Yeah, he's pretty good.

Should the Royals Crown Pujols?

Albert Pujols congratulates himself on being awesome. (AP)

Remember that whole “The Decision” deal that LeBron James did last summer?

Well, that’s roughly what’s going on now with Albert Pujols.

With his rejection of St. Louis at their agreed signing deadline yesterday, Pujols threw his hat into the free agency ring after the 2011 season. He’ll be the most sought-after free agent, of course, leading the duo of himself and Prince Fielder in potentially leaving the NL Central as a much less powerful place than it is now.

Now, there are a lot of teams that are expected to be involved with Pujols when the madness ensues. Many people don’t really consider the Royals to be involved. That’s fair, considering their history with big-name free agents, but a discussion within the fan base has arisen about whether they could push to get after Pujols and bring him in.

But is it realistic to think the Royals could get involved? If so, would that even be a good idea for the team’s future?

Bob Fescoe of 610 Sports has been bringing it up lately and is convinced that the Royals will be ready to jump into the insanity when the season ends and the bidding war begins. On the other side of the spectrum, Bob Dutton wrote an article in the KC Star on Monday that ran with the idea that there’s no way Pujols ends up in Kansas City. The money quote from David Glass was this:

“No,” Glass said. “We would not sign any individual player to a $300 million contract.”

Now, that number is one that has been thrown out in the Pujols talk for some time. It’s the idea of $30 million dollars over ten years, which would be the biggest contract in history. It’s a number that would never be associated with the Royals. The biggest contract on a year-to-year basis has been the Jose Guillen deal, if I recall correctly, who was given $12 million per year. Gil Meche pulled $12.4 million in 2010. Jumping to $30 million seems an outrageous idea.

“There’s little justification,” Glass said, “in giving anybody a $300 million contract. You might as well give them the franchise.”

Of course, David Glass can say whatever he wants. Smokescreens are a typical part of the game. Heck, Dayton Moore threw us a wicked one last year when the club was expected to draft catcher Yasmani Grandal over Christian Colon. We know they can do it, so why isn’t now one of those times?

It’s also good to note that the contract may well not reach $300 million. It may be $30 million over seven years. Maybe it’ll be eight years. It’s a small point, but it’s likely that Glass was pressed on that round $300 million number rather than on just signing Pujols. I just wanted to make that distinction.

Even with that, the money doesn’t make sense to me. I don’t think it makes sense to anyone. Sure, the only guaranteed money on the books for 2010 is Billy Butler’s newly-minted contract. The Royals will assuredly pick up Joakim Soria’s option. Those two add up to $12 million. The guys from the minors will be at league minimum, and since there will be many of them on the roster, a lot of the players will be on the cheap. It’s not that there’s isn’t money available now. It’s that you want that money to be available for other things, like signing young guys to long contracts, a la the Rays and Evan Longoria.

The money doesn’t really make sense, but think of the positives. Albert Pujols is from Kansas City. He went to high school there. He went to college there. They Royals just somehow ignored him in the darkening days of the late 1990′s, drafting giants like Kyle Snyder, Jimmy Gobble, Mike MacDougal, Wes Obermueller, Ken Harvey, and Tony Cogan before Pujols was taken in the 13th round. Oh, and those are just the ones that reached the majors, totaling 2.3 WAR in their careers.* Pujols has accumulated 83.8 WAR in 10 major league seasons.

*Don’t let me neglect the drafting of Mark Ellis, who we likely all know and who the Royals sent to Oakland with Johnny Damon in the deal that brought the great Angel Berroa to Kansas City.

Now, I don’t want to devolve into a talk of “We should’ve drafted him first!” But it’s fair to say that the Royals had a great guy in their backyard that they didn’t bring in. That’s just the thing, though. He’s from their backyard. Pujols could be interested in returning to the place that was his home for a few years. He could be looking to settle back in to the place where he continued his growth into the great player that he is now. And it’s possible that he’s interested in playing with a team on the rise and returning the Royals to significance.

“There are only a few clubs who can sign that kind of star on the open market,” one club official said. “For us to get a guy like that, he’d really have to want to come here. We couldn’t win a bidding war.”

That’s a lot to assume, though. He did only spend a few years in Independence and Kansas City, so it’s not as if he was raised in the city. Still, there’s some power to that association, and it could be that Pujols will keep that in mind and give the Royals the time of day. Will he give them a discount? Probably not, as it seems he won’t give any team a discount. Still, his ties to Kansas City could open him up to the possibility of coming to Kauffman on a long-term basis.

It could happen. I don’t think it’s likely and I don’t think the Royals will want to dish out the money, but it could happen.

