This article is about a fantasy. A fantasy most of us only get to experience with an Xbox 360 or a PS3 controller in our hands: Albert Pujols in an A’s jersey. He has been arguably the best hitter in baseball over the last decade, at least the best right-handed hitter, and will potentially be a free agent after this season. He is currently embroiled in tumultuous contract negotiations with the Cardinals and has said that he will not talk deal once the season starts. The whole situation made me ask myself, "What if…?"
Before I try to justify the fantasy (delusion?), let’s look at some of Prince Albert’s numbers during his 10 seasons:
- His WAR has been above 7 nine times
- Of his 10 hitter comparisons through age 30, seven are current Hall of Famers, one (Ken Griffey Jr.) is a surefire 1st-ballot inductee and another (Manny Ramirez) will be there one day as well
- His most similar comparisons by age have been Joe DiMaggio and Jimmie Foxx
- His OBP has been over .400 nine times, he has hit over 30 home runs each year and more than 40 in six of them
- From 2000-2010 he is 1st in WAR, 2nd in home runs, 3rd in OBP, and 2nd in OPS
These numbers help to quantify what you should already know: Albert Pujols is very, very good. Every team would love to have him. If he becomes available, why couldn’t the A’s make a play for him? It’s been apparent this offseason that Billy Beane has had more money to spend than usual. He reportedly made offers of: 5 yrs/$64 million to Adrian Beltre, 4 yrs/$15.25 million to Hisashi Iwakuma (not including the $19.1 million posting fee), and a rumored 1 yr/$7 million to Lance Berkman. If you divide the posting fee evenly across the 4 years of the proposed offer to Iwakuma, here is the yearly breakdown those contracts would’ve totaled:
Year 1: $28.3 million
Years 2-4: $21.4 million
Year 5: $12.8 million
Pujols is reportedly seeking a contract worth an average of between $28-30 million/year. The A’s appear to have a significant portion of that available, at least for the next four years. Another factor in the negotiations is that several of the main big spenders would likely be out of the running. The Yankees and Red Sox have Mark Teixeira and Adrian Gonzalez, respectively, and are set at first base for the next several years. Theoretically they won’t be in the mix to drive his price up. The Dodgers are another large market team that would likely be out due to the situation with their owners, the McCourts. The Mets owners are handcuffed by the fallout from the Madoff scandal and would likely be out as well. These situations should significantly benefit any teams negotiating with Pujols.
The main thing adding fuel to this fantasy fire is the stadium issue. The A’s have been trying, albeit unsuccessfully, to locate a site for a new stadium over the past several years. There has been a lot of controversy surrounding this situation (territorial rights, feasibility of building in Downtown Oakland, etc.), but one thing is certain: the A’s need to have an established, marketable star when the stadium opens. The fans need at least one player that will bring them out to games. Who better than a future Hall of Famer chasing significant career accomplishments? Stop me if you’ve heard this one before…
AT&T/Pac Bell Park broke ground in December, 1997 and opened just over three years later in March, 2000. When it opened, the Giants had a roster headlined by Jeff Kent and Barry Bonds. Kent had established himself as an elite offensive 2nd baseman after being acquired by the Giants in 1997. Bonds was only a season away from hitting his 500th home run and would continue to reach milestones that brought fans out in droves. Coincidentally, Pujols is likely just over three seasons away from his 500th home run, which would make him the 26th player to accomplish the feat. Playing DH should help extend his career and if he were able to play long enough, he could become only the 9th player to hit 600 home runs (Jim Thome should hit the 11 home runs he needs this season to make him #8). Imagine Pujols reaching these milestones in a brand new stadium, in an A’s jersey. (It made me smile just typing that sentence.) Pujols also provides another marketing avenue that Bonds didn’t: his positive off the field persona. He has a reputation as being one of the most charitable players in the game. You also have to take into account how much better Pujols would make his teammates with his insight and approach.
If the stadium situation is rectified within the next calendar year, then it’s possible that it could open for the 2015 season and be used as a selling point in any negotiation. If Pujols becomes a free agent and the A’s are able to sign him to a seven or eight year deal ranging from $196-240 million, then he would be in the fourth year of the deal at age 35 and have four years remaining. The contract would end the season after Pujols turns 39. Again using Bonds as an example, his last elite season was at age 39 (though he did have two good years at 41 and 42). Pujols could possibly be approaching 700 home runs at the end of the contract and would likely have been a full-time DH for several years. This could help him play into his 40s. Maybe an option year or two could even be included in the deal to insure that if he reaches that level, he does it as an Athletic.
Granted the money isn’t mine and none of this makes fiscal sense immediately considering the A’s have an opening day payroll for this season of just over $62 million. A deal with Pujols would mean that one player was taking up about 33% of the entire team’s payroll for the foreseeable future. Wasn’t Eric Chavez’s deal putting the team in a similar position when he wasn’t even playing? If Pujols helps draw larger crowds, and thus draws more revenue, isn’t he helping to pay for himself? The A’s haven’t had a good all-around hitter come out of their minor league system in over a decade. They haven’t had a good in-house power hitter come up since Swisher in 2005 and he was traded two seasons later. Meanwhile, Carlos Gonzalez, Andre Ethier, and Nelson Cruz are all playing outfield for other teams and producing good offensive numbers.
Maybe something crazy and out-of-the-box happening is a possibility. Maybe it’s even a necessity if we want to win a World Series. The team across the Bay just did. Do we really want to listen to their gloating until the A’s finally find the perfect combination of young talent and free agents willing to play in McAfee Coliseum that puts them over the top? Pujols would be a franchise player for the better part of a decade. A player that we haven’t had since Giambi, Tejada, and Chavez were all together. Maybe even since the Bash Brothers were around. There would finally be another era to add to Oakland A’s lore. That’s what makes a fantasy a fantasy. We can dream as big and as unrealistic as we want to. Now where’s my controller at…?