Home > MLB > Prince Fielder’s deal makes more sense than Albert Pujols’ deal

Prince Fielder’s deal makes more sense than Albert Pujols’ deal

Salary data in this post courtesy of Cot’s/Baseball Prospectus.

The big problem I had with the Albert Pujols deal the day it was signed is the nature of the contract.  The Angels were described as “having plenty of cable revenue” in order to execute such a deal with the game’s biggest star, which made sense.

What did not (and does not) support that notion is that this deal is very heavily backloaded.  The Angels have a ton of salary flexibility in 2012 and 2013, but after that, Pujols is to cost the Angels between 23 million and 30 million per season on an ascending basis for 8 years.  When you look at the Angels current payroll, you can see why they would do such a thing in terms of backloading Pujols’ money as they will free up plenty of salary each of the next three years.  But the only reason it makes sense is if you are skeptical that the Angels are currently awash in cash, or that this cash is burning a hole in their pockets.

There is no question the Angels are a large market team at this point, clearly the dominant franchise within their own locale, and just behind the Yankees in terms of total spending ability, but the payroll flexibility is an illusion.  You don’t need flexibility when you have Albert Pujols in his prime, but you most certainly will when you have Albert Pujols well past his prime.  It’s particularly disturbing when you look at some of the players the 2014 Angels may feature when you assume zero payroll flexibility (probably too tough an assumption, but still):

  1. 34 year old Albert Pujols ($23 million)
  2. 35 year old Vernon Wells ($21 million)
  3. 31 year old Jared Weaver ($16 million)
  4. 33 year old C.J. Wilson ($16 million)
  5. 30 year old Howie Kendrick ($9.35 million)
  6. Arb-eligible Peter Bourjos
  7. Pre-arb Mike Trout
  8. Arb-eligible Hank Conger
  9. Arb-eligible Mark Trumbo?

A couple of those contracts look fine on their own merits (Jared Weaver’s contract still looks great and Howie Kendrick’s extension is a bargain if 2011 is a real glimpse of his talent).  But that list of nine players on the 2014 Angels exceeds $90 million in estimated salary, and simply won’t win a lot of games unless the Angels are able to add to it.  The Angels (I am guessing) will try to sit in the $150-$160 million range in payroll over the length of the Pujols deal, which means that they have enough flexibility to build a team around that core, but to stave off the effects of age, the core is almost going to have to be entirely drafted and developed.  It’s already 2012, so you might want to get started on that if you’re the Angels.

The Prince Fielder-Detroit Tigers deal makes a lot more sense for the Tigers.  The biggest argument against the deal, to me, is that it seems pretty frivolous.  The Tigers enter 2012 as a clear favorite in the AL Central, with the Royals and the Indians still about a year away from being true 90 win contenders, and needing the Tigers to decend to between 84-86 wins to be within the realm of contention.  The immediate reaction to the Fielder deal was that the Tigers accomplished this: with a Boesch-Fielder-Cabrera-Peralta-Avila middle of the order, there’s no team in the AL Central that can go blow for blow with that group, added to the fact that the Tigers were probably already going to enter the season with the most daunting rotation in the division.  But if you take Fielder out of that, you probably drop an estimated 3 or 4 wins off the Tigers total, yet, none of the things I wrote about the Tigers above are untrue.

But what I like about the Fielder deal is that it is in no way backloaded.  In the aggragate, the Tigers are going to end up raising payroll by about $15-$20 million over last season and are likely committing to hold payroll steady for the remainder of the tenure of Mike Illitch’s ownership.  They had planned to invest the money freed up by the expiration of Magglio Ordonez’ contract into arbitration raises and the backloaded portion of Justin Verlander’s contract.  The Fielder deal was most likely executed by ownership in an understanding that payroll would be raised over the life of the deal, obviously with the Franchises’ blessing.

The Tigers lose pretty much any payroll flexibility they might have had, but the first time this will even be a minor consideration for the Tigers is if/when Justin Verlander approaches free agency after the 2014 season.  The commitment by the franchise to stay in the $120-$130 million range in payroll for the forseeable future is as large a step forward as it was when they upped payroll in 2008.  But this time there is no Dontrelle Willis deal that will threaten the Tigers as AL Central favorites.  Only time can do that as the Royals and Indians attempt to join them as annual 90 win clubs.

In other words, the 2014 Tigers have more free money and overall better contracts than the 2014 Angels do.  Take a look:

  1. 30 year old Prince Fielder ($24 million)
  2. 31 year old Miguel Cabrera ($22 million)
  3. 31 year old Justin Verlander ($20.1 million)
  4. 35 year old Victor Martinez ($12 million)
  5. Arb-eligible Max Scherzer
  6. Arb-eligible Rick Porcello
  7. Pre-arb Jacob Turner ($1.1.75 + $1.0 million club option)
  8. Arb-eligible Austin Jackson
  9. Arb-eligible Brennan Boesch
  10. Arb-eligibile Alex Avila

That’s about the same $90 million dollars the Angels are in for 2014 payroll, but that is a much younger team to a man, and a more talented team in my opinion.

And the Fielder contract against the Pujols contract is emblematic of the problems that the Angels are forcing themselves into later.  The Tigers might end up being overrated in 2012, but they are not in danger of needing to dismantle their team at any point.  Even though they would be better characterized as medium-market against the large market Angels, the Tigers look like they will be a better team starting in 2014 and all else equal, through the 2020 MLB season.

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