Now, should it happen?

Pujols is an amazing player. Incredible player. He’s the best player any of us have ever seen, unless you’re well-aged enough to have seen Mickey Mantle, etc. and want to debate abilities. For me, though, he’s the best. Not Alex Rodriguez. Not Derek Jeter. Not Manny Ramirez or Roger Clemens or Pedro Martinez or Barry Bonds. Albert Pujols is the best.

Why wouldn’t you want that on your team? He’s the best in the sport right now and gives a massive boost to his team purely by being him. He’s never batted under .312, even in his rookie season, and his on-base percentage is .426 over his career. His OPS has only been under 1.000 twice, with one of those being .997. The fewest home runs he’s hit in a season is 32, which, you might know, is only four fewer than Steve Balboni’s team record of 36. Pujols would be a centerpiece for a team that is going to be young and looking for added production to propel them forward.

There’s no questioning that every team would want that sort of offense on their team. But should the Royals sell the city for it? I would have to say no.

It’s a hard decision to make. On the one hand, you have a guy that shows no signs of slowing. He could seemingly play at a high level forever. Since it would take a long contract to bring him in, it’s important to note that he’s likely to stick around. It’s not the same situation as with Minnesota and Joe Mauer, whose knees could give out, forcing him to first base or DH and effectively decreasing his value. Pujols should stay where he is and be fine there for years. Time isn’t likely to be a problem.

The real problem is, you guessed it, money. And I hate to say that purely because I’m tired of so many Royals fans being mad because the ownership is “cheap” or “unwilling to spend.” I’ve even heard that some people are mad because the payroll is so low. Well, I guess they should be sorry that Gil Meche and Zack Greinke are gone. What are they supposed to do, go sign every remaining free agent to make up the money? Sorry, but that’s not going to fly.

No, the Royals don’t want to commit what could be more than a third of their payroll in a few years to one guy. I would guess that’s the case, at least. I know I wouldn’t want them to do that. When you want to keep around the young guns that will soon be emerging, you need to commit a significant amount of the payroll to them. On a team where the payroll won’t pass $100 million, at least not for a while, taking a huge chunk of the money out for one guy isn’t a smart decision. You want to sign the guys we develop and keep them on the team. Of course, things might not work out perfectly for all the prospects, but when they do you want to hold them. This isn’t the team of the early 2000′s. This Royals team is about keeping youth around.

To keep that youth around, you need to sign them. You need to have the money to commit to them. Like I already said, bringing in a guy that takes a massive amount of your payroll isn’t conducive to that strategy. And if the Royals want to change the culture of the club, which they do, they won’t bring in Pujols partially for the reason that it just doesn’t make enough sense for their future.

It’s hard to make that decision. It’s hard to give up on the idea of adding the best player I’ve ever seen to my favorite team. I just can’t get over the money it’ll take to bring him in and I worry that committing that much money could put the team in a huge future hole.

Don’t agree? Convince me otherwise in the comments.

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  • Wally Fish

    Two points
    1) In my opinion Barry Bonds was a better player. I’m sure most people would pick Albert because he’s a nicer guy and a class act, but on the field Barry was easily the best player I’ve ever watched.

    2) I remain firm in the stance that there is no reason for any major league team to have a payroll less than $100 million based on the revenues they all share from merchandising and online properties. Teams get an estimated $50-70 million per year before selling a ticket.

    Giving Pujols $30 million/year with $100 million payroll still leaves $70 million to build the rest of a roster which is certainly doable for a well run organization.

    For any team, the “Pujols effect” would increase revenue. In addition to more fans attending games to watch him play, his presence on a roster automatically raises the profile of that franchise on a national level. Of course, there is also the on-field aspect and no matter who you have at 1B, Pujols would be an upgrade.

    I don’t believe the Royals should make a run at him based on the way their future is laid out, but I don’t think it is an entirely crazy notion for the org to look into it. The Royals, and pretty much any other team out there, could afford it if they really wanted to.

    • thelaundry

      The Pujols talk is fun, especially here in St. Louis. As an exiled Royals fan, hearing the angst of the Cards fans is fun – nice to see the shoe on the other foot for a change. The post and Wally’s comment are not at all ridiculous, even if the chances of landing Pujols are slim. Glass’ comment about a 300 million contract doesn’t even bother me. What bothers me is GMDM’s remark at the Chamber of Commerce that the Royals will never have a $100 million payroll.

      Never? I don’t know if 100 million is the magic number, but it’s not far from it when you talk about revenue sharing. If it takes a salary floor to get a salary cap, I’m all for it. In 2011 being in the 30-40 range makes sense – spending right now should be about the future (future draft picks, future international signings, future contracts and free agents).

