November 24, 2011

#Stlcards can afford Pujols

As St. Louis Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak tries to figure out whether to hit or exceed $25 million a year for Albert Pujols, the HOF-to-be Machine, and for how many years, let me flatly say, the Cards can afford to pay. (UPDATE, Nov. 15: Pujols and/or agent Dan Lozano are supposed to meet Mo sometime during/around MLB's GM meetings. While neither player nor agent have told the public what offer Miami made, they'll have no problem, if it benefits them, telling Mo.)

Here's why Mozeliak can afford to pull the trigger on $25M a year or more.

First, ticket sales, marketing, etc.

If not re-signing Pujols costs you 200,000 in regular-season ticket sales at $20 a pop, that's $4 million right there. Add in, on average, one home playoff game a year not played at all, with 50,000 fans (roughly) at $30 a pop, and that's another $1.5 million. (And, I don't think a drop in regular-season sales of 200K is a wild guess.) UPDATE, Nov. 25: The Cards have announced a ticket hike of an average 2.8 percent. That's coming off a relatively low 2011 turnstile of 3.1 million, a new low for the new Busch. That factor goes with what I said above about possible longer-term declines if he's not resigned.

So, Mo ... Albert Pujols is worth $5.5 million in ticket sales. Add that to the $16 million he made last year, and right now, you're at $21.5 million. An additional $3.5 million per year, given what I spelled out, should be easy to find. That's especially true if part of Pujols' contract is in joint team-marketing incentives, like the Yankees have with Alex Rodriguez. Marketing deals for 500 HRs, 600 HRs, possibly 700 HRs, along with 3,000 hits, possibly 3,500 hits and 2,000 runs or RBIs? They're all waiting. 

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, a while back, had a story on this angle, on A-Rod:
"These are not incentive bonuses," said Yankees owner Hank Steinbrenner, then a senior vice president with the club, in 2007 to The New York Times. "For lack of a better term, they really are historic-achievement bonuses. It's a horse of a different color."
More than a bonus, it was a business arrangement.
Official sources confirmed that the non-guaranteed bonuses were a blend of a marketing agreement and a licensing agreement. In short, the Yankees and Rodriguez were entering into a joint effort that would pay Rodriguez for the use of his likeness and mandatory appearances as he approached agreed-upon "milestone" homers. There are reportedly five milestones: tying Willie Mays at 660, Ruth at 714, Aaron at 755, Barry Bonds at 762 and the homer that breaks Bonds' record.
Just off the top of my head, with a World Series having just been won and its hats and T-shirts been printed, I'm sure swag for all these milestones would sell well at Busch Stadium, online, etc.

Sidebar: Meanwhile, there's his actual value, as to whether or not he's worth that much money in today's baseball world. Baseball Reference (and Fangraphs) have the stat of Win Above Replacement, or how many wins a season a player adds to a team above a "replacement-level" MLB average player. In discussing the Matt Kemp contract with the Dodgers, ESPN notes that each WAR is worth about $4.5 million. In a year where he was perhaps pressing a bit and had two brief DL stints, Pujols still had 5.5 WAR. Add in that, after the first two months of this year, he was on a 7-WAR or better pace for the rest of the year, and let's not claim he's breaking down.

I'll give him 29 WAR, or 5.8/year, for the next five years, total. I'll give him 4.6 for the three after that,  or 14, for a total of 43 on an eight-year contract. That's not quite $200 million for eight years right there, or $25 million a year. Anything moderately above that is "rounding errors," or "vigorish" to retain the face of a franchise.

Second, the Cards are already in decent contract territory with a number of other players, and so don't have too much in the way of potential "surprises" ahead. More on this below the fold, with a year-by-year look.

Looking beyond 2012, Mozeliak will get more flexibility. Kyle Lohse's a free agent and won't be back. Westbrook is an option that likely won't be picked up, or will be bought out, depending on its terms. Shelby Miller will be ready to come up from Springfield by then. Jaime Garcia's locked up through 2015. So, 2013 is a "gravy year" on contracts. If Berkman does another one-year deal, it will be for no more than this year.

2014? Chris Carpenter's gone, in all likelihood, and probably retiring. Which is OK. It will be time for that. Wainwright will want, and get, big money. But, with Carp gone (four of the Cards' top five prospects after Miller are pitchers, per listing; six of 10, per Baseball America), that leaves Carpenter's money to go to Pujols' contract, Waino's new contract or some mix thereof. 2015? Garcia's still signed, as is Matt Holliday. And, after 2015, Mo will know whether Garcia is worth bigger money. Younger outfielders like Allan Craig and John Jay will get raises in arbitration, but not huge ones. Jason Motte will be relatively cheap for a few more years at closer.

True that eventually Lance Berkman will be gone. But, if he stays through, say, 2013 instead of 2012, that's two more years of development for Jay and Craig. As long as Mo doesn't mind nickel-and-dime pay for the middle infield, Prince Albert is affordable indeed.

Add in that, in eight years, even with low inflation, $25 million will actually be $20 million, and resigning The Machine is a no-brainer.

Now, that does mean that the Cards are dependent on their minor-league pitchers panning out, that Jay and Craig make some degree of advancement and that Pujols doesn't decline too much too quickly. All three of those seem reasonable enough bets, though. Part of it on the first issue depends on who the team gets to replace Dave Duncan, whether this year or later, as pitching coach.

Jayson Stark weighs in at ESPN and notes that front-loading a contract could make it easier for the Cards to do Pujols at, say, 8/$225 or even 10/$280. But he also raises this basic question: If Pujols really is that important, why isn't a deal done already? Or, at least, why hasn't Mo entered the PR market with what he considers a deal?

UPDATE Nov. 17. Scratch the Cubs from Pujols' likely sign-up list. I seriously doubt Phat Albert will play for a team that just named Dale Sveum its new manager, unless Theo Epstein REALLY breaks the bank for Pujols. Dale Sveum? Really? Yeah, I know, he got the Brew Crew in the playoffs as an 2008. But, he wasn't hired as the permanent manager there, which should perhaps say something. And, despite Francona's glowing words, he didn't stick there too long.

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