Over at Beerleaguer, Drew Silverman argues that the Phillies could make a trade for Albert Pujols, sending Ryan Howard and Joe Blanton away for the future first-ballot Hall of Famer. The rumor isn’t new — similar rumors popped up last year, which I begrudgingly addressed. And I will do the same nearly a year later. Let’s go through some of the supposed reasons why a trade makes sense and debunk them.
Despite Amaro’s denial, a Howard-for-Pujols deal made some sense. And this spring, a trade based around Howard and Joe Blanton for Pujols would make a lot of sense.
Not when he has no-trade rights and has vowed to veto any trade because he wants to test the market as a free agent. To quote Buster Olney,
[...] there are only two possible results in the negotiations in the Pujols talks: Either he signs a contract extension with the Cardinals, or he will become a free agent this coming fall.
Additionally, the Phillies signed Howard to a five-year, $125 million extension that goes potentially into 2017. Howard is about two months older than Pujols. Would you rather have Howard for the next six years at $145 million (his ’17 season can be bought out for $10 million rather than paying his $23 million salary), or Pujols at ten years, $300 million?
Here’s a look at Pujols and Howard in terms of WAR, per FanGraphs:
Assuming $5 million per win and five percent salary inflation every season, we can figure out how many wins each player must be worth to justify his salary. Here are the baseline salaries per WAR:
- 2011: $5.0 million
- 2012: $5.3 million
- 2013: $5.5 million
- 2014: $5.8 million
- 2015: $6.1 million
- 2016: $6.4 million
- 2017: $6.7 million
- 2018: $7.0 million
- 2019: $7.4 million
- 2020: $7.8 million
- 2021: $8.1 million
For Howard to “break even” from 2011-17 — which is found by dividing his total salary by the average salary per one WAR listed above — he must put up 4.0, 3.8, 3.6, 4.3, 4.1, 3.9, and 3.4 WAR for a total of 27.2 WAR and an average of 3.9 WAR per season. In his five full seasons since 2006, Howard has compiled 20.5 WAR for an average of 4.1 WAR per season.
In order for Howard to justify his salary, he either has to have several incredibly good seasons where he vastly surpasses 4 WAR, or he needs to aggressively defy aging patterns, which is incredibly unlikely.
Assuming Pujols signs a ten-year, $300 million contract that pays him $30 million per season, to break even he must compile 3.2, 5.7, 5.4, 5.2, 4.9, 4.7, 4.5, 4.3, 4.1, 3.9, and 3.7 WAR for a total of 49.5 WAR and an average of 4.5 WAR per season. From 2001-10, Pujols compiled 80.6 WAR, averaging 8.1 WAR per season.
So you have Howard’s contract asking an average 4.1 WAR player to compile about 3.9 WAR per season through 2017, and Pujols’ contract asking an average 8.1 WAR player to compile about 4.5 WAR per season through 2021. If you had to bet on one player accomplishing his goal, you would be crazy not to bet on Pujols. Though his deal is longer and more expensive, he is more likely to live up to it than Howard.
Pujols reportedly is seeking 10 years in the neighborhood of $30 million per season. The Phillies wouldn’t give him that kind of money, but they could probably agree on a shorter deal with a higher annual salary.
Why would Pujols, at 31 years old, pass up an opportunity to sign a contract that will last the rest of his career to take less years and less total guaranteed money with the Phillies? Sure, the Phillies have good odds of winning another World Series in the next few years, but Pujols has already won a championship.
If the Phillies were to trade for Pujols, it would be on his terms since he holds the no-trade protection. He could refuse a trade unless the Phillies offer him the ten-year, $300 million contract he desires.
Additionally, trading for and signing Pujols (to a contract of any length) would make it tougher for the Phillies to retain Cole Hamels, Ryan Madson, and Jimmy Rollins. Not impossible, mind you, but tougher. The Phillies made room for Cliff Lee when the opportunity arose, but he was just a free agent — he didn’t cost any Major League players that had to be replaced.
The Howard-Pujols trade rumor is fun, and Phillies fans have grown accustomed to getting the best players in baseball, but this trade is virtually impossible.