It seems like everyday we have another post arguing that the Giants should go after one or another free agent this offseason. Reyes, Rollins, and even Fielder have had their own chatter. But what about Pujols? Could the Giants steal away another of the greatest hitters of all time to complement (and keep) their superlative pitching staff?
The Cardinals offered Pujols 9/$195mil before the season, and he was asking for 9/210 or 10/230. We have two things to consider in this equation:
1. Could the Giants afford it?
2. Should the Giants go all-in for Pujols if they can afford him?
1. I don't know how much money they have, but really, why not? The Giants rank only behind New York and Philly in attendance for this year, and are well behind both in payroll. Depending on who you ask, the financial priority for the Giants in the upcoming couple years should be: (1) getting a good shortstop, if possible without having to shell out for a terrible contract; (2) locking up one or both of Timmy and Cain long term; (3) not signing any more broken, declining vets for semi-premium contracts, such as those for DeRosa, Renteria, Tejada, Huff's extension, and the like.
The Giants 2011 payroll is $119million. This includes a lot of dead-weight. I think that Timmy and Cain can both easily be kept at this current payroll. When Cain reaches free agency, we are no longer paying Rowand $12 million. Cain is getting paid $7.3mil this year, and then $15mil next year. He is worth $20mil in FA, but may sign for less. $12.6mil + $7.3 mil = about $20mil. Cain could be kept at $20mil/year and payroll would be the same as 2011 levels.
Meanwhile, Timmy could also be kept because he reaches FA when we finally get to pay $7mil to buy out the final year of Zito's contract. Timmy is already being paid $14mil this year. Zito is paid $18.5 this year. If we subtract the $7mil for his buyout from his contribution to payroll this year, we can then roll $11.5mil over to Lincecum's current salary for a total of a $25.5mil, which would be the upper limit of what Timmy is likely to achieve in FA. Of course, things will change for Timmy's arb in 2012/2013 and Zito's contract will go up a bit each year until we're free from the albatross; my point is only that current payroll could be maintained and our two most expensive franchise pieces can be kept.
But given the success of the current team and the concomitant ticket and merchandise sales, I believe the team could afford a greater payroll, and would like to if it would sustain this current level of success. That the Giants were so willing to cut bait with $14million only a week ago and wanted to pay the entirety of Beltran's remaining 2011 salary.
If we assume that as other bad contracts expire (Huff is the only one lingering into next season that I can think of), that money shall be diverted to paying for arbitration raises for other young stars (Pablo, Buster, Madbum), the question is whether we could add the salary of a marquee free agent to current payroll levels. I hope that we could. I think Philly is a comparable market to SF, and whereas fans are more rabid in Philly, they have far more money in SF and the Giants are getting exponentially more popular. I think a $150mil payroll is sustainable if the FO can consistently field a contender. That would leave enough money for a marquee free agent.
2. Pujols is a sure-fire hall of famer, and one of the greatest hitters of all time. These are the sort of guys you want to get as a free agent, as they are the only players that are likely to live up to and produce at a level commensurate with their salary. Paying a huge price for Barry Bonds was the backbone of the Giants for the better part of a decade. When a player is having the worst year of his career (fantastic timing as it makes him in line for a human, as opposed to super-human, contract), and still leads his league in HRs, and is hitting .297/.367/.545. I'm personally not too worried about having Pujols in his age-40 season. Barry Bonds won four consecutive MVPs from 36-39. If Pujols does half of that, I really wouldn't care if we were on the hook for $23mil to have him hit like Aubrey Huff in 2011.
And why should we get Pujols as opposed to any other free agent? After all, we are on the hook for Aubrey Huff next year. We have Brandon Belt waiting in the wings. But Aubrey Huff would be a fine pinch-hitter and Brandon Belt plays a good LF. Albert Pujols can win a few more MVPs, or at least jostle in the rankings with Buster and Pablo (FANTASY, GUYS! IT FEELS GOOD!).
My point is that Albert Pujols is one of those few players that really deserve what they cost in free agency, and they are so good, and so likely to continue to perform at a consistently phenomenal level, that they are even worth overpaying for. Pujols is the anti-Zito. He is the anti-Rowand. He is a great player, and if he can be wrestled away from the Cardinals, even at a ridiculous price, he will probably be worth it in the long run. Also, I think that Timmy, Cain, and Madbum would probably love to stay in SF if they know that one of baseball's best run producers will be sticking around to help keep their gems from being wasted, and may even be willing to give more a hometown discount to allow for a Pujols.
But what is the comparison? Prince Fielder is younger, but not as good or consistent. He is also going to get really fat. He will probably not be a Hall of Famer, though he could. Whereas Pujols is a free agent comp to Bonds/Rodriguez, Fielder comps to Carlos Beltran. A great player, who had some great, superstar years, as well as some bad ones (or at least that's what I predict).
Jose Reyes is one of, if not the best, short stops in baseball. He also hasn't played more than 150 games since 2008, and speed is important to his game. He would cost less than Pujols, and for less years, but is not as safe a bet to perform well for the life of the contract.
Jimmy Rollins already kinda sucks, and he's getting older. Fuck him.
However, the best reason to argue against signing Pujols at 9/$210 or 10/$230 is that our current hole is at SS and Pujols doesn't play that. Well, SS is our hole for 2011 since we've played O-Cabbage and Tejada there all season. But if we have Pujols providing a level of production we haven't seen since Bonds, I think we can be quite happy with a pre-arbitration Brandon Crawford making webgems, taking walks, and rolling over groundballs. The other reason against signing him at $23 million a year for the next decade is that he might not be worth it. I think what Pujols has tended to produce over his career is worth well above $23million (Fangraphs says he's been worth $25-41million/year since his second season). Heck that's less than Ryan Howard! And he kinda sucks, and he's getting older, and you know where I'm going with this.
Pujols is a special talent in baseball. He's the best player, and has been the best player for the past decade, and players who are as good as him and are built like him and heal like him tend to be good for about two decades. He is well worth locking up at $23 million, $25 million, maybe even more, for the better part of a decade. In 10 years, I can guarantee you that most of the 10 best players in baseball will cost more than $25million/year. I don't only think this is a year where the Giants can get a player of the caliber of Mays or Bonds, but they can do so for a relative bargain due to his "down" year and the lack of bidders.
Brandon Belt can be a decent-to-good corner outfielder, and is worth more there anyway. Brett Pill can be claimed by the Padres off waivers. Aubrey Huff can be a great teammate, on the bench, and only for one more year.
The Giants have the opportunity to become a DOMINANT franchise here. The Red Sox and Yankees are out of the bidding. If they can afford him, signing Pujols could be a watershed move. The pitchers would more likely want to stay. There would be far less pressure on our young, talented hitters to carry the load, and we will have one more position protected from being filled with crumbling veterans. All it takes is money.
Please, tell me I'm dreaming. Please, tell me that the Giants would want to do this. Please, let's talk more about this fantasy, 'cause--I tell you what--it feels pretty good.