This much is clear about the Adrian Gonzalez contract: Ryan Howard's deal wasn't used as a barometer, because in comparison, the Red Sox came away like bandits. Or, rather, it was used as a barometer, and the Red Sox came away like bandits.
Gonzalez's deal nets him $154 million over seven years beginning in 2012. Howard's extension -- which also kicks in next season -- pays him $125 million over five seasons, or $138 million over six if a team option is exercised. So the Red Sox will pay Gonzalez an average of $22 million per season compared to the Phillies' paying Howard $23 million over six (in the optimistic scenario). Similar annual average value, except Boston gets the younger player (Gonzalez's deal begins in his age-30 season, Howard's in his age-32 season) and the far better player. (Gonzalez has accumulated 16.2 WAR, or wins above replacement, per Baseball-Reference the past three seasons; Howard, 9.8).
We'll opine on what all this means for Albert Pujols momentarily, but I first want to address the production the Red Sox can expect from Gonzalez during his age-30 to age-36 seasons. Gonzalez is coming off one of the best two-year stretches a first baseman has ever had at his age. His total of 13.3 WAR ranks seventh among first basemen at ages 27 and 28 -- behind guys named Lou Gehrig, Albert Pujols, George Sisler, Jeff Bagwell, Eddie Murray and Jimmie Foxx. Needless to say, good company. I checked all first basemen who accumulated 11.0 WAR or better at ages 27-28 and then checked to see how they did from ages 30 to 36. I also looked at a few more contemporary first basemen who may be considered players similar to Gonzalez.
Perhaps not surprisingly, every player on our list was unable to maintain his age-27-28 value throughout his 30s. That's what happens when players get older: They decline, especially first basemen who aren't necessarily the best athletes on the field to begin with. There are some extenuating circumstances for some of these guys -- Sisler developed an eye condition (he missed an entire season with double vision) that affected his career; Todd Helton has battled back issues. But obviously, health is a risk as a player ages.
The players Gonzalez reminds me most of on the list are Willie McCovey, Murray and Rafael Palmeiro -- good all-around hitters with power and walks who were also considered good with the glove. Murray and Palmeiro run better than Gonzalez. (Palmeiro once stole 22 bases in a season; Gonzalez has two in his career.) McCovey actually had his three best seasons from 30 to 32, and Palmeiro aged, umm, gracefully.
If Gonzalez averages 6.0 WAR per season over the contract (42.0 total), that would place him among the best-ever first basemen over those ages: Gehrig (58.7), Bill Terry (45.6), Rod Carew (43.9), Bagwell (42.3) and Dolph Camilli (42.0). From that top five, it's a drop to Mark McGwire (37.1) and McCovey (35.9).
As for whether the Sox are getting a good deal, ESPN contributor Dave Cameron has written on FanGraphs that the cost per win on the free-agent market this past offseason was worth about $5 million. If we assume 5 percent inflation per season, that pushes the cost per win to about $6.4 million over the life of the deal, meaning Gonzalez would have to contribute only about 24 WAR to earn the contract. Looks like a great deal for the Sox, even if Gonzalez slows up the final couple of years.
Now, where does this leave Albert Pujols? He's averaged 8.2 WAR the past two seasons; as great as Gonzalez has been, Pujols has been greater. Pujols, however, is two years older -- he'll be entering his age-32 season in 2012. If he's worth 2.0 more WAR per season than Gonzalez, you could argue that he's worth about an additional $70 million over what Gonzalez received ... or seven years, $224 million.
So there you go. Any bidders?