December 08, 2011

Crap: It's the Angels for Pujols

Albert Pujols hits his record-tying third home run in Game 3 of the 2010 World Series./From Yahoo Sports

To ESPN, it may have been unexpected. But, I had the Los Angeles Angels of I-5 as a prime suitor a year ago, and didn't waver in that, even after the Vernon Wells trade.

So, not totally unexpected in these quarters, to see Albert Pujols head to the Los Angeles Angels for 10 years and a whopping $260 million.

That said, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that, allowing for Florida having no state income tax, the Marlins' last offer was technically higher. (Why didn't the Rangers use Texas not having an income tax to get in the chase themselves?)

First, even with Kendrys Morales, even with signing Wells, I said Angels owners Arte Moreno still had money to burn. That's why the Angels were listed on my poll at right.

If you want details, the Angels have several contracts that run out soon, including Torii Hunter and Bobby Abreu after 2012. (Or the Haloes apparently have a buyout now on Abreu's contract; that said, for $9M, he might be OK still.) Some of their money will go to resigning Dan Haren or Ervin Santana in all likelihood. (I don't expect both to be kept, though.) Wells is around for two more years, but, with a deeper lineup and less pressure, may be come an acceptable 3.5 WAR guy for the rest of that contract. Unless Morales can bounce back and find a new position, he's gone. That frees up money for a midgrade outfielder and a midgrade middle infielder.

As for finding positions for people, we all see that Morales didn't bounce back last year from his 2010 broken leg. So, there's not such a "logjam" for the Angels after all, potentially.

Second, it's a team with a history of winning and a chance to win again, now. Mike Sciosia is a better manager than Ron Washington, and, in the AL West, Jon Daniels will likely regret not making a move. That's doubly true with the Halos taking C.J. Wilson away from him.

Speaking of, per that ESPN story linked up top:
Asked whether life in the American League West had just gotten a little more fun, Rangers assistant GM Thad Levine retorted: "How liberal is your definition of the word 'fun?'
"We just saw him for seven games [in the World Series]," Levine went on. "I think it's safe to say we haven't exactly figured him out yet."
Third, with the Dodgers still in limbo, now was the time for Moreno to strike. I can easily see the Angels drawing 3.5 million next year or more, or near max of 3.65 million in their park.

Add in: Higher TV $$ on next local contract (the Angels were already negotiating a new deal with Fox); Pujols' Angels uniform and other marketing sales; possible hike in ticket prices, etc. Trust me, Moreno will get at least $3-4M a year of this contract back.

Fourth, as far as Pujols' performance, the Angels' ballpark is at least as hitter-friendly as Busch. Per ESPN, new Busch was a smidgen better the last two years, but before that, Angels Stadium was a lot better, probably due to a better lineup. Give him an injury free year, the AL, hitting in parks like Arlington, Boston and New York, and an occasional "rest" day at DH, and I expect his stats to go up. Could be good news for him in career counting stats.

Fifth, let's look at the Cardinals more. As I called it more than a year ago, the "insurance plan" comes into play for the Cards as Lance Berkman shifts to first base. (And, some other Cards bloggers laughed at me a year ago when I said that.)

Sixth, my comment that, based on ticket sales vs. possible dropoff, the Cards had money to do a deal even in this range? Especially if either Adam Wainwright isn't back 100 percent or Chris Carpenter has an "on for injuries" year, adding in the seriousness of Allan Craig's injury, and the Cards lose 200K fans this year.

Seventh, as a Cards fan, it's sad. I don't know, other than straight dollars, what Pujols felt he wasn't getting from the Cardinals, since the offer a year ago reportedly included a small piece of the franchise. Maybe La Russa's retirement was a factor. Maybe he wanted a split marketing deal on milestone memorabilia. Maybe he felt he wasn't being stroked enough. Maybe he felt agent Dan Lozano wasn't being stroked enough. After the Matt Holliday contract, I think all of this is true.

ESPN weighs in, indirectly, on that. It's clear the Cards weren't budging much higher. If Mo/Bill DeWitt refused to modify Pujols' old contract after the Holliday signing, they've reaped the whirlwind.
The Cardinals had planned to talk with Pujols' agent one more time Thursday before heading home. But sources told ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney that the Cardinals' latest offer was for nine years and a little less than $200 million. That would have made him the fourth-highest paid first baseman. With the Angels deal, he is tops.
One source who spoke with Pujols' camp Wednesday came away with the impression the two sides were farther apart than had been widely portrayed earlier in the day.
Penny wise and pound foolish in St. Louis, perhaps.

Eighth, on the assumption that Prince Fielder is gone from Milwaukee, and NOT to the Cubs, Cincinnati is the default NL Central favorite for 2012 in my book. And, there's a one-in-three chance the Cardinals don't get the wild card, even. (The second WC doesn't happen until 2013.) Add in the fact that Berkman's just signed for one more year, and has indicated he could decide to retire after that, and the Cardinals, while pitching-rich in the minors, may find themselves scuffing and struggling for some time.

