Forget Howard -- would trading Pujols make any sense at all?
Just when you thought the hot stove league was over, along comes
So, even though this trade isn't likely to go down any time soon, let's take a look at the deal on its merits. From a purely baseball standpoint, Pujols is a vastly better player than Howard and should continue to be so in the foreseeable future. Both are 30 years old and play first base. Howard's
Of course, in today's world, trades are not made from purely a baseball standpoint; GM's must also take into account the contracts of each of the players. Despite the fact that Pujols is a much better player than Howard, a straight-up deal could potentially be an even trade if Howard had a vastly more favorable contract. In this case, both teams hold the rights to their superstar for just two more years, after which they'll be up for grabs as they hit free agency. What's the difference between those two-year contracts? Pujols is actually signed for less money than Howard, despite the fact that Howard still has just four years of major league service under his belt. Pujols will make $32 million over the next two years, while Howard will make $39 million. So, given that Pujols is better
If offering Howard can't pry away the best player in baseball, a more interesting question might be whether any player could be dealt straight up for Albert Pujols. While you can't get better than Pujols on the field, perhaps a younger, outstanding player with a cheaper contract would be worth a deal. The problem is, Pujols himself is already a steal. At $16 million per year, his salary may sound like a lot of money, but according to Fangraphs, his production over the past few years has actually been worth about $40 million per year. That's an enormous savings for the Cardinals, making Pujols and his contract an extremely valuable commodity.
A rival player that springs to mind is the underrated, but prodigiously talented 26-year-old
So would a Pujols-for-Ramirez trade actually be a good one for St. Louis? If I'm only concerned about team-building, I like the deal. But if I'm concerned about franchise-building, I'd think twice. Pujols is one the greatest stars in the history of the game. It's no surprise that the fans St. Louis adore him, and that he has become the face of the franchise. Even if the team isn't doing well, he surely has drawing power at the gate and he is invaluable to the Cardinals brand.
A team's relationship to its fans is built on trust. At the end of the day, the fan comes out to the ballpark because he has an emotional bond with the team and its players. It's bad enough when a fan favorite walks away due to free agency, but for a team to willingly trade a fan's hero, especially for another established player, is tantamount to betrayal. To the average fan, it matters little whether the team has actually improved its long-term prospects for success or not. What matters is that the player they've grown attached to is gone. And with him, a little piece of that trust that the fans invested in the team is gone, too. It's awfully hard to quantify or put a dollar value on something like this, but I think the effect is significant. That said, it's very difficult to think of a scenario in which Cardinals fans would approve of a Pujols trade, and because of this it's very difficult to imagine the Cardinals ever actually dealing him, even if they were faced with a seemingly fair offer of a player like Hanley Ramirez.
In 1960 the Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers made a deal very much like that. Of course, they didn't have to worry about contracts, but Cleveland sent its league-leading power hitter,
While the Pujols-Howard rumor is likely going to remain just that -- a rumor -- and the only "internal discussions" concerning a Pujols-Ramirez deal have presumably been the ones inside my own head (repeat: entirely hypothetical with absolutely no basis in fact), the questions that teams have to grapple with are real. Some things continue to be no-brainers though -- if I'm ever offered Albert Pujols for Ryan Howard, fans be damned, I'm taking the deal.