I was submerged in a sea of College Basketball this weekend. That plus the usual errands and an epic softball game on Sunday – our first Sunday game of the year. I guess I’ve not been running for a while, because I have sore muscles in places I forgot I had muscle. Anyway, after watching Villanova be dismissed by St. Mary’s (and frankly, my Wildcats were lucky to get that far), savoring the Northern Iowa upset, and tracking Xavier’s defeat of Pittsburgh via the web, there was precious little time for baseball.
With no indication anything seismic had happened over the weekend, I logged into ESPN.com Monday morning to find the Minnesota Twins had mortgaged the entire Minneapolis/St Paul area to retain Joe Mauer. Eight years, 184 million dollars.
For a team MLB seriously considered eliminating a couple of years ago, that’s a staggering contract to give to one player. Even if he’s a hometown guy and the best hitting catcher ever to play the game at the Major League level.
The Twins are small-market, and just agreed to pay Joe Mauer $23 million a season through 2017. Naturally thoughts here turn to Albert Pujols. Mauer might be the best player in the AL. He is the reigning AL MVP. Pujols is the best player in baseball, and is a 3-time NL MVP. If Joe Mauer is worth $23 mil, what the heck is AP worth?
The best way to look at this contract, at least in my opinion, would be to look at it per expected WAR each season going forward, and take into account the inevitable impact of aging on Mauer’s productivity. While there are some great resources out there for understanding aging curves, and how to work with them, I discovered it was way too much to absorb in 20 minutes just to include it a post. Once I included a statistical metric I didn’t fully understand in a post, and got ridiculed pretty good over at BTF; won’t do that again.
So let’s take a different tack. Here’s a graphic of Pujols and Mauer WAR, by season:
Nothing surprising here. Pujols isn’t regarded as the best player in baseball for nothing. Note, however, that Mauer surpassed him in WAR slightly for 2009 – and that’s with Joe missing virtually all of April as he recovered from a lower back injury. Mauer will turn 27 during the 2010 season and, depending on who’s analysis you believe, is in the peak years of his physical power. He may not put up an 8.1 WAR for the next 3 years, but he’ll probably put up a 6.0 minimum over that time. Albert has played at a 7.7 or better level since 2003, and we all carry the hope he will put up similar numbers this season.
The other thing worth looking at is durability.
Perhaps this isn’t entirely fair, since Mauer plays a more physically demanding position. Using Bill James’ Defensive Spectrum, which is sometimes interpreted as defining the easiest to hardest positions to play on the field we get DH–>1B–>LF–>RF–>3B–>CF–>2B–>SS–>C. We all know catchers get dinged up more than first basemen, with foul tips, collisions, the occasional hitter follow-through that konks you in the head, and so on. But the fact remains Mauer has played more than 140 games in a season only once, and that in the designated hitter league – which allows the Twins to keep his bat in the lineup while giving him a break from the stress of squatting behind the plate.
In contrast, Pujols has played less than 150 games in a season only twice.
So you’ve got a guy who has approached Pujols’ productivity only once, who is less durable than AP, and he’s getting $23M a year for the next 8 years. Congratulations to Joe Mauer on his successful contract negotiations, however from the Cardinals perspective, the cost of retaining Pujols just went up. If Albert decides his compensation should be close to his market value, even if he decides to give the Cardinals a ‘hometown discount’, I don’t see how they avoid paying him $25 million a year.
And this, as has been discussed throughout the blogosphere and on mainstream sports sites, is where it gets complicated. Albert Pujols is not going to be a $25 million dollar plus per season player the rest of his career. So do you sign him to a shorter contract, let him finish his career somewhere else, and take the PR hit? Do you sign him long term (10 years has been bandied around by other Cardinal bloggers) and hope for the best? Do you work some kind of bell curve compensation package and hope MLB and the players association allow it?
Man I would really enjoy analyzing this problem and being involved in the Cardinal front office contract discussions. Given the amount of emotion Cardinal fans have attached to keeping Pujols until he retires, however, I’m glad I won’t be the guy on the pointy end of that spear should the conclusion be to not keep Pujols in town the remainder of his career.