Mike Trout just signed the largest deal in MLB history, but could Albert Pujols have gotten a bigger contract if he was a free agent today?
Mike Trout finally got paid this week, as the Los Angeles Angels gave him the largest contract in MLB history. 12 years, $426.5 million is an incredible deal, topping the previous record set by Bryce Harper by $100 million. On Trout’s team though, is Albert Pujols, whose massive deal signed after the 2011 season limits the Angels financially.
When Pujols signed his deal, it was the third largest contract in MLB history at 10 years, $240 million. A FOX Sports clip compares the stats of Mike Trout and Albert Pujols through their first 1,000 games (Trout has played 1,065 in his career). In this clip, we see that Pujols led Trout in batting average, hits, home runs, runs, RBIs, and OPS. So, this led me to wonder if Pujols could have eclipsed Mike Trout’s deal if he was a free agent today.
Taking Trout’s first 1,000 games feels unfair as Trout struggled the first year he was in the majors when he played just 40 games with a .296 wOBA. So, to compare them, we can look at the last 7 years before their respective free agencies. With all the talk about how the Angels are getting a good deal on Mike Trout with this contract, I expected that Trout would blow Pujols away in most categories.
Yet the results were drastically different than my expectations. Of the 18 statistics I randomly selected, Trout only led in three categories. Trout’s greatness is often shown through his incredible WAR, so his lead in this category was not surprising. However, WAR includes a position adjustment which is positive for center fielders and negative for first basemen, so to account for this, I calculated their WAR without the positional adjustment, and while this brought Pujols closer to Trout, he still could not catch him.
Their respective positions also impacted the defensive statistics, ultimate zone rating (UZR) and defensive runs saved (DRS). First base is a much easier position to play than center field, helping Pujols dominate Trout in that category. However, Trout had multiple seasons with negative performances in these categories, while Pujols was only negative in UZR in his last season.
All of the offensive statistics are independent of position and Pujols absolutely ran away in all of the categories. Beyond the standard counting stats, Pujols led in wOBA, weighted runs created (wRC), and win probability added (WPA). Beyond WAR, Pujols seems to be the obvious choice. He played in more games each season and hit better than Trout when he was healthy, which meant he impacted games more frequently and more positively than Trout.
Now, despite what the numbers say, Pujols had two things working against him. His 2011 season was the worst of his career to that point. It was the first season he had a negative UZR and posted career lows in wOBA and WAR. The second thing working against him was the fact that he was 31 during the 2011 season. This made it appear as though he had just left his prime. On the other hand, Trout was 26 last season and should have a few more years of his prime left.
Thankfully, Paul Goldschmidt is 31 years old, plays first base, and just signed a contract extension. His contract is five years and $130 million, which if extended to ten years like the Pujols deal is $260 million. Yet, while Goldschmidt is a star, his numbers the last seven years are not even close to Pujols in his last seven years before free agency.
Goldschmidt has a high of .418 wOBA which is below Pujols average in his seven years. Even if we look at the FanGraphs dollar value of their performance we can see a complete difference. Over the last seven years, Paul Goldschmidt was worth $274.8 million, compared to Pujols in the seven years before his free agency who was worth $295.7 million. If we adjust the Pujols number for the dollars per win of the last seven years, that number grows to $389.48 million.
So, we can add $114.68 million to the Pujols extended Goldschmidt deal, bringing it to 10 years, $374.68 million. So now, Pujols only needs $51.82 million to catch Trout in terms of total contract value, but with two fewer years, he would make more money in his 10 years than Trout will in his first 10 years of this deal.
Now, Goldschmidt never tested free agency, so the value could increase for Pujols as he did go through the free agency process due to a bidding war. Having three MVPs could also increase the value for Pujols at this point, despite the down year in 2011. Whether or not this is enough to cover the remaining $51.82 million to catch Trout in total money it is unclear, but simply being that close with two years less is impressive for Pujols.
If Pujols was two years younger and wasn’t trending down, he would definitely have been able to surpass Trout money if his free agency today. His statistics from 2003-2009 were absolutely dominant, posting a .444 wOBA and averaging 8.27 WAR per season, all his numbers except hard hit percentage were higher over that time span than 2005-2011. Increased stats plus two extra years on the contract means he definitely would have passed Trout’s record deal.
Using his 2005-2011 statistics though and placing him at the age of 31 for his free agency tells us Pujols would probably be close to Trout’s deal and yes, he might just have received a bigger contract.
All stats courtesy of FanGraphs.