Now, some reflections along with analysis, and a look at the St. Louis reaction, below the fold:

Stan Musial and grandson tried./St Louis Post-Dispatch
First, in St. Louis, per stories from the Post-Dispatch. There's plenty of shock, but not too much anger, except one sporting goods store giving away all its remaining Pujols swag.

Star columnist Bernie Miklasz, just before the Angels deal went down, asked what else Pujols wanted. I don't think it was money as money, but, money as a "marker," a sign of respect from the franchise. The Cards could have figured out a way to front-load the contract or something, I think. And didn't. Mozeliak had a whole year to get more creative than he did; whether this is his active fault, or his hands tied by DeWitt in the end, I don't know. (Per Jeff Gordon, this was very much DeWitt's call in the end. So, let's kick him in the nuts for not doing something better a year or so ago.)

And, I thought Bernie was a better writer than to say Pujols might be "pouting" over not getting A-Rod money. Related to that, it shows that, with rare exceptions, when it gets down to being about money, and money as a symbol of sports power politics, even most writers will eventually side with the owners and not the players.

The paper has a collection of fan reactions here. Papers' writers have a few comments there, too. Derrick Gould calling for the start of the "Holliday Era"? Derrick, "denial" is the first step in the grieving process.

The P-D also has a "Bernie Bytes" wrap on his take on the deal. Takeaway quote from him: "I guess in the end, Anaheim traded the Rams to St. Louis for a baseball icon to be named later."

More serious comments from Bernie:
I really do believe that most fans understand this situation and can see why the Cardinals didn't want to go higher than they did. That said, if ownership doesn't redirect some of this money into improving the 2012 club, they'll lose credibility.
Totally right there.
I'd be up for pursuing Prince Fielder. But after the Angels blew up the market with the Pujols' deal, I'm assuming that Fielder's price will skyrocket.
I wouldn't; not for shorter contract, even, at same number of $$ per year. That comment shows that most P-D writers are, indeed, stupid at times and in management's pockets at times.

But, not all P-D staff. Bryan Burwell, a day ago, did a good job of "calling out" Cards' management.
The Cardinals have had more than two years to dictate everything, to not only aggressively set the marketplace for their slugger, but to essentially eliminate any future competition because they could have put together a knockout deal at any point over the course of the last 24 months. Instead, in typical organizational fashion, they chose not to do that. The Cardinal Way at the negotiating table is to play an emotionless, but potentially dangerous game where you do nothing until you have to do something.
That tends to work just fine with utility infielders, fifth starters and bottom-of-the-order guys. But with once-in-a-generation Future Hall of Fame stars, it can be incredibly risky business.
Sounds about the right take on the team organzation. Especially when Burwell adds this:
The Cardinals have behaved as if the idea of anteing up a 10-year contract to Pujols in excess of $230 million is the crime of the century, when of course it isn't. What they have been able to underpay for him for the last 11 seasons is. They have gotten Pujols' services at bargain rates since the day he showed up on the major league roster in 2001 making by baseball terms a paltry $200,000. Over the first three seasons in the majors, Pujols earned a total of $1.6 million while producing on the average 38 home runs, 127 RBIs and a .334 batting average. ...
In the high-priced world of major league baseball, no one can say with a straight face that Pujols was ever paid anything near his true value. And this is what frustrates me so much about how pro sports works. Everyone moans when a player doesn't live up to his big contract. But where are those whining voices of public dissent when a player exceeds his contract and seeks to balance things out at the negotiating table?
And, I, like Burwell, could see this coming. The fact that it happened and played out this way doesn't make my foresight any better. So, while the photo at right is funny, I don't totally agree with itl

Per the picture at top, literally the picture above as well as the one at left above, it's going to be sad indeed not to see Pujols setting some career records in Cardinal red. Not to have him backed by a phalanx of Busch fans. Not to know that he would be the second Stan Musial for the rest of his baseball life. And, if John Mozeliak, through the Holliday contract or other things, had anything to do with this, then he needs to own up to it now, and explain how he's going to keep a contender in place without Pujols.

I'll still root for the Cardinals, of course. But, for the first time in a decade, my enthusiasm will have a little less edge to it. That's in part the sadness of losing Pujols. It's in part the sadness of knowing that a penny-wise, pound-foolish management probably could have avoided this scenario ever happening.

Sorry, Bernie, but my anger is differently directed than yours.

Add to this the fact that the Angels' offer includes a 10-year post-retirement personal services deal, and the Cards just whiffed. 

Finally, what does this mean for Pujols' assault on the record books? My thoughts here.

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