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Could Pujols Play the Role of Piazza?

By Mike Silva ~ February 16th, 2011. Filed under: Mike Silva, New York Mets.

It was a Friday afternoon on May 22nd, 1998. The night before the Mets beat Cincinnati 6-1 behind a complete game by Masato Yoshii. The team was hovering around .500 and only 13,766 showed up at Shea Stadium that night. Everything changed, however, as the Mets made one of their boldest moves in team history acquiring Mike Piazza from the Florida Marlins for prospects. Three days later the Mets beat Milwaukee in front of over 47,000 fans. Two years later they were taking on the Yankees in the Subway Series. If anyone told a Mets fan that Friday afternoon what the near future held they wouldn’t have believed it.

We all know that attendance has been down since the Mets opened Citi Field. The negative press from a quiet offseason and the Madoff scandal has turned the fan base sour. Although knowledgeable Mets fans support the “build from within/fiscally responsible” direction of the organization, it very well may not result in sustained attendance for the near term. New York shows up for winners, and teams that hover around the 85 win mark are fun, but not enough to take the family away from the beach, vacation, or a sitting by the pool.

Superstars, like Piazza, don’t grow on trees. Rarely do they become available, but if they do, it usually requires doing something dynamic to acquire them. In the case of Albert Pujols it may be only money that could determine where he ends up.

There has been speculation that Pujols could command a 10 year/$300 million dollar contract on the open market. The Cubs have been the most widely speculated landing place. Since we don’t know the impact of the Madoff lawsuit, let’s assume the Mets are solvent enough to make a play for Pujols. Would it be worth investing $30 million dollars of payroll to a 31 year old slugging first basemen?

From a back page headlines and marketing standpoint the answer is easy. Pujols would bring the same level of excitement to New York that Piazza did thirteen years ago. Pujols is also a better player than Piazza, arguably the best all-around player in the game. He has power, hits for average, and plays gold glove defense at first. Putting him in the cleanup spot between David Wright and Jason Bay gives the Mets a fearsome middle of the order.

The reason I wouldn’t do this is age. Pujols would be paid handsomely into his forties. The Yankees gave Alex Rodriguez a similar contract in 2007 and are beginning to see his physical decline just three years later. If the Mets elect to keep the payroll at the $120 million dollar mark they would be investing a quarter of their payroll into one player. I am no economist, but that certainly is a hefty amount.

There is nothing to indicate my concerns about Pujols health are warranted. He’s averaged 156 games a season during his career and played through a horrible elbow injury a couple of years ago. The Mets are not in a position to get something wrong, and 10 year deals to players north of thirty are inherently risky. If Pujols was 27 years old this would be a no brainer, but 31 changes the situation, at least in my opinion, a great deal. If the Mets are wrong they will be hamstring with the rest of the roster. This isn’t the NBA and Pujols can’t win by himself. A bad Mets team with Pujols still won’t draw on a consistent basis.

A better move would be to sit tight, continue to develop, and build around Wright and Reyes. Will that sell tickets? Probably not, but I don’t think the Mets are in a terrible situation. The ’98 team didn’t have a Wright and Reyes as their foundation. You could argue this year’s club is far more talented than some of the Bobby Valentine editions. If you win the fans will come, and I think there are pieces here that can translate into success.

This obviously is just idle speculation. Regardless, if Pujols comes knocking this offseason I wouldn’t give him a 10 year deal. The Mets can’t be wrong about this and giving 25% of the payroll to a 31 year old ballplayer, no matter how good he is, just isn’t a risk worth taking.

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Mike Silva has hosted sports shows on 107.1 FM Champions ESPN Radio Long Island ,1240 AM WGBB , Blