Pay the piper, then Albert Pujols

Question: What happens when a Hall of Fame-bound first baseman in the prime of his career with a Gold Glove, a World Series ring and three MVP awards to his credit hits the free agent market?
Answer: No one knows. It’s never happened before. But with Albert Pujols’ current deal set to expire after the 2011 season, all eyes will be on his contract negotiations.
When Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard signed a 5-year, $125 million extension this week, it raised plenty of questions. Chief among them is this: If Howard is worth $25 million per year, then how much is Pujols worth?
“$50 million a year, at least,” Braves manager Bobby Cox said in an interview with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I don’t know how you pay a guy like Pujols. He’s the best.”
Cox is right — Pujols is the best player in the game. No one else can match his hitting, fielding and competitiveness. He is the total package. His career statistics read like a Guinness Book of World Records. But not only would a $50 million-per-year deal shatter the previous MLB record for salary, it would almost double the $27.5 million-per-year wage Alex Rodriguez is averaging in his current 10-year deal.
To put $50 million in a new light, it would take a sports writer with a $40,000 annual salary 1,250 years to match it.
Realistically, there is only one team that would ever contemplate throwing that kind of money at a single player. Of course, that team is the Yankees. However, with Mark Teixeira entrenched at first base, an offer from New York seems unlikely. Could this allow a surprise team to sign away the game’s best player?
Don’t count on it. Pujols has stressed his desire to win and was quoted last year saying, “Money is not everything; it’s better to have a competitive team that can go to the postseason.” The Cardinals have made the playoffs in six of Albert’s nine seasons and are expected to get back there again this year. Pujols will be hardpressed to find a suitor who can match that success.
The 2011 offseason may seem to be a long way away, but it has the chance to reshape the economics of the game.
Could the St. Louis Cardinals, a team in a mid-market city, dish out more money for a player than the Yankees ever have?
When that player is Pujols, the Cardinals may have to. In the next few years, Pujols will continue to break records.
The next record he claims may have nothing to do with home runs, averages or RBIs; it might just be about the dollar bills.

Alex Harkaway
Freelancer Alex Harkaway can be reached at

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