Salaries in baseball are going up, up, up. This has been going on for ages, but the influx of TV money has hastened contract inflation league-wide. A 100-million dollar contract was unheard of when the Dodgers signed Kevin Brown in 1998. Since then, we’ve seen Albert Pujols, Robinson Cano, A-Rod (twice), Max Scherzer, Prince Fielder, Miguel Cabrera, and Joey Votto all sign 200-million dollar contracts. David Price and Zach Greinke joined them this offseason. Giancarlo Stanton managed to bank 300 million. The point is, top players are expensive. So which 100+ million contract is the best? That honor belongs to Albert Pujols on the first of his two nine-figure deals.
The first Pujols deal was a seven-year deal that started in 2004 and guaranteed 100 million. The Cardinals picked up his 2011 option for 16 million, bringing the total to 116 million over eight years. This averages out to around 14.5 million per season.
During that stretch, Pujols hit 331 homers, was an All-Star seven times, won five Silver Sluggers, won two Rawlings Gold Gloves, and was MVP three times, including back-to-back in 2008 and 2009. He had an on-base percentage above .400 in seven of the eight seasons, and never hit less than 32 homers and never hit below .300 once. Both OBP and average blemishes occurred in 2011, the year that can now be called the beginning of Pujols’ decline. He averaged 8.2 of Baseball-Reference’s version of WAR. It’s among the greatest prime years of any player in MLB history.
The production from just this contract alone would be enough to merit a Hall of Fame induction. If that isn’t a ringing endorsement of a deal, I don’t know what is. It’s funny, Pujols has by far the best mega deal in history, but if recent years are any indication, his current mega deal with the Angels could turn out to be the worst in history. Time will tell, but less than half way through the ten-year pact Pujols is a shell of his former self, an injury-prone, free-swinging, 35 year-old DH type. Pujols serves as the poster child for paying a premium to keep young stars and as the poster child for NOT paying a premium for aging veterans, no matter how good the track record.
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