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The Danger With Pujols

Albert Pujols
Albert Pujols is the greatest player of this generation, and frankly, already one of the greatest players of all time. He could walk away now and be a Hall of Famer in my book, easy.

The only thing Albert is walking away from these days though is a Cardinals contract offer. When the greatest player of his time hits the open market, he is sure to get paid. Reportedly, 8 years, $200 million wasn't enough, and that doesn't surprise me. He will get more in the open market.

Should a team give Pujols so much money though?

Allow me to play devil's advocate, with the help of Baseball Reference. Let's take a look at what happened with the most similar players to Albert through age 30 (Albert's current age), according to B-R's algorithm:

  • Jimmie Foxx - He stayed an elite hitter through his age 32 season, then was a really good hitter until he was 34, and then he got old/World War II happened.
  • Frank Robinson - Frank aged very well, and didn't ever really fade. His last full season was at 38 years old, though he was also productive when on the field for two more seasons, before retiring.
  • Ken Griffey Jr. - Injuries took a toll seemingly the second Junior hit the ground in Cincinnati. He never was the same kind of player there that he was in Seattle, though was pretty good (when healthy) until 35. After that, he sunk noticeably, especially on defense, though it all went way south in his last season.
  • Lou Gehrig - The Iron Horse continued to perform at an elite level through his age 34 season, compiled a really good season at 35, and then famously walked away as the luckiest man on the face of the Earth while ALS tragically took hold of his life.
  • Hank Aaron - Hank might be the ultimate example of consistent excellence in baseball history, so it is no surprise that he performed at a high level all the way through his age 39 season. Aaron played two more seasons after that too, both of which look better than they do at first glance because of the pitcher-friendly environment they happened in. Still, they were decent seasons at best, and far cries from what he was for the vast majority of his career.
  • Mickey Mantle - By age 30, most of Mantle's prolific days were behind him. He had one more jaw-dropping season in him, and then he tailed off to a "merely" great player before retiring at 36 years old. There are plenty of stories about injuries he played through, as well as his penchant for spirits (to put it nicely). Both likely took their toll, and contributed to his mildly early retirement.
  • Mel Ott - Ott's production started to wobble after his age 30 season, though he stayed a great player through his age 36 season, before his talent seemingly evaporated overnight.
  • Juan Gonzalez - I question how good this comparison is, to be honest. Nevertheless, Juan had 1 more full season left in him after age 30. It was one of his better ones, but once he turned 32, he put up 3 mediocre half-seasons before nobody would really take him anymore, more or less forcing him to retire.
  • Eddie Mathews - By 30 years old, Eddie had 1 more great season left in him, which came at 31. After that, Mathews faded noticeably, and retired at 36.
  • Manny Ramirez - Say what you want about his personality, but his hitting is still awfully good. Ramirez is entering his age 39 season, and while his defense is shoddy at best, he still possesses a quality bat. His hitting has aged well.
First of, what a list. It's a who's who of hitters in the past century. It says all you need to know about what Pujols has already accomplished.

However, getting back to the question at hand, how safe is it to give Albert Pujols an eight-year contract? It would be over when he is 39 years old. 6 of the 10 players on the above list retired before they were 39, and 5 of those 6 are Hall of Famers.

Albert Pujols has always been an exception to the norm. To justify whatever gargantuan contract he gets, he will have to be an exception to a list that includes seven hall-of-famers, one more surefire one (Griffey), and another that will only be kept out if voters are turned off by his PED use (Ramirez). That's a tall order, to say the least.

I would not bet against Pujols to beat the odds, but that does not mean I would bet on him, either. It is hard to imagine Albert Pujols being anything less than superb, because he has been amazing literally from day one. On some level, it seems like he will be amazing forever, because that's all we've ever seen out of him. Why wouldn't he be great for another decade?

However, we know from history though that there will come a day where Phat Albert will become Anemic Albert, and that day might come way sooner than any of our eyes or minds allow us to dream. It would be crippling to any franchise if Pujols trails off around 35 years old, with 3 years and $100 million or so left to pay him. History suggests that's not only possible, but perhaps even likely.

It might not be the end of the world for the Cardinals if (or perhaps at this point when) Pujols signs elsewhere. If he goes the way of a handful of legends before him, it will turn out to be a blessing in disguise for Saint Louis.

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