      The model for the Process may be the Braves in terms of scouting and development, but to me the team to look to overall is the Twins. The As and Rays have also had success, but they both have underlying issues (stadiums, fan bases, division) that have or will hold them back longterm.

      The Twins drafted and developed superstars and complimentary players and pitchers and became competitve and stayed there, like the Royals hope to. They also got their stadium situation squared away, which the Royals have already done. With increased and projectable revenue, they signed their biggest star longterm and brought their payroll up to what was needed to be a credible franchise year to year, which I hoped is where the Royals are heading, until I read Dayton’s comment.

      If the Process works and the Royals are winning and revenues increase, that final step of the payroll is crucial. If the Royals can’t or won’t go to 100, or at least 90, when it’s all working, what’s the point? Why should we care? If this goes back to the point about Glass not being able to profit from the franchise’s appreciation in value, then he needs to sell. If we can’t achieve a new normal in terms of payroll, I won’t blame anyone who gives up on Glass’ Royals for good.

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  • Spico1i

    IMHO, if the Royals truly believe in their farm system leading to the playoffs in 2012 than they should go all-in on getting Pujols.

    Their payroll this year is looking like it will come in around $35-$40 mill. and with the farm system arriving next off-season the payroll, theoretically, could actually decrease in 2012 due to the small contracts each of the prospects will have. Each player’s contracts will see small increases for the next 2 years, followed by larger, but still not market rate, raises for the 3 arbitration years.

    As to Pujols’ deal, most teams like to back-load a contract, but in the Royals situation it would make sense to front load it for the first 3 years followed by modest decreases for remaining 5 years (assuming Pujols would sign for 8 years $240 mill.). This would then mean that in Albert’s formative years his salary amount could be closer to his true value at that time.

    As for what Albert could bring to the Royals, he would bring instant credibility to the Royals’ lineup and could really benefit the young batters surrounding him. For example, if you have a top 5 of Cain(CF), Myers(RF),Hosmer(DH), Pujols(1b), and Moustakas(3b) which players would you pitch too? The opposing teams would be forced to show Cain, Myers, Hosmer and Mous a better selection of pitches due to the concern of not wanting to have to pitch to Albert.

    Additionally, having a run producer like him in the lineup and a Gold Glove in the field, the signing should benefit the young pitchers as well.

    Finally, this could give DM the roster flexibility to trade a package of players headlined by Butler for a young front-line right-handed starter, if one were available, to fit in with the stellar crew of LH SP prospects that DM has assembled.

  • Michael Engel

    It’d be silly to say that I didn’t want to see Pujols in Kansas City…I like the idea of front-loading a contract if he were to be a target. I’m not keen on paying a guy who’ll be approaching 40 an increasing salary, especially when that’s the period when the current crop of prospects will be hitting arbitration and in position to sign extensions.

    If 2011 goes well, Moose is hammering everything out of the park and everyone continues to progress, maybe he’s worth a shot. It’d be a shot in the arm for the city and it’d bring in loads of fans who’d left years ago. A powder blue Pujols jersey would be a regular sight.

    That being said, it’s tough to say this but where does he fit? With Butler and Hosmer set to be the 1B/DH combo…you’d have to move one of those. Maybe Butler could bring in a pitcher to fill in the rotation, but you can’t bank on being able to trade someone.

    The hypothetical is fun to think about, and in a vacuum, of course I’d like Pujols…I just don’t see how it happens.

  • Kyle

    A front loaded contract sounds good in theory, but there has to be reasons out there that there aren’t very many (or any). A player going into FA wants to be making the most he has made, so that his next contract is bigger? It would boost arbitration numbers for the front loaded years?

    It will never happen. It would take a 10 year 320mil contract to get him. It always takes added years and dollars for players to come to KC (Meche and Guillen ring a bell). He would be the starting 1B as soon as he showed up, anything else is a moot point. Move Hosmer to RF, put Kila on the bench as a LH power bat, and Butler would be DH.

  • Kyle

    Could they do a 7 years 210 mil contract with payouts of 40 mil for years 1-3, 25 mil for years 4-5, and 20 mil for years 6-7? I mean that would keep the payroll about 80 mil or less if nothing changed from this year to next year. There should be several more players making league minimum, and they will be 3 years from arbitration.

  • Chris

    The Cardinals are and have been a stars-and-scrubs team. There’s not all that much left if Pujols were to head to, say, the Mets. Whether or not the Royals bid for his services, it would seem like a great opportunity to poach viewers and advertisers from Cardinal territory.