When Albert Pujols was in the foulest of gutter-slumps last season, an interesting question was "What would Albert Pujols sign for if he were a free agent?" It was May 29, and Pujols was hitting .238/.282/.406. The responses were less than flattering.
After that, though, Pujols hit .309/.372/.570 with 22 homers in 405 at-bats, bringing his overall numbers up to acceptable levels. He was back. At least, the 2011 version. That was a weird slump, alright, but Pujols was fine, just fine. He was going to help the Angels contend in 2013 for sure.
Nope. It's not enough that the slump caught back up with him and took him down by the ankles, but Pujols has dealt with foot problems all season. Now he's out of the season, with the Angels' final month not being anything to rush back for. While Pujols was active, he was hitting like Gaby Sanchez or Nate Freiman. He was paid a lot of money not to hit like players like that.
How much money? This never gets old. From Baseball Prospectus:
10 years/$240M (2012-21). Signed by LA Angels as a free agent 12/8/11. 12:$12M, 13:$16M, 14:$23M, 15:$24M, 16:$25M, 17:$26M, 18:$27M, 19:$28M, 20:$29M, 21:$30M. Milestone bonuses: $3M for 3,000 hits. $7M for 763 HRs. Full no-trade protection.
Albert Pujols's contract ends two years after The Running Man is supposed to take place. But a year before Soylent Green! So if the Angels want to look at it that way ...
By the time you get to the 2017 part of what I just quoted, you get a headache. If you make it three commas after that, the ringing starts in your ears. If you get to the no-trade protection, bowel control is pretty much out. Actually, I probably should have put that warning before the quoted paragraph. Live and learn, live and learn.
You already know it's an unwieldy contract, but it's always worth looking at again. Reading the words. Processing the annual salary. Mike Trout turns 30 when Pujols's contract expires. I didn't even quote the $10 million personal-services contract after he retires.
Sorry, didn't mean to keep going on with the factoids.
If Pujols were signed for the next four seasons at $98 million, he would be untradeable. He's signed for four seasons and $112 million after that. But that doesn't matter because he has full no-trade protection.
Sorry! Let's just skip to the point of the article: What's the realistic best-case scenario for the rest of Albert Pujols's contract. As in, "He reverts back to 2010 form, plays like a Hall of Famer until 2021, and personally takes the treadmill out of the apartment above mine and throws it into the ocean" isn't a valid answer. That's a best-case scenario, but it isn't realistic.
The first thing we can do is look at the inner-circle Hall of Fame hitters and see if there' s anyone who came back from an early-30s dip like this. Pujols has accrued 662 WAR Runs Batting, so let's look for the Hall of Famers with more than 600, and see if any of them had down seasons when they were 33 or younger.
Here are the select few players in major-league history with more than 600 career Batting Runs:
An impressive list. You can see why Pujols got the contract he did, even if it's still not anything our little brains can process.
The good news for the Angels is that only two players up there didn't play past 36: Mickey Mantle and Lou Gehrig. Over half of the players would have been able to finish out Pujols's contract. That's a plus.
Now let's see if any of those players had comparable seasons to Pujols's 2013: at least 300 or more at-bats, and 20 or fewer Batting Runs:
|9||Hank Aaron||1975||- 1||465||41|
|19||Jimmie Foxx||1942||- 2||305||34|
Did any of them come back from the abyss? It's probably best to eliminate Tris Speaker and Stan Musial, who had their down seasons closer to 40. Those aren't good comps for Pujols.
If you're looking for someone truly close to Pujols's age, you have the following: Frank Thomas, Mickey Mantle, Jimmie Foxx, and Eddie Collins.
After Thomas's injury at 33 and down year at 34, he hit brilliantly at 35. He was injured the two seasons after that, before renaissance season with the A's and pretty good season with the Blue Jays. The tally: three injury-filled seasons, two fantastic seasons, and one pretty good season.
Mickey Mantle's body betrayed him -- or the other way around, maybe -- and after his down year at 33, he had three pretty okay-but-injury-filled seasons before retiring.
Jimmie Foxx was never the same. Some blame the drinking, others his sinus problems.
Eddie Collins's stats never really changed; the league around him did, which qualifies him for the list. He hit .349/.452/.448 in the five seasons (age 36 through 40) after his two "down" performances.
None of those players really help us feel better. If Pujols has any of the non-Collins career paths, the contract is an unmitigated disaster.
But if you lower the standards for the original search to 500 Batting Runs, you get a player who did this:
The obvious outlier in our mystery player's career is the age-32 season, in which he was injured and far worse than his career numbers. That 116 OPS+ is just a point under Pujols's mark in pitcher-friendly Angel Stadium, so it's a pretty good comparison. After the down season, everything got a lot better, even if the injuries continued to be a bit of a problem.
We've found the realistic best-case scenario for Albert Pujols. That's Chipper Jones's career, and the only reason everyone didn't freak out after his age-32 season is that he wasn't owed the budget of a Michael Bay movie. Jones bounced back. Maybe Pujols will.
The list of players who don't do what Chipper Jones did is a lot longer, of course. But if you're looking for a realistic outlier to feel better about Pujols, you don't have to go back too far to find it. The Angels can cross their fingers and keep chipper* thoughts.