Albert Pujols: 30 homers for ten straight years

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In my mind, the nutsiest thing about Albert Pujols is that he really wasn’t supposed to make the Cardinals in 2001. He had a nice overall season in the minors in 2000 — his only season in the minors — but 440 of his 544 plate appearances were in A-ball. Bobby Bonilla was supposed to the the Cards’ starting third baseman, not Pujols. But for an injury to Bonilla I’m assuming Albert would have started the year Memphis. I haven’t gone back to look this morning, but my memory of that spring is of people wondering if the kid could hack it and some cautious predictions about how he might be a three-true-outcomes kind of power player until he figured out the league a bit better.

But here we are, ten seasons in. Ten seasons in which El Hombre — and I don’t care if doesn’t like it, it’s an awesome nickname — has hit 30+ homers each season. In which he’s hit .300+ each season. In which he’s knocked in 100+ each season. In which we can take no issue with anyone citing his triple crown numbers because his OBP and other peripherals are so stunning that we can be excused for dwelling on the classic stats.

With nearly ten full years under his belt we’ve just about reached the “if Pujols gets hit by a bus tomorrow he’s in the Hall of Fame” point, though given how amazing the guy is I assume Cooperstown would have made an exception for him before now.  Short of that, even a Dale Murphy-style decline isn’t going to prevent him from making the Hall one day.  A normal decline starting now has him cruise in smoother than cream cheese, safely near the top percentile of all time greats. A couple more years of his current level and he’s in the extreme inner circle. If he isn’t already.

Sorry for the rather pointless gushing here, but sometimes you just have to stop and realize what you’re witnessing.

MLB Network airs segment listing “good” and “bad” $100 million-plus contracts

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On Wednesday evening, Charlie Marlow of KTVI FOX 2 News St. Louis posted a couple of screencaps from a segment MLB Network aired about $100 million-plus contracts that have been signed. The list of “bad” contracts, unsurprisingly, is lengthier than the list of “good” contracts.

As Mike Gianella of Baseball Prospectus pointed out, it is problematic for a network owned by Major League Baseball to air a segment criticizing its employees for making too much seemingly unearned money. There’s a very clear conflict of interest, so one is certainly not getting a fair view of the situation. MLB, of course, can do what it wants with its network, but it can also be criticized. MLB Network would never air a similar segment in which it listed baseball’s “good” and “bad” owners and how much money they’ve undeservedly taken. Nor would MLB Network ever run a segment naming the hundreds of players who are not yet eligible for arbitration whose salaries are decided for them by their teams, often making the major league minimum ($545,000) or just above it. Similarly, MLB Network would also never think of airing a segment in which the pay of minor league players, many of whom make under $10,000 annually, is highlighted.

We’re now past the halfway point in January and many free agents still remain unsigned. It’s unprecedented. A few weeks ago, I looked just at the last handful of years and found that, typically, six or seven of the top 10 free agents signed by the new year. We’re still at two of 10 — same as a few weeks ago — and that’s only if you consider Carlos Santana a top-10 free agent, which is debatable. It’s a complex issue, but part of it certainly is the ubiquity of analytics in front offices, creating homogeneity in thinking. A consequence of that is everyone now being aware that big free agent contracts haven’t panned out well; it’s a topic of conversation that everyone can have and understand now. Back in 2010, I upset a lot of people by suggesting that Ryan Howard’s five-year, $125 million contract with the Phillies wouldn’t pan out well. Those people mostly cited home runs and RBI and got mad when I cited WAR and wOBA and defensive metrics. Now, many of those same people are wary of signing free agent first baseman Eric Hosmer and they now cite WAR, wOBA, and the various defensive metrics.

The public’s hyper-sensitivity to the viability of long-term free agent contracts — thanks in part to segments like the aforementioned — is a really bad trend if you’re a player, agent, or just care about labor in general. The tables have become very much tilted in favor of ownership over labor over the last decade and a half. Nathaniel Grow of FanGraphs pointed out in March 2015 that the players’ share of total league revenues peaked in 2002 at 56 percent, but declined all the way to 38 percent in 2014. The current trend of teams signing their talented players to long-term contract extensions before or during their years of arbitration eligibility — before they have real leverage — as well as teams abstaining from signing free agents will only serve to send that percentage further down.

Craig has written at great length about the rather serious problem the MLBPA has on its hands. Solving this problem won’t be easy and may require the threat of a strike, or actually striking. As Craig mentioned, that would mean getting the players all on the same page on this issue, which would require some work. MLB hasn’t dealt with a strike since 1994 and it’s believed that it caused a serious decline in interest among fans, so it’s certainly something that would get the owners’ attention. The MLBPA may also need to consider replacing union head Tony Clark with someone with a serious labor background. Among the issues the union could focus on during negotiations for the next collective bargaining agreement: abolishing the draft and getting rid of the arbitration system. One thing is for sure: the players are not in a good spot now, especially when the league has its own network on which it propagandizes against them.