April 23, 2014

Is Albert Pujols Finally Earning His Huge Salary?

By - Brad Heerschop

Two years have passed since Albert Pujols signed his whopping 10-year, $240M contract with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. A contract that even at the time (when Pujols was still one of the best hitters in the game) seemed a bit excessive.

Photo by: Alex Gallardo
It wasn't just money, though. Pujols receives four season tickets to home games during the life of the contract, a hotel suite on road trips, the right to buy a luxury suite between first and third base for all home games and a luxury suite for the Pujols Foundation (his own charity) for ten home games a season. To top it all off, Pujols receives numerous incentive bonuses as well and will be granted $1M per year from the team for 10 years after the contract expires (or he retires), in what is coined a "personal services relationship" with the club.
So why would any player deserve all this?

Well the numbers speak for themselves. The 2-time World Series champion is a 9-time MLB All-Star, a 3-time NL MVP winner, a 6-time Silver Slugger Award winner, a 2-time Gold Glove recipient and a former National League Rookie of the Year. Amongst countless other unnamed accolades, No. 5 also has the distinction of being the only guy in Major League Baseball history to bat at least .300 with 30 or more home runs and 100 or more RBIs in his first 10 seasons.
With a career average of .321, 500 home runs and all of the aforementioned credentials, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see why the Dominican was so sought after once his contract with St. Louis had expired. What was hard to fathom is why any team would give a man in his thirties a hefty contract for a period likely longer than his career will be.
Until now, the critics appeared to be right. Pujols missed 71 games in his first two seasons in California due to a nagging plantar fascia injury. His numbers were on a steady decline as well. During those first two years, he hit for a .275 average with only 47 homers.

2012 saw Pujols hit career lows in average and home runs. The following season only served to show him break those lows. As a hitter known for his ability to find gaps and hit for doubles, the 2013 campaign saw his lowest total in that department also.
To boot, his once top-notch baserunning skills looked like a shadow of what they used to be, and even his value at first base, which was once high, dropped off significantly.
Now I realize compared to league averages his numbers are still pretty solid. However, Pujols isn't an "average" player, and his contract certainly is not what I would call "average" either.

But, hold on a minute.
Don't look now, but things appear to be on the up-swing. In 21 games, Pujols is hitting .284 (a number that is climbing), and leads the league with 8 dingers. It's early, but that's a pace for over 50 home runs on the season, which would mark a personal best for the future Hall-of-Famer.
In 2013, Pujols looked pained just running the bases, but even that seems to be in his rear-view mirror now. Fans will recall, Albert has never been formidably suited for speed, but he looks to be back to old "form" as of late. He is by no means fast, but it's obvious that running is a much less painful endeavor for the first baseman these days.
Pujols is finally earning his keep in Anaheim, and if he continues to play at this level, his signing might actually avoid going down as the worst contract in baseball history. He still has the ability to be one of the best players in the game, and it's showing again.

The big Dominican still has elite contact skills, and has only struck out 8 times this year in 88 at-bats. Even last season, Pujols only struck out 12.4% of the time. Contact was never an issue. The issue was power, and with his power returning, it may just be a matter of time until he's as treasured in California as he once was in Missouri.
The question is, how long can he stay healthy?
Only time will tell.

1 comment:

  1. Glad I didn't accept that trade offer for Pujols a few weeks ago, in one of my fantasy leagues! Good to see his power stroke back, and his wheels too.