Admirable as it may be that Los Angeles Angels owner Arte Moreno has done what he could by opening his pocketbooks so that the team can bolster its lineup with no half measures to bring a World Series back to Anaheim, one only has to look back at the Halos’ disastrous 2013 season to see just all the things that can go awry with best-laid plans.
Yes, the Angels have some reasons to be hopeful given that they have been on a roll as of late (7-3 over last 10) without Albert Pujols in the mix; however, the game-changing slugger they’re waiting for may never come.
While there are off-field factors to consider when it comes to player contract values like boosts in attendance, TV ratings and overall team brand power, it goes without saying that the Angels could well be staring at an all-time albatross deal in MLB history in Pujols over the better part of the next decade.
Such a statement would have practically been blasphemous only two seasons ago, but the numbers really speak for themselves even going back to his days with the St. Louis Cardinals:
2009: 1.101 OPS, 47 HRs, .8.7 fWAR
2010: 1.011 OPS, 42 HRs, 7.0 fWAR
2011: .906 OPS, 37 HRs, 4.4 fWAR
2012: .859 OPS, 30 HRs, 3.7 fWAR
2013: .767 OPS, 17 HRs, 0.7 fWAR
That doesn’t exactly leave a whole lot to the imagination, even if you completely ignore the fact that he’s been on the DL twice over the last three seasons. Yes, his latest season-ending injury has only allowed him to play 99 games this season, thus skewing his numbers, but even if you were to extrapolate his home run numbers to the 670 PA he received in 2012, you’d still be looking at a career-low 26 homers.
Simply put, Pujols has been hit hard with regression and health issues at the worst possible time, meaning Los Angeles is at a significant loss when it comes to his contract’s cost vs. value — if you were to only look at it in terms of on-field value anyway. With 4.4 fWAR accumulated at first base over the last two seasons, the 33-year old has been worth approximately $19.9 million over that span — far less than the $28 million the team has invested in him since 2012. The bigger problem, however, is that the contract is very back-loaded, meaning that things aren’t looking too far up from here.
But here’s the interesting long-term question — just how much of a mistake could it be when the deal is said and done?
Well, let’s do a little bit of math. The year-to-year attrition rates for his fWAR since 2009 has been 19.5, 37.1 and 15.9 percent for the first three years. We’ll give him the benefit of the doubt for 2013 and assume that his plantar fascia tear is a one-time thing (meaning he won’t miss significant time going forward), so we’ll forget about the steep drop in between 2012 and 2013.
That gives us an average of a 24.1 percent attrition rate. Now, there is a caveat here that declines due to age isn’t exactly a straight line and he could very well have a resurgent season at some point, but considering that we’ve got a pretty solid sample size and pattern here, let’s just roll with the idea that his performance will continue to decline overall as he approaches age 41, the final year of his contract.
So, applying that to his fWAR from 2012 on, here’s what the Angels might see from the final eight years of Pujols (approximate dollar value in millions based on 2013 positional values/salary in millions):
2014 (age 34): 2.8 fWAR ($13.61/$23)
2015: 2.1 ($10.26/$24)
2016: 1.6 ($7.78/$25)
2017: 1.2 ($5.83/$26)
2018: 0.9 ($4.37/$27)
2019: 0.7 ($3.4/$28)
2020: 0.5 ($2.43/$29)
2021 (age 41): 0.4 ($1.94/$30)
Even if we completely ignore the 10-year, $10 million personal contract that kicks in after 2021, the Angels are looking at a total of 10.2 fWAR’s worth of production over the eight years, worth approximately $49.62 million. Combined with the numbers for the first year seasons, and here are the projected final figures: 14.6 fWAR, $69.52 million production vs. $240 million paid.
Or, in simpler terms terms — Pujols would give the team 2.9 years of production over the course of his 10-year contract with a $24 million average annual salary. That’s a little over seven full years of wasted salary.
Yes, this is a worst-case scenario here, but the team hasn’t exactly been given a lot to be hopeful about the former all-world star here. If his decline continues, the man who was once the greatest hitter in an entire generation may very well end up being the owner of the worst contract of all-time.