Has Prince Albert Jumped the Shark?
Albert Pujols hit his tenth home run of the year today in the Angels’ 10-5 loss to the Red Sox. He’s now hitting .241/.313/.422 through 63 games of the Angels’ 2013 season, and it’s far to ask if at age 33, he’s ever again going to be the player he was only two years ago. There are plenty of reasons to think he won’t.
Prince Albert got off to a terrible start last year too, batting only .253/.307/.740 through June 9, 2012. He started to get hot in late May last year, batting .315 with an OPS over .950 after May 23rd to salvage his season, which was still the worst offensively of his major league career by a fairly wide margin.
Last year, Pujols and the Angels had the excuse that he was new to the American League and needed to make some adjustments, which he did. This year, though, he’s off to the same lousy start and hasn’t shown any signs he’s begun to turn his season around. Albert has now had the two worst seasons of his major league career back-to-back, and he’s going to have to have an even bigger turn-around than last year to prevent having the worst season of this career for the third year in a row.
About three and a half years ago, I wrote this article immediately following Pujols’ 2009 MVP season. I was wrong about one thing: there haven’t been any significant allegations of performance enhancing drug use against Pujols at any time since then. In late 2009, it seemed like just about every one of MLB’s big sluggers would eventually be accused of PED use, but that hasn’t been the case as far as Pujols is concerned.
I appear to have been right about something else, however. I wrote that I thought, based on the career performances of big, slugging 1Bmen throughout baseball history, after the 2011 season, the year Pujols was 31 years old, his performance was likely to diminish rapidly. As of this moment in time, that’s absolutely been the case.
Meanwhile, the Angels locked themselves into a ten-year $240 million contract with Pujols just at the point I (and no doubt others) were predicting his production would start falling off significantly. In some ways, the Pujols contract is even worse for the Angels than the length and total amount suggest.
According to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, the Pujols deal is heavily back loaded: he was paid $12 million last year and $16 million this year; next year it jumps to $23 million and increases by a million dollars every year after that until it reaches $30 million in 2021. The contract also includes a full no trade clause.
If Pujols is done as a premier offensive player, this contract is going to bleed the Angels for the better part of the next decade. In fairness to Pujols, he’s at least hitting better than the Angel’s other big free agent slugger Josh Hamilton. However, while Hamilton’s five year $125 million deal is hardly chump change, it almost seems like such in comparison to what the Halos still owe Pujols.
Hamilton is now 32 years old and espn.com lists him as weighing 240 lbs. (baseball reference and the Angels’ website have him at 225 lbs). As such, the odds really aren’t good that he’ll have another season like his 2008, 2010 or 2012 campaigns.
A team with the Angels financial resources can easily weather one big free agent contract blowing up in their face. Two, however, particularly when one of them is of Pujols’ exceptional magnitude, is going to make it extremely difficult for the Angels to remain competitive unless they can develop a second Mike Trout within the next year or two. That seems highly unlikely.