As the 2015 player projections roll in, the prognosticators are consistent in projecting that, while Albert Pujols seemed to have stabilized his downward decline last season, there's little hope for him to bounce back with an elite level next year.
Pujols hit 28 homers and produced 105 RBIs in 2014 and reversed a five-year trend of across the board decline in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. Still, he only hit .272 (up from .258 the year before) and his .466 slugging percentage was worse than any year of his career other than 2013 when it was .437.
In 2015, ZiPS projects a .277 batting average with a .344 OBP and a .485 slugging percentage. His worst slugging percentage when he was in St. Louis came in his second year in the big leagues, .561.
ESPN predicts a .280 batting average, a .345 OBP and a .482 slugging percentage.
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Fangraphs has the most optimistic projection with a .287 average, a .360 OBP and .506 slugging percentage. Still, those figures aren't going to get Albert into the MVP conversation.
The scariest part is that Pujols will make $24 million to turn in what promises to be a decent but by no means great season -- and his wages will continue to increase steadily while his skill and athleticism decline. He'll make an extra million each year of his contract through 2021.
Not only was the total value of the 10-year, $240-million deal Pujols signed prior to his age 32 season ridiculous. I still can't figure out why the Anaheim Angels put themselves in a position to guarantee themselves buyer's remorse by back-loading a deal that won't end until Albert is 42.
Even if he was great for the first half of the contract, the most likely scenario, that would have been long forgotten when Pujols faded in his late 30s and early 40s. If I was throwing that sort of money around, I would have at least front-loaded the deal as St. Louis GM John Mozeliak did when he had to over-pay shortstop Johnny Peralta to stop the franchise's revolving door at the position. Instead, Pujols stumbled out of the gate and struggled with injuries that dashed Anaheim's chance of getting any reasonable value out of the pact.
The Angels structured the contract the way they did to try to surround Pujols with talent and maximize their chance to win in the short term. That's going to make things tougher later on when they can't afford to compensate for Pujols' decline.
It's stunning to think that, even if the Angels have a $200 million budget in 2020 and 2021, they'll have a 40-something player taking up 15 percent of it.