Marlins should be wary of 10-year deal

Just days after reeling in noted free-agent shortstop Jose Reyes, the Miami Marlins may not be done fishing. Reports have surfaced that the team has offered three-time MVP Albert Pujols a 10-year contract. While the specific figures are not clear, there is no question that a 10-year contract represents a massive risk.

If the 10-year contract offer is legitimate, then the parallels between Pujols and Alex Rodriguez are eerie. Pujols will be in his age-32 season in 2012, presumably the start of the contract. Rodriguez’s 10-year, $275M deal with the New York Yankees began in his age-32 season. Rodriguez has steadily declined since signing that contract despite being one of the great players in the game.

In his final year prior to signing the contract, Rodriguez posted 9.8 Wins Above Replacement, the third-highest mark by an AL position player in the Wild Card Era. On the flip side, Pujols’ last season prior to free agency (2011) saw him produce only 5.1 WAR, the lowest mark of his career.

Alex Rodriguez WAR
Since Signing 10-yr Contract Prior to 2008

Despite the lofty perch, Rodriguez’s decline has been swift. Rodriguez has finished with a WAR below five in each of the past three seasons. He is still owed over $140 million through the end of the contract, which runs through the 2017 season.

Putting aside the Rodriguez comparison, it’s distinctly possible that Pujols’ own decline has already started. Using the Wins Above Replacement metric, Pujols’ marks have declined each season since 2008. In fact this past season marked the first in his career in which he posted a WAR below six.

Fangraphs.com has a tool that assesses the monetary value of a season based on Wins Above Replacement and the cost of a marginal win on the free agent market. Based on that, Pujols’ 2011 season was worth $22.8M. In other words, contracts worth in excess of $22 million are being bandied about for Pujols – and yet he was barely worth that as a 31-year-old. How will he fare as a 32, 37 or 40-year-old?

The only team Pujols has known in his career, the St. Louis Cardinals, reportedly offered Pujols a contract for nine years and $198 million entering this past season. That works out to an annual average value of $22 million, a sum that would give him the fourth-highest average annual salary among first basemen.

Most Wins Above Replacement
Position Players, Since 2006

Pujols certainly has reason to expect more than that from the franchise he led to two World Series championships. Consider the Philadelphia Phillies signed Ryan Howard to an extension that will begin starting this upcoming season and will pay the slugger an average annual salary of $25M.

Since 2006 – Howard’s first full season – Pujols has been worth twice as much as Howard by Wins Above Replacement. In fact, there has never been a season in which Howard has outperformed Pujols, including Howard’s MVP season in 2006.