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November 29, 2009

On the Beat

Thanksgiving Weekend Update

by John Perrotto

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Albert Pujols admitted earlier this week that one of his goals is to be inducted into the Hall of Fame someday. While that it certainly a realistic goal for the Cardinals first baseman, it is rare to hear Pujols ever mention anything about personal goals or the place he is taking in baseball history.

However, when Pujols told reporters his ultimate goal is to be immortalized in Cooperstown, he quickly qualified it. "I want to win some more World Series first," said Pujols, who helped power the Cardinals to the 2006 World Series title by beating the Tigers in five games that year. "I want to win as many as Derek Jeter [five]. I always joke that I want to have a ring for each finger on both hands. I'd like to win 10 of them. That would be great."

The question of what team Pujols will be trying to win those next nine rings for remains to be seen. While the Cardinals' focus at the present is on re-signing such free agents as left fielder Matt Holliday, utilityman Mark DeRosa, and right-hander John Smoltz, Pujols' seven-year, $100 million contract expires after next season, though the Cardinals hold a $16 million club option for 2011 that they certainly would exercise barring a totally unforeseen circumstance.

Pujols, though, is not getting antsy to work out a new contract. However, that is not a sign that he is thinking about exploring the free-agent market after the 2011 season. He makes it clear that he wants to stay with the Cardinals for life and be as much a part of the franchise's lore as Stan Musial and Bob Gibson. "They don't need to deal with me right now," Pujols said. "They need to deal with their free agents. What do we need? Or what did we miss to get to the next level, which is the World Series? That's kind of where I am. This is my place. This is where I want to be. I don't hide that. I'm still going to be a Cardinal for two years and hopefully 15 more years, if I can play that long, and retire as a Cardinal."

Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak is certainly agreeable to that idea, and makes it sound as if ownership will make it a reality. "I think our goals are all the same," Mozeliak said. "We're going to want him to be here. We want to do it when we think the time is right. Right now, he does not want the organization to feel we need to be focusing on anything else but putting our club together."

Pujols led the major leagues in WARP1 (12.1), VORP (98.3), and EqA (.362) this past season, and one can only imagine what kind of contract he might command when it comes time to negotiate. He is just the 10th player to win at least three MVP awards and one of five to win three in a five-season span, joining Yogi Berra (1951, 1954-55), Roy Campanella (1951, 1953, 1955), Barry Bonds (1990, 1992-93, and 2001-04), and Alex Rodriguez (2003, 2005, and 2007). Over the five-year span in which Pujols has gained his three MVPs, he has combined for 50.4 WARP1, a VORP of 446.1, and a .355 EqA. Rodriguez's aggregate numbers weren't nearly as good in those categories from 2003-07: 33.3, 376.6, and .320. Rodriguez earned a combined $114.3 million during those five seasons as part of the 10-year, $252 million contract he signed with the Rangers during the 2000 winter meetings.

Bonds' five-year totals were in another realm of the universe during his second MVP run, specifically in the five seasons from 2000-04. During that time, he had 57.0 WARP1, a VORP of 606.5, and a .416 EqA. Bonds made $69.4 million in those five years.

Rodriguez would be a more apt comparison in an effort to guesstimate what Pujols might ask for in his next contract. We won't factor inflation, figuring it will be a tradeoff that the slugging first baseman will make to stay in a market that isn't among the nation's top five. Rodriguez averaged $22.86 million from 2003-07. Figuring Pujols' agents at the Beverly Hills Sports Council will want eight guaranteed years in this contract, a deal at Rodriguez's average salary would bring the total value to $182.88 million. Round that figure upward a bit and a $200 million deal does not seem out of the question.

However, Pujols insists he isn't looking that far ahead, just like he rarely thinks about personal achievements. "I really try to take my life and my career one day at a time and be thankful for the blessings God has given me," Pujols said. "It's not like I go to spring training and say to myself, 'Well, I'm going to be the MVP this year.' My goal every year is the same and that's to win the World Series. If you concentrate on the team goals, the individual stuff takes care of itself."

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Rich Thurman, the agent for Giants right-hander and 2008-09 NL Cy Young Award-winner Tim Lincecum, is not tipping his hand about what salary figure he will ask for his client in arbitration this winter. However, it doesn't take Ben Bernanke to know that Lincecum will get a huge raise over the $650,000 he made this past season while winning his second straight Cy Young.

One theory being floated in baseball circles is that Thurman-at the urging of new Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Michael Weiner-will ask for $23 million when the sides submit their arbitration figures on January 19. That is the average annual salary of Yankees left-hander CC Sabathia, who became the high-paid pitcher in baseball last winter when he signed a seven-year, $161 million contract as a free agent.

