Can the Phillies afford Albert Pujols?

image from Albert Pujols watched “The Decision,” the Lebron James made-for-TV show on ESPN in which the self-proclaimed “King” picked the Miami Heat as his free-agent destination over his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers. More than anything, Pujols took the show as a cautionary tale of what not to do.

“I’m Albert Pujols and he’s LeBron James. He thinks different and I think differently too. I would never do anything like that,” Pujols said referring to the ESPN show.

But then, Pujols said …

“Actually, let’s do a reality show!”

He was joking, of course. But then again, what if Pujols decided to turn the cameras on himself the way Barry Bondsfor ESPN during the 2006 season? Besides being the most boring reality show in history (yes, we appreciate the irony of using the terms, “boring” and “reality show”), there is only one bit of insight we’d like see in a Pujols reality gig.

Just how did Pujols react when he heard the news that his off-season workout partner, Ryan Howard, got a five-year, $125 million contract extension last April. Of course, Pujols’ interactions with Cardinals’ hitting coach Mark McGwireand manager Tony La Russa could be compelling, too, but not as much as when he learned Howard was going to get an average of $25 million per season until 2016.

Look, we don’t believe for a second that Pujols is motivated by the money. Considering he is owed $16 million for the 2011 season and took home $100 million over the last seven seasons, Pujols and his family are not going to be out on the streets anytime soon. Moreover, Pujols grew up Missouri in Independence, he is as local to St. Louis as Akron native Lebron was to Cleveland. More than anything, it should motivate the Cardinals to negotiate with Pujols in good faith.

A greedy athlete is one thing sports fans can’t stand, but a greedy beer corporation that owns the team really gets people angry—at least it should.

Nevertheless, there seemed to be some palpable anger bubbling over the edge when Howard got his megadeal, and it wasn’t so much about whether Howard deserved it. Instead, people thought if Howard is worth $125 million for five years, what will Pujols get?

So when the Phillies locked up Howard, Pujols should have been turning back flips.

If Pujols has just an average season (by his standards) in his walk year, we want to know…

Does the treasury even print that much money? 

So far the reports indicate it will take $30-35 million over 10 years to get Pujols signed to remain in St. Louis. We have to imagine that’s with the hometown discount, too.

Think about that for a second… Pujols, born on Jan. 16, 1980 (two months younger than Howard), already has 10 years of big-league service time under his belt. Let’s say if he doesn’t get bored and wants to play another 10 years to complete a contract extension, we could be looking at numbers never imagined outside of a video game. Considering that Pujols has not yet entered his athletic prime years, it’s reasonable to believe he could hit more than 800 home runs, get close to 4,000 hits with roughly 2,500 RBIs.

Sure, we can expect the inevitable drop in production, but if you haven’t figured it out already, we’re looking at one of the greatest hitters to ever play the game.

Look, it’s one thing to hear how his peers talk about him or how Hall-of-Famers like Mike Schmidt gush like a schoolgirl over his hitting prowess, approach and technique, but what about people who study money and economics for a living? 

Check out what economist J.C. Bradbury told the Chicago Tribune:

“Over the term of a 10-year contract I estimate (Pujols') average annual worth to range from $33 million to $45 million,” said J.C. Bradbury, an economist from Kennesaw State University who wrote Hot Stove Economics.

Bradbury acknowledges how tricky it is to estimate Pujols’ worth in 10 years. But he projects contracts based on a player's historical impact of winning on team revenue, aging patterns of players and league revenue growth. Having studied the effects of aging on production, Bradbury stops at age 36 because the sample size of players good enough to play into their late 30s and early 40s is too small to form conclusions.

“But Pujols is so good that even as his production drops off, he will continue to be one of the best players in the league between 38 and 42,” Bradbury predicted.

In other words, with more than 3 million tickets already sold for the 2011 season and Pujols headed for free agency, maybe Phils’ GM Ruben Amaro Jr. ought to go out on another one of his tire-kicking excursions.

Hey, what’s $400 million when the club is taking every dime out of the ballpark?

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