols just isn’t a smart business decision and a recipe for winning for a mid market team.
If Adam Wainwright comes back and continues his trend of being a top 3 starting pitcher in the game, where will the money be for him in 2014 if the Cards re-sign Pujols? What about future stars that will come along? The few things I think most fans should think about is that Stan Musial retired in 1963, and the Cards won it all in 1964. The Giants never won a WS with Barry Bonds hitting juiced up bombs, but after him retiring or run out of baseball, they’ve already won a WS, and have a starting rotation that will make them the front runners in the NL West for years to come. Losing Buster Posey this year was crucial, but even as anemic as their offense was, they still came close. I think the Giants model is the best one to follow for a team with a similar payroll like the Cards. And then you have the Texas Rangers, who after a few years of finally paying off their portion of the A-Roid salary have won the AL Pennant for 2 years straight. They’ve won it with a balanced team.
So no friends, it’s not my hate for Albert Pujols. Pujols has put up historic numbers in his first 11 years, but that trend is not going to continue. Yes, I think if he wanted to be a Cardinal for life he would have been already. Yes, I get tired of some of his antics over the last couple of years with the bat flipping, admiring every ball hit to the outfield whether it’s a HR or not. For those that come to his defense about him not hustling out ground balls because of his nagging injuries, that’s fine, but shouldn’t that reason to give pause for giving a 32 year old player a contract over $200 million? Finally, I think him putting up the lowest number of walks in his career with 61 is something to be worried about, especially since he had the best protection behind him since Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen in Lance Berkman and Holliday. All I really want in the end is for the Cards to be a contender on a yearly basis. History says Albert is going to decline. Recent history suggests that putting all your eggs in the one basket such as Bonds and A-Roid doesn’t guarantee success, in fact, it hurts your chances. Unlike what Peyton Manning is able to do with a bunch of scrubs around him in Indy, MLB is different. You need a complete team, not an aging, overpriced first baseman.
For one final thought, I’m going to be comparing Albert against the greatest of all time. In the coming weeks, I’m going compare him against everyone in the 500 HR club, along with the top 10 first basemen of all time, but I want to start today with the 3 top players on his baseball-reference page of most similar batters through the age of 31.
In order, the three are Jimmie Foxx, Ken Griffey Jr. and Frank Robinson. Here is a list of the number of HR’s they hit in their careers, the number they hit before age 32, and the number they hit from 32 on.
|Player||Career HR's||HR before 32||HR from 32 on
|Ken Griffey Jr.||630||460||170|