When the headline came across ESPN last month you had to do a double take. It was one of the headlines that you and your friends sit around and discuss over a few beers and starts some heated arguments. It was a headline that made you shake your head and wonder all in the same motion. The Philadelphia Phillies and St. Louis Cardinals discuss trading Ryan Howard for Albert Pujols.
The decade’s best power hitter and the decades best player in a one for one swap. GM Ruben Amaro of the Philadelphia Phillies denied the deal saying “”That’s a lie. I don’t know who you’re talking to, but that’s a lie.” Ok let it be a lie, but stories like these don’t get leaked if they don’t at least get kicked around.
The reasoning behind the deal maybe the fact that the Cardinals might not be able to afford Pujols’s salary when he becomes a free agent next year. Pujols maybe looking for an A-rod type deal of ten years and over 250 million dollars, and with the Cardinals being a mid-market team that deal maybe too rich for their blood. So why not explore a deal for a. a player from the St. Louis area who, b. is a former MVP and c. can produce the same numbers however with more strikeouts (way more strikeouts. Howard’s career total? 878. Pujols? 570. Oh and Pujols has played in 3 more seasons).
However who’s to say Howard won’t command a salary of close to or above 20 million when he is a free agent next year as well? Ryan Howard is no Albert Pujols, then again no one is, but Howard has been a monster at the plate when he doesn’t strikeout. He has hit the most Home Runs in baseball in last four years in Major League Baseball. He was the 2009 NLCS MVP when he carried the offensive load for a slumping Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley. Even though he’ll strikeout 2 out of five times at the plate, Howard is still someone you don’t want to mess with at the plate.
Yet and still he’s no Pujols. No one is. Albert Pujols is the best player in the game in all areas of offense and defensively he’s no slouch either. 3-time NL MVP, gold glove winner 2006, nine 30 home run, 100 RBI seasons consecutively, no one else has ever done that, DiMaggio, Bonds, Rose, no one. His numbers are quite possibly the silliest anyone has ever seen. He should have more MVP’s if not for Bonds questionable output at the beginning of the decade. Pujols is a once in a generation player. He transcends the way a batter hits for power and for average. He hits to all fields with precision and can knock a ball out of the yard with ease.
What bothers me is if St. Louis knows all of the facts stated then why sign Matt Holliday to a 7 year deal for 120 million if you know you can’t afford it, and have to pay Pujols later? The Holliday trade was necessary to get Pujols protection in the line-up, but it could prove costly in a two years when Pujols becomes a free agent and teams (eh, hem the Red Sox and Yankees) start throwing tons of cash at him.
I guess the question to be asked is who would you rather have on your team? No seriously don’t laugh, I’m serious. Would you rather have the best player in the world or the best home run hitter of the last decade?
When you look at the numbers they all favor Pujols in every category except home runs and RBI, however Pujols has a higher slugging percentage than Howard (.628 to .586). Pujols 162 game averages are .334/42/129 to Howard’s .279/49/142, with an on base percentage more than 50 points higher than Howard and 30 more hits than Howard. Pujols also has committed the same amount of errors as Howard at first base (64) in 3 more years of service. The stats all favor Pujols except when you break them down a little further.
Ryan Howard’s numbers in the second half sky rocket in every category. Batting average (.255 to .303), his on-base percentage jumps by 50 points, OPS by 200 points. He grounds into less double plays than Pujols and his total of intentional walks goes up while Pujols walks decrease. Pujols power numbers also dive in the second half. Of his career numbers he has 50 less homeruns in the second half of the season and drives in 120 runs less.
Take a look at last year late in the season. Pujols seemed to be dominant all year long, but in the second half of the year his walks dipped by 50 percent, his slugging percentage dived by 140 points and his homerun and RBI production was cut in half. Howard was equal across the board in most of his offensive categories, raising his average, slugging and on-base percentage.
You can say the dip in Pujols production was due to the arrival of Holliday, but how does Howard’s production go up with Utley and Jayson Werth in the line-up, who are both 30/100 guys? Howard is a slow starter to say the least, but once the calendar turns to August he ratchets his game up another notch. Also look at last year’s postseason production. Throw out Howard’s poor World Series and his stats were monstrous. He hit .385 in the NLDS with 6 RBI, .333 with 2 homeruns and 8 RBI in the NLCS and an NLCS MVP. Pujols only drove in one run while hitting a pedestrian .300 in three games where his back-up cast faltered down throughout the series. Howard shined in the big spots, Pujols shrunk.
There are other factors that could play into a deal like this; though Howard is a St. Louis native, Pujols is a St. Louis guy, other than Derek Jeter no one symbolizes their team more than Pujols. Pujols is the face of the Cardinals franchise and that of Major League Baseball. His presence alone towers over anyone player other player. There are no hard feelings towards him, no bad comments, everyone loves the guy. He’s one of a small list of players that if he was found to have taken PHD’s it would devastate most fans in the game.
Howard on the other hand, though as great a player as he is isn’t even the face of his own team, that honor belongs to Chase Utley. In talking with a friend of mine who is a huge Phillies fan he believes that if the Phillies had to part with any player Howard should be the first guy to go because of the defensive deficiencies and the lack of plate discipline. This isn’t to say that Howard’s a bad guy, but in the grand scheme of things he lacks Pujols star quality and appeal.
Just take it all in and just let it marinate. Don’t get too carried away because it won’t happen. Both men will command Donald Trump money in 2011. The Joe Mauer deal set the bar for both players as a guy that just won the MVP award for his franchise, as compared to two title winners and former MVP’s who have finished one-two in three different MVP votes. So if he’s worth 23 million what do you think these two men would be worth.
Just look at it as one big what if. What if these two men traded places, cities? What impact would it have on the Phillies, the Cardinals and baseball? How cool would it be? Too bad we will never know, because as Ruben Amaro said “it’s just one big lie.” Too bad, it would have been one hell of a story