Thursday, December 8, 2011
Weighing risk, reward with Albert Pujols
By Mark Saxon ESPNLosAngeles.com
Buddhists, psychiatrists and people better adjusted than I am urge us to be mentally present. Dwelling too much on what has happened, what is about to happen, what could happen or oh God, please don't let that happen feeds into a cycle of stress and anxiety.
Angels fans will enjoy Albert Pujols -- as long as he lasts.
This happy moment, now, is where I try to dwell as I contemplate the stunning, game-changing acquisition of Albert Pujols by the Los Angeles Angels. The dark worries about the future are prowling around, but for now they're outside my bubble of mindfulness.
In the present, this is a present to Angels fans so grand, in such a big box that few of this team's loyal followers could have expected it.
This is a joyful moment for anyone who sat through the black and white years, when the Angels were being built and foundered in the 1960s, not making their first playoff appearance until their 19th season, in 1979. It's joyful for people who suffered when all those stacked teams in the 1980s flamed out in the playoffs. It's joyful for people who watched young superstars emerge in the 1990s, only to be swallowed up by the team's wobbly pitching.
And it's a season of joy for people who gobbled up the goodies of 2002 and then saw every subsequent playoff team -- 2004, 2005, 2007, 2008 and 2009 -- fall short of another World Series.
Arte Moreno was sitting back all this time, ready to hand his people this gift. People had begun grumbling that he was a Grinch, that all his talk of bringing in the best players was just for publicity. They weren't wrong, not entirely. Moreno isn't willing to bend his budget for just any player coming off a career year. He was looking for someone special.
"I think Arte's shown over the years that if the right player's out there and he feels it will make our team better, he will go above and beyond to give us the best look we can possibly have," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said, when I talked to him Thursday.
Scioscia was tentatively flipping out, hesitant to say too much before the physicals are completed, the ink is dry and Pujols is, officially, his to manage. But already he has Pujols penciled in as his No. 3 hitter, and that can't help but bring a smile to his face, especially since the Angels haven't had one of those -- not a real one -- since Mark Teixeira headed northeast.
More on Pujols' new home
The Los Angeles Angels pulled off a pair of mind-blowing deals on the final day of the winter meetings, landing both Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson. Story
Without question, Albert Pujols' decision to leave St. Louis is a tough pill to swallow for Cardinals fans. But it's not a death sentence for the organization. Story
The Angels will get plenty of value from Albert Pujols over the next couple of years, writes ESPN Insider's Keith Law, but they are paying a major premium for his decline phase. Story
"This guy's a special player who makes anybody in your lineup better, and we're excited by that," Scioscia said. "I've heard nothing but superlatives about Albert -- the profession way he plays, the way he studies the game. His level of play takes more than just talent. He's a student of the game and he has one thing in mind, to help the team win."
Said Angels center fielder Peter Bourjos: "I woke up to a million text messages this morning. Never in a million years did I think we were going to sign him. I didn't even know we were that interested.
"He's one of the best players MLB has ever seen, the numbers he's put up are unreal. Right now, we're one of the best teams on paper in Major League Baseball."
This time, Moreno went above and beyond, then forward and sky-high. He authorized the acquisition of ace left-hander C.J. Wilson, too, putting him on the hook for $331.5 million over the next decade.
If Wednesday night was an anxious, exciting one for Angels fans, costing themselves a few hours of sleep to follow the rumors via the Web, imagine how Arte must have felt. I'm sure he's walking around with a chest full of pride and excitement, but also a belly full of worry.
How could he not be worried? The last guy who gave out a contract this big had to put his team in bankruptcy, then lost it. Moreno doesn't want to hear about Tom Hicks' Texas Rangers and Alex Rodriguez any time soon.
Ugh. I can feel my mindfulness bubble beginning to pop. Those worries are starting to sneak in.
"Offering Pujols -- or any player past the age of 30 -- 10 years is just not rational; there's no way we can accurately project a player who will spend more or less the entire decade of his contract in his decline phase, and even if we assume Pujols' listed age is accurate, a 10-year deal takes him to an age when most hitters are shadows of their former selves."
That comment comes from ESPN MLB Insider Keith Law, who worked in the front office of the Toronto Blue Jays and is a keen analyst of real-world baseball. Can you argue with his comment? Pujols is great at 32. He'll probably be great at 33. At 34 or 35, he should be very good. By 37, if he's adequate, you should be pleased. You still have to pay him $66 million for the next three years as, what, a rickety-kneed part-time DH? By the time he's done, heck, he'll be my age. Enough said.
At some point, everybody who likes this team will wish it wasn't paying Albert Pujols a salary that even bank executives feel uncomfortable asking for nowadays.
More on the Angels
For more news, notes and analysis of the Angels, check out ESPN Los Angeles' blog. »
New Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto is a smart, energetic man and he has surrounded himself with a small army of analytical baseball people. The breadth and creativity he brings has made the previous two GMs look like they were stuck in the age of telegraphs while everyone else was using iPads.
Dipoto knows player decline. He probably has three or four studies showing him what he can expect as the years go by.
"If we want to call a decline going from superhuman to just great, I don't think we've seen the last great days of Albert Pujols," Dipoto said, "obviously, or we wouldn't be sitting here today."
And besides, if Dipoto, Scioscia and the Angels win a World Series or two in the next six or seven years, nobody's going to care about how Pujols performs at age 38 or 39. They'll let him ease into the Hall of Fame and join the other elite men whose baseball skills went south eventually. He'll nudge in among Willie Mays, Ted Williams, Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron.
That's when all good Angels fans will remember the day their team decided to live in the moment.
Mark Saxon covers the Angels for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.