Okay, so if you haven’t heard, there is a rumor from an “inside” source in the Phillies organization that there have been front office talks about trying to trade Ryan Howard for Albert Pujols. These talks are rumored to only be only taking place in the Phillies front office, and they apparently haven’t approached the Cardinals about it at all.
Now, I have a hard time believing this is a real rumor at all, since almost everyone involved has come out and said it is completely false, but just for the sake of argument, let’s take a look at how this trade could work for the Cardinals and Phillies.
Albert Pujols is pretty easily the best baseball player in the world, but Ryan Howard is no slouch. Here’s how they compare in different aspects of the game.
Pujols is obviously a beast. He has a career .416 wOBA, and has had a wOBA over .450 three times. Fantastic. He has been worth over 70 runs with the bat in each of the last two seasons. His wRC+ has never been lower than 152, with his career average being 173 (wRC+ is set up so that 100 is average and any number above or below 100 is that percent above/below average. So, a wRC+ of 101 means the player would be 1% better than average).
For those that are less sabermetrically inclined, Pujols’ traditional Triple Crown stats have averaged 41 HR, 124 RBI, and a .334 AVG in his nine major league seasons.
Simply put; he’s the best.
Howard, however, is no pushover at the plate. He’s posted a career .396 wOBA crossing the .400 wOBA mark once, in 2006. His batting values have been fairly sporadic through his career, thus far, but he’s had a 141 wRC+ for his career. Obviously, he’s a far cry from the level Pujols is, but he’s a very productive offensive player.
His Triple Crown stats look like 37 HR, 107 RBI, and a .279 AVG for his career.
Pujols is touted as one of the best defensive first basemen in baseball, and for good reason. Although his last two seasons have shown decline from his 2007 season, in which he posted an 18.8 UZR. That’s almost two full wins of defense, alone. His 2009 UZR was an unimpressive 1.3 runs, but he’s got the tools and the determination to be among the best in the league, once again.
Defense has never been Howard’s strong suit, but in the past few years he’s turned himself into a decent first baseman. In 2008, he posted his career high 2.8 UZR, which is probably his ceiling going forward.
Pujols tends to put up a surprising amount of stolen bases each year, but his baserunning in general is about average. Baseball Prospectus has a statistic called EQBRR, which stands for Equivalent Base Running Runs and is a combination of stolen bases and different types of base advancement. Pujols has been around 0 for his career, with some seasons above and some below average.
Howard’s baserunning ability is easily his most limited skill. He’s posted EQBRR numbers under -3 for most of his career.
Pujols is obviously the superior player. The question becomes one of money. Howard is due to make $7 million more than Pujols is over the next two years, but Pujols will undoubtedly command more money than Howard on an extension. If the Cardinals thought they couldn’t afford Pujols, or that they didn’t want to risk plunking almost 40% of their payroll on him and Holliday with a fairly weak farm system behind them, they may actually entertain trading for Howard. The money they would save could help in fielding a good team around Howard, something that might not be possible if Pujols gets $30 million per year, like some think he will.
Personally, I wouldn’t make the deal unless I was assured that ownership wouldn’t raise payroll to acomodate the new extension. If two players are taking up between 30 and 40% of the payroll space, it’s hard to imagine fielding a successful team around them unless you have strong support in the minor league system. Cardinals fans, I’m sorry, but your farm system just isn’t that system right now. In fact, Beyond The Box Score just ranked the Cardinals’ farm system dead last in the majors. Now, I don’t agree with that assessment since the Astros are worse off by a pretty wide margin, but the Cardinals are in the discussion.
My conclusion is that it might behoove the Cardinals to try to move Pujols given the right situation