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Begrudgingly Addressing the Howard-Pujols Rumor

Posted By Bill Baer On March 14, 2010 @ 11:58 am In MLB,Philadelphia Phillies,Sabermetrics | 8 Comments

If you were away from the Internet today, you missed the big rumor. Per ESPN’s Buster Olney:

[…] according to sources, an idea has been kicked around the Phillies’ organization internally, with discussions about proposing a swap of slugger Ryan Howard for St. Louis superstar Albert Pujols.

Hold on to your hats, folks.

It’s not fully clear whether the Phillies actually have approached the Cardinals with the idea, and even if St. Louis were to seriously consider such an offer[…]

In other words, don’t expect this trade to actually happen.

The last time we bloggers called B.S. on a trade rumor, we got burned big time by Ken Rosenthal. However, as The Yankee Universe noted on Twitter, the difference is that “we knew Roy was getting traded, just not for what”. There has been no real momentum in Ryan Howard trade talks (except by yours truly) and this is really the first legitimate mention of an Albert Pujols trade.

Overall, the pieces don’t add up to make this rumor realistic. The Cardinals recently signed outfielder Matt Holliday to a seven-year, $120 million contract. That was a good will gesture on the part of the Cardinals organization to show Pujols that they are committed to putting a competitive team on the field year after year. Pujols, of course, will be a free agent after 2011 and the Cardinals want to do as much as they can to convince him to stay in St. Louis and perhaps even take a hometown discount.

The Cardinals payroll currently sits at about $90 million going into 2010. Holliday and Pujols, at $17 million and $16 million respectively, represent about 37% of the Cardinals’ total payroll. That percentage only figures to increase when Pujols does eventually re-sign. That may sound like bad economics but the Cardinals wouldn’t have signed Holliday to that contract if they didn’t feel like they could make a legitimate pitch to Pujols to keep him in St. Louis.

As for the Phillies, it doesn’t make sense from their end either. Both Pujols and Howard are free agents after 2011 and both are expected to strike big in free agency if they aren’t re-signed. Both will net their teams a first round draft pick and a sandwich pick if they sign elsewhere. Pujols, clearly the better player, will make $2 million less than Howard this year and $3 million less in 2011. While it appears that the Phillies would save money, they likely would have to send money along with Howard to offset the difference.

Presumably the Phillies would want to sign their first baseman to a long-term contract. They are much more likely to accomplish this with Ryan Howard than with Albert Pujols, who may join Alex Rodriguez in the annual $30 million salary club.

This is all without mentioning the obvious chasm in value between the two players. Last year, Howard was worth 4.8 Wins Above Replacement according to FanGraphs. He has accrued about 19.5 WAR since 2006, an average of about 5 WAR per season. Pujols was worth 8.5 WAR and has been worth 33 WAR since 2006, an average of 8.25 per season. Whether the Cardinals and Phillies value their first basemen in this fashion is unknown, but it seems ludicrous to think that anyone would put Howard anywhere near the pedestal upon which Pujols rests.

Adding to the lack of realism of this rumor is the Jayson Werth situation. Werth is a free agent after this season and the team will decide if they can afford to re-sign him and if they will choose to offer him a contract. If Werth doesn’t re-sign, then the Phillies will have to re-sign Ryan Howard or they will face the prospect of having two significant holes to fill in two consecutive years (and only one can be filled with Domonic Brown, an unproven quantity). GM Ruben Amaro has been very stingy with the length of contracts he offers to players, adhering to a limit of three guaranteed years.

Losing Werth (avg. 4.5 WAR) + trading Howard (avg. 5 WAR) + trading prospects + sending cash for 3-4 years of Albert Pujols (avg. 8.25 WAR) simply isn’t worth it. For the amount of money that the Phillies would have to pay Pujols, they could re-sign Werth and Howard while clearing salary by trading Shane Victorino, for example (which has the added effect of losing a lesser player in creating a job for Domonic Brown).

What the Cliff Lee/Roy Halladay mega-deal showed us was that Amaro is very cognizant of his Minor League system and isn’t willing to mortgage the long-term goal for short-term gains. Simply put, if Amaro was the type to trade Howard, cash, and two top prospects to St. Louis for Pujols, Lee would still be wearing Phillies pinstripes in 2010.

Besides, what kind of a season do you think Brad Lidge would have with Pujols in the clubhouse?


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