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December 8, 2011

Transaction Analysis

Winter Meeting Winners

by R.J. Anderson

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ANAHEIM ANGELS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Signed 1B-R Albert Pujols to a 10-year contract worth between $250 and $260 million. [12/8]
Signed P-L C.J. Wilson to a five-year contract worth $77.5 million. [12/8]

The Marlins may have stolen headlines entering and during the winter meetings, but the Angels stole the show as they left Dallas by inking the best positional player and pitcher available on the market.

Pujols is the best player alive. Listing his accolades is banal. He is good. You know it, he knows it, the Angels know it, the Cardinals know it, and his accountant darn well knows it. Everyone knows it. You know the player is special when his career OPS low-water mark is 906 (good for an adjusted-OPS of 150). Since 2009, Pujols has batted .313/.409/.598 with an average of 42 home runs and with 81 more walks than strikeouts. Then there’s Pujols’s glove. If only he did not own this universe with his bat, more people would recognize how good he is defensively, too.

Of course, with Pujols’s new deal, he could purchase another galaxy for conquering if he so chooses. The worst-case scenario is that Pujols just signed the third-largest contract in baseball history. Otherwise, if the value exceeds $252 million, Pujols now has the second-largest contract as it pertains to total dollars. Only Alex Rodriguez has Pujols beat, and Rodriguez benefitted from the New York market.

Pujols’s consistency is almost as admirable as his sheer production. Not once has he recorded fewer than five Wins Above Replacement Player in his career. Pujols is entering the decline phase of his career, and that streak could fall, but he isn’t your average player, as only Mickey Mantle accumulated more WARP through his age 31 season. Here is how Mantle and nine other players with the highest WARP scores through age 31 fared thereafter:

Player

WARP Through Age 31

WARP After Age 31

Mickey Mantle

97.7

22.5

Willie Mays

87.9

73

Hank Aaron

87.6

60.4

Frank Robinson

86.3

35

Rickey Henderson

85.4

38.1

Eddie Mathews

77.9

13.9

Barry Bonds

76.5

82.7

Mike Schmidt

73.1

41.1

Joe Morgan

69.4

36

Al Kaline

68.7

25.5

It isn’t a certainty, but with only Bonds producing more post-31 WARP than pre-31 WARP, you have to think the odds are stacked heavily against Pujols outdoing his career-to-date production over his remaining seasons. Should Pujols embark on a Mays or Aaron-like career arc from here on out, the Angels are going to get their money’s worth and then some. Conversely, if Pujols fades quickly, for whatever reason, the Angels will experience the league’s greatest albatross. Luckily, their encounter with Vernon Wells has prepared them for this.

The odds of Pujols collapsing are low, but make no mistake that this is a risk—even if you dismiss the accusations of falsified age out of hand. A lot of years and a lot of money means a lot can go wrong. But this is the cost of doing business. With a potential new television deal in hand and an aggressive owner at the top, the Angels can afford to gamble on the league’s finest batter.

By the same token, the Angels can afford chancing it with Wilson as well. The debonair southpaw has a short but solid career in the rotation—albeit one blemished by postseason struggles. It’s an age-old debate: should October troubles poison the well? To examine that topic, let’s venture on a thought experiment. First, take in Wilson’s stats as a starter in the regular season, postseason, and overall:

Split

IP

ERA

SO/BB

Regular

427.1

3.14

2.25

Post

52.1

4.82

1.48

Total

479.2

3.32

2.14

Now, let’s say you think the postseason should carry more weight. How much more weight? For the sake of the argument, how about we double everything from the postseason while leaving the regular season numbers alone. This is not the most sound or scientific approach, but it isn’t meant to be. This is just a junk stat to show how overblown the concerns about Wilson’s Octobers seem to be:

Split

ERA

SO/BB

Adjusted Total

3.47

2.05

Pitchers with similar earned run averages and strikeout-to-walk ratios to Wilson’s adjusted since 2009 include Ricky Romero (3.60, 2.05), Jair Jurrjens (3.20, 2.04), Jhoulys Chacin (3.52, 1.89), and Clay Buchholz (3.10, 1.85). Those pitchers are younger and not being paid like Wilson, but then again, their worst 50-inning stints are not being magnified for consumption, either.

With that written, there are some legitimate concerns about Wilson. No starting pitcher with 100-plus innings has faced weaker competition over the last two seasons than Wilson. He will remain in the American League West, so the culture shock should be spared, but instead of facing the Angels, he will face the Rangers. Eventually, the Astros will come into the picture and help Wilson out, too.

Health is another question mark with Wilson. His most serious injuries—Tommy John surgery and elbow surgery to remove bone spurs, in 2003 and 2008 respectively—are behind him, but he is still fresh to the rotation, and that has to be somewhat worrisome. The same can be said about the Rangers’ willingness to let Wilson walk without obstacle. It probably speaks to the Rangers’ unwillingness to engage pitchers in long-term deals, but maybe they have concerns about his long-term durability. Then again, they also let Cliff Lee walk, and he looked no worse for the wear. For now, the Angels have effectively taken a three-plus WARP pitcher from the Rangers.

The Rangers and the Angels seem to be on a collision course for the division title, and the loser could find themselves in the playoffs via one of the two Wild Card spots. Expect the Angels to be the trendy pick—and after adding potentially nine-plus WARP today, why wouldn’t they be?—but a lot can still change. The Rangers are reportedly interested in trading for Matt Garza and might add a new first baseman at some point. Meanwhile, the Angels have three first basemen (including Mark Trumbo and Kendrys Morales) and will have to figure out who their number five starter is behind Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, Ervin Santana, and Wilson.

What a first offseason for Jerry Dipoto. Spring is a little ways away, but Dipoto has already delivered Pujols, Wilson, Chris Iannetta, and LaTroy Hawkins while excommunicating Jeff Mathis.

Tony Reagins talked about making a big splash last offseason before failing to produce Carl Crawford, Adrian Beltre, or anyone of note. Reagins may no longer be with the Angels, but the big splashes are there now. Boy, are they ever.

Special thanks to Bradley Ankrom for querying wizardry.

R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see R.J.'s other articles. You can contact R.J. by clicking here

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