2012 Free Agents: Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder

These two superstar sluggers at the cold corner are the two biggest prizes in this year’s free agency. Both will command 100 million dollar contracts, and they are both known as two of the best players in the game. But just how much do these two players deserve to get? After all, they play the easiest position on the diamond, and Pujols is 31 years old.

Let’s start out with the 27-year-old Prince Fielder. The Brewers slugger, who is soon-to-be somewhere else, had a stellar 162 wRC+ which propelled him to a 5.5 WAR. He offers nothing as a defensive player and is somehow even worse on the basepaths. Fielder draws a ton of walks, and Cecil’s son actually had a higher walk rate than strikeout rate last season. Just by looking at Fielder’s triple slash (.299/.415/.566) we get the sense that this is a guy who gets on base at a very high rate and also has abundant (.267 ISO) power.

This was Fielder’s best season of his career as a hitter, mainly because of that high walk rate (15.5%) and lower (15.3%) strikeout rate. In fact, that strikeout rate was easily his career low. An even better development for Fielder fans is that he had a career-high line drive rate last year and is proving that 2010 was a fluke. He is driving the ball with more consistency, and the power numbers from 2007 and 2009 could be coming soon.

In 2011, the Prince cut down on his swinging strikes and greatly improved his contact. As a defensive player, Fielder was once again poor and had a mistake-filled year. He actually wasn’t all that bad defensively- by his standards- the past couple of seasons. So really, his value comes from offense.

If Fielder gets seven years, then he should post seasons of 6, 6, 5.5, 5.5, 5, 4, and 3 WAR. First basemen don’t decline sharply, but Fielder will once he hits 33, as he is a heavy-set player. I think Fielder will make 156.5 million (22.4 per season). This projection is realistic, because Jon Heyman said that most GMs value Fielder around Adrian Gonzalez (154M over seven years).

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Albert Pujols is a trickier player to project contractually, because we just don’t know about him at the age of 31. He’s the best hitter player of the decade, and thus it makes it much more difficult for us to actually pick a year in which he will decline. I believe the year in which he will seriously begin his decline is his age 35 season. Right now, it looks like the Cards are prepared to give him a nine year deal. I will base my projections around this outcome, and thus look at his possible production nine years down the road.

Last season, Pujols had the lowest WAR of his career (5.1) and had his worst season as a baserunner. It looks like he is indeed beginning his decline, but he has not fully declined yet. Pujols still remained useful in the field, and he once again showed some very good range for a first baseman.

There is no doubt that Pujols can still mash, but it is interesting to note that his wRC+ of 148 last season was tied for his career low (2002, the second season of his career). A reason for this could be less power (.242 ISO), his decrease in walk rate (still more BBs than Ks), or it could be a career-low BABIP (.277). It’s seemingly obvious that this is a combination of the three, and while some of this can be chalked up to injury- he was never fully healthy for a good portion of the season- there is still the very real possibility that Pujols just isn’t the same player anymore.

Even though I’m not a fan of these “normal” stats, this was the first season in Pujols’s career in which he didn’t have 100 RBIs, as he had 99. It  doesn’t make much of a difference, but it does symbolize a change. I think it’s a horrible idea to give him anything over five years, but it looks like that’s what the Cards are going to give him. And Pujols hasn’t exactly shown that he would do anything less than seven years.

No matter what statistics you use, Pujols had a standout year, but not in a good way by his standards. I think a portion of this is due to injury, and this thought will be reflected in my projection. Over a supposed nine year period, Pujols should produce 6, 5, 5, 4.5, 4, 4, 3.5, and 3 WAR. He should make 178.8 million dollars over this time period (19.9 per season) according to the projections above. They do seem a bit pessimistic, but that’s what you get when you extend a guy until he’s 40. There is a good chance that Pujols outperforms these projections that have him producing less than 2o million per season in value, but again, most players in their late 30’s don’t maintain the same level of production as they did in their late 20’s and early 30’s (read: prime)

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