x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Angels succumb to temptation by buying Albert Pujols

Arte Moreno, the owner of the Los Angeles franchise, had once questioned the logic of tying star players who were peaking to long-term contracts. Yet, he has paid a lot of money for Albert Pujols.

Los Angeles Angels owner Arte Moreno, left, acquired Albert Pujols for Dh933million. Alex Gallardo / AP Photo
Los Angeles Angels owner Arte Moreno, left, acquired Albert Pujols for Dh933million. Alex Gallardo / AP Photo

The St Louis Cardinals should buy the nicest thank-you card out there and send it, overnight delivery, to Arte Moreno.

What's a few dollars spent on a guy who saved you US$254 million (Dh933m)?

A card from the Cards would be a fitting gesture of gratitude to the Los Angeles Angels owner. He took Albert Pujols off their hands last off-season, paying above the sticker price to sign the most consistently feared hitter this century.

Because the fingerprints of Pujols cover two MLB World Series trophies in St Louis, the Cardinals were compelled to join the auction when he became a free agent. They gulped hard and ultimately pledged just under $200m for nine seasons, one fewer than LA offered, likely hoping somebody would top the bid.

The fellow who did so paid $184m nine years ago for the Angels. Not a few Angels. All of them.

For all of his astuteness in striking a bargain price for this bullish franchise, Moreno went brain dead in committing 38 per cent more for a single player. (That's single, not singles, which Pujols has not been, nor an extra-bases player, either. He has one home run, no triples, eight doubles and an average crawling around .200)

At any age, a team granting a 10-year, fully guaranteed contract – with a no-trade clause, at the player's request, to boot – is riskier than sending batters to the plate without helmets.

At age 32, in his 12th season, Pujols will encounter the law of diminishing returns well before his deal runs dry. That would be in 2022, when cars will be flying, microwave meals will be ready in an instant and Jamie Moyer will (still) be the only over-40 impact player.

Moreno might justify the Pujols investment by equating it to an expensive new sports car. Its value drops like a sinkerball soon after it is steered out of the showroom, but, boy, is it a blast to drive for a while.

Perhaps he can plead temporary insanity on account of desperation. The Angels are trapped in the same division with the Texas Rangers, baseball's dream team whose big bopper looms as the Pujols of the next free-agency period.

Pujols should serve as a cautionary tale for teams eager to lock up Texas' Josh Hamilton for the long, long term.

Some will find Hamilton irresistible: a slugger supreme in a pitcher-dominant cycle for baseball. Any owner who witnessed Hamilton's otherworldly game on May 8 might be inclined to toss in their yacht, Learjet, fleet of vehicles and personal collection of Picasso originals into a semi-lifetime offer.

Yes, those four homers and a double – this was no double header, but a single game – were real, not in some Hollywood script.

With nine home runs in a span of six days, he is no one-day wonder. Nor a one-week wonder. The list of American League hitting leaders by category on your computer is real, not the work of a hacker.

Batting average: Hamilton, 402. Homers: Hamilton, 18. Runs-batted-in: Hamilton, 45. Slugging percentage: Hamilton, 848.

In hits (53) and runs scored (31), Hamilton ranks second. Shame on him.

This being only his sixth season, he is sometimes perceived as a kid newly graduated from his developmental phase.

Hardly. The guy is 31 – an old 31, at that. Severe drug addiction delayed his ascendancy into the major leagues and might partly explain his proclivity for injury. Only one season has he managed to play at least 150 games.

His story is inspirational, even lifesaving to troubled souls fighting the same demons. But baseball is a bottom-line business in which wasteful contracts can hamstring a team.

Hamilton comes with ancillary costs. A drug counsellor, hired by the Rangers, stays at his side him on road trips.

Nobody can be monitored 24/7, so relapses are a potential hazard. Last off-season, Hamilton fell prey to a minor one, and contract talks with Texas stalled.

Decade-long deals are tempting because they can inject stability to salary planning. More often, they turn into an albatross.

Alex Rodriguez belongs in the Guinness World Records – better yet, Ripley's Believe It Or Not – for wangling two 10-year contracts. The New York Yankees are burdened with five-and-a-half more seasons of A-Rod, nearing age 37 and headed for his fourth successive year hitting well south of .300.

In late 2010, an owner observed that devoting $20m per annum over multiple seasons to a player "just doesn't give you a lot of room" to manoeuvre toward a creditable roster. Such an obligation would result in "red ink," he said.

The speaker was Arte Moreno.

One year later, Moreno should have heeded his own words.


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