This past weekend, one of my friends asked a simple yet perplexing question: if Albert Pujols doesn’t remain with the Cardinals, should the Mets make an attempt to sign him? My knee jerk response was yes, then I said no…and then I started to give it some thought and ultimately decided I should take a deeper look. If possible, should the Mets shell out one of the largest contracts in history for the greatest player of this (or dare I say, any) generation?
Pujols accomplishments demand an entire novel, but here is a brief summary. His career batting line is .331/.426/.624 (he is the active leader in all three categories) with 408 home runs. He hits righties as well as he does lefties, has had eight seasons of at least 1.000 OPS and averages only 67 strikeouts per season. Pujols has even stood out defensively, saving 94 total runs in his career (he saved 29 in 2007 alone). He’s never produced a WAR below 5.8 (his highest 10.9 in 2003) and has racked up plenty of hardware, winning the Rookie of the Year Award and MVP honors on three separate occasions (amazingly enough, he did not win in 2003; Barry Bonds took home the prize). Oh yeah, and El Hombre just turned 31.
Pujols set the beginning of spring training as a deadline for a contract extension to be negotiated. Many believe he may ask for a contract similar to Alex Rodriguez’s ten year, $275 pact, but the Cardinals might not be willing to offer that much money or that many years; the two sides might be at an impasse. So if the Cardinals can’t sign Pujols, who can? The Yankees have Mark Teixeira locked up until 2016, and have several other expensive contracts to boot, including the guy I just mentioned with the richest contract in history, and CC Sabathia, who is under contract until 2015. The Red Sox haven’t technically signed an extension with newly acquired Adrian Gonzalez, but a deal seems likely to take place and he will certainly come cheaper than Pujols. There are other teams that could maybe afford Albert: the Cubs only signed Carlos Pena to a one year deal and have the money to spend, but would Pujols join the Cardinals’ arch nemesis? This is where the Mets enter the picture.
The first problem with signing Pujols would be what to do with Ike Davis. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of Ike-he plays great defense, has power and just seems like a great guy that could be part of the team’s long term, Pujols-less plans. However, he is not, nor will he ever be Albert Pujols. I believe Ike said he’d be a middle reliever if the team signed The Machine; if that time ever came, I’d start working on my slider if I were you, Ike.
Figure that Pujols would want somewhere around $28 million per year, similar to A-Rod: could the Mets afford him? It has been well documented that the Amazins will have around $50 million coming off the books next year with the impending departure of Carlos Beltran, Francisco Rodriguez (assuming his option doesn’t kick in, something the Mets could control), Luis Castillo and Oliver Perez (the latter two might not even make it through spring training). The Mets might have even more money to spend than that since Jose Reyes may no longer be with the team, leaving either via free agency or trade, but let’s not worry about that right now and assume the Mets have around $50 million next year. If that’s the case, they’d be devoting almost 60% of that to one player, leaving around $22 million to spend on other free agents, arbitration eligible players, such as Mike Pelfrey and Angel Pagan (assuming deals aren’t worked out) and maybe a new contract for Reyes. Signing Pujols might limit Mets financially going into 2012 more so than if they spread the money around, but there is no denying he would bolster the offense.
Of course, signing Pujols would mean paying him around $28 million not just in 2012, but for at least eight, and maybe as many as ten, years. Such a move would be restricting, financially, right? Maybe not as much as you think.
Remember when the Mets handed out big contracts to Johan Santana and Jason Bay? Those both end after the 2013 season, assuming the team doesn’t pick up Santana’s $14 million option for 2014 (at the rate he’s going, it would be hard to imagine them doing so). Between those two contracts, that’s almost $44 million freed up-Pujols money! Figure if the Mets sign Reyes to an extension that costs around $12 million a year, and they keep Wright long term for around $15 million per year, then fill the rest of the lineup with younger, inexpensive players (Lucas Duda, Fernando Martinez, Reese Havens) and do the same with the rotation (Jon Niese, Jennry Mejia, Matt Harvey), the Mets might have something! Will Pujols decline as he heads towards his late 30s? Probably, but he is so amazing right now that unless he starts plummeting he will still be very good in his later years.
Of course, this is all wild speculation that will probably never happen. It’s impossible to predict what the free agent or trade market will be like and how much the Mets will spend to hold onto their current and younger players, and even harder to predict if those younger players will be any good. And all the while, Sandy Alderson has stated consistently that he doesn’t want to sacrifice long term financial flexibility. But still, given the perfect storm of events (Pujols’ talks breaking down with the Cardinals, the Yankees and Red Sox having roadblocks at first base and the fact that the Mets are in New York and CAN spend the money), it makes you wonder what if…