MLB

Pujols and Jeter: A Tale of Two MLB Stars

| by Hardball Times

Albert Pujols and Derek Jeter are coming at us as a pair.

Sound familiar?

If the "stars" of free-agency were aligned just a little closer together, say in timing of contract negotiations and free agency, we could all have a lot more fun.

Imagine if both Pujols and Jeter were free agents at the same time? Would they hold out together for less money to play on the same team? Baseball fans could have their own "Heat Index,” fully equipped with poetry contests and a grandmothers club.

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If Pujols weren't such a classy guy, we’d be hearing a lot more about his “decision” than we are now. We are hearing plenty about Jeter’s, but the improbability of such a pair teaming up allows little room to have a bunch of fun with it. However, there's an important correlation we can draw from both the Pujols and Jeter negotiations this offseason.

Pujols hopes to get a contract extension before the 2011 season begins. Jeter needs one now. Still, the Yankees and Cardinals organizations are dealing with the same question. Because Pujols and Jeter are at different points in their careers, and the Yankees and Cardinals are dealing with different budgets (mild understatement), the way each organization gets to the question is different. Both franchises will ultimately answer to the baseball world: How much is star power worth?

Jeter and his agent are baffled. Yankees president Randy Levine said,

“Everything he is and who he is gets factored in. But this isn’t a licensing deal or a commercial rights deal. He’s a baseball player. But, with that said, you can’t take away from who he is. He brings a lot to the organization and we bring a lot to him.”

And more recently from Brian Cashman:

“There is nothing baffling about our position. ... We have been very honest and direct with them, not through the press. We feel our offer is appropriate and fair. We appreciate the contributions Derek has made to our organization and we have made it clear to them. Our primary focus is his on-the-field performance the last couple of years in conjunction with his age, and we have some concerns in that area that need to be addressed in a multiyear deal going forward.

“I restate Derek Jeter is the best shortstop for this franchise as we move forward. The difficulty is finding out what is fair between both sides.”

Jeter reportedly wants Alex Rodriguez money. So does Pujols. Pujols brings the question of star power to the Cardinals for different reasons. It’s a mystery how much the sharp business-minded DeWitts not only have to spend, but are willing to spend. How much money can they give Pujols without taking away from putting a well-rounded team on the field? What amount will be enough for Pujols?

Is there even a way to find a balance when it comes to Pujols? The Cardinals are trying to sign a ballplayer who right now will give them a chance to win more games in the same way that Willie Mays and Babe Ruth gave the Giants and the Yankees. Still, there are no guarantees that a star player will bring you a World Series championship. This is baseball, anything can happen.

If Cardinals fans had to choose between a team that would consistently go to the playoffs year after year, or a team that had Pujols, which would they want? Of course, the Cardinals for a few years are in much better shape than a team with only one star player, but eventually, will signing Pujols at all costs reduce what the ownership can do with other players over time?

Ballplayers like Pujols and Jeter can draw fans even when the team is losing. They'll be chasing the record books and give fans a chance to see baseball history in the making. They'll sell merchandise and draw fans to the ballpark just for a bobblehead. For young kids today, Pujols and Jeter will become their Stan Musial or Babe Ruth. Both are insurance for the franchises—the continuation of the love of baseball in two great baseball towns.

In the article, "The Great Holdout," now securely stored in the SI Vault, Buzzie Bavasi talked about the value of Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1966:

"Just how much the other boys were worth in winning the pennant and drawing two and a half million fans is hard to figure. That was one of the things that irked me in some of the published stories about the negotiations. They were saying that every time Donald pitched in Dodger Stadium he drew 3,000 extra fans, and every time Sandy pitched he drew 8,000 extra. Since each fan figures to spend an average of $4.50 on parking, admission and food, this comes to $13,000 to Donald's credit and $36,000 to Sandy's.

Well, hold on there! I could make an argument that Donald had actually cost us fans in our first five years in Los Angeles. He was so grouchy and temperamental that some people refused to come out and see him pitch. And as far as Sandy was concerned, one important reason that he drew more people was the fact that we tried to use him whenever we could in crucial games, and more often than not the other teams saved up their best pitchers to go against him.

Now does that mean we should have sent money to Juan Marichal or Jim Bunning? I mean, those figures about who brings how many into a ball park are highly conjectural. What about those other Dodgers on the field? How many fans do they bring in? Let's say Sandy comes to the ball park and the other 25 players stay home, then how many people is he going to bring in? "

In this outstanding article, Rich Lederer walks us through his father's beautiful reporting of "The Great Holdup" of 1966, and ends with the same question we have today:

"I don't know if Drysdale earned his pay that year, but Koufax certainly gave the Dodgers a pretty good return on their investment in his swan song season. I wonder what he would be worth today?"

What builds a great baseball city? Even without a pile of World Series championships, cities can be richly entwined in a baseball love affair. Without ballplayers such as Pujols and Jeter, who have the talent to wake up the great statues in bronze that stand outside of so many ballparks, we’re just looking at the past.

The Jeter and Pujols contracts will not just be an exercise of baseball executives pushing on a string. Both the Yankees and Cardinals owners are business artisans. They will create a new threshold for baseball contracts, beyond A-Rod, whether the money ends up being less, the same, or more. They’ll give a pull on the string that tugs at the heart of the modern day value of fans' devotion to two ballplayers who have their molds of greatness already taking shape. It’s just a matter of where the final bronze statue will land.

Read more great baseball stuff at The Hardball Times.