Normally, agents can only use players who play the same position and have roughly the same amount of major-league service time in making comparisons for the sake of setting their arbitration figures. However, Thurman will be able to take advantage of a special provision in the collective bargaining agreement that will allow him to compare Lincecum to any major-league pitcher. Article VI, Rule F (12) reads in part: "This shall not limit the ability of a player or his representative, because of special accomplishment, to argue the equal relevance of salaries of Players without regard to service, and the arbitration panel shall give whatever weight to such argument as is deemed appropriate."

Winning back-to-back Cys is a pretty special accomplishment. Thus, if the case goes the distance to a hearing in February, the old arbitration record of $10 million, awarded to Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard in 2008, is sure to be shattered. Howard avoided arbitration last winter after he asked for $18 million, the Phillies filed at $14 million then the sides agreed to a three-year, $54 million contract. With that as a guide, Giants general manager Brian Sabean said there would be no chance of signing Lincecum to a multi-year contract until after the January 19 filing date. "Because of the potential number it could go to, we may be guarded, not wanting to talk about a long-term situation until you know the range," Sabean told the San Francisco Chronicle's John Shea. "We could get something done in and around filling the numbers."

Regardless of how it turns out, this figures to be one of the more interesting arbitration cases ever. "This is one I have not been through, nor many in baseball have been through," Sabean said. "The union on their side will be very in how it turns out, and Major League Baseball will be very interested."

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The latest Hall of Fame ballot has been released and has 26 names on it, including 15 newcomers: Roberto Alomar, Kevin Appier, Ellis Burks, Andres Galarraga, Pat Hentgen, Mike Jackson, Eric Karros, Ray Lankford, Barry Larkin, Edgar Martinez, Fred McGriff, Shane Reynolds, David Segui, Robin Ventura, and Todd Zeile. The 11 holdovers are Harold Baines, Bert Blyleven, Andre Dawson, Don Mattingly, Mark McGwire, Jack Morris, Dale Murphy, Dave Parker, Tim Raines, Lee Smith, and Alan Trammell.

The Mariners sent out an e-mail to the voters this week stumping for Martinez, who they say redefined the position of designated hitter as injuries forced him to move off third baseman early in his career. One of the more interesting factoids the Mariners dug up is that Martinez is one of just 20 players to exceed .300/.400/.500 in the slash stats categories for his career. Of the 12 eligible for the Hall of Fame, all but Lefty O'Doul have been elected. Joe Jackson was ruled ineligible as a condition of his lifetime ban from baseball for allegedly taking part in the White Sox throwing the 1919 World Series. Pujols, Rockies first baseman Todd Helton, Dodgers left fielder Manny Ramirez, and Braves third baseman Chipper Jones are still active, while Larry Walker and Frank Thomas have not been retired the necessary five years before they can appear on the ballot. Martinez is also one of eight .300/.400/.500 players with at least 300 home runs, 500 doubles, and 1,000 walks. The others are Stan Musial, Rogers Hornsby, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams, Ramirez, and Helton.

It will be interesting to see how Martinez fares in his first time on the ballot. To gain election, candidates need to be named on 75 percent of the ballots, which are cast by Baseball Writers Association of America members with 10-plus years of service. Many voters have long held to the idea that DHs are not Hall-worthy players.

Players can stay on the ballot for as long as 15 years if they continue to gain at least five percent of the vote. Martinez believes his candidacy will be one that takes time to evolve. "I think, with time, people might see there's more to my numbers," Martinez told the Seattle Times' Larry Stone. "I always have been realistic. I think of guys like Jim Rice. He had pretty good numbers and it took him 15 years. I don't put too many hopes on it. I think it's easier to deal with the outcome that way."

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MLB Rumors and Rumblings: It appears that the market for Blue Jays right-hander Roy Halladay has been narrowed to the Red Sox and the Yankees, as they have both the prospects to make a trade and the financial wherewithal to sign him to a desired long-term contract extension, though the Angels and Phillies still remain dark horses. . If the Red Sox fail to land Halladay, they will consider trying to trade for Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera. ... The Red Sox have also stepped up their pursuit of free-agent infielder Marco Scutaro now that shortstop Alex Gonzalez has signed with the Blue Jays. The Angels are starting to look more and more like the likely landing spot of free-agent outfielder Jason Bay, unless the Mariners offer a four-year contract, which doesn't seem likely. Reliever Brandon Lyon's insistence on a multi-year contract all but rules out a return to the Tigers. The Pirates would be interested in signing free agent Hank Blalock to play first base if he would take at least a 50 percent pay cut from last season's $6 million salary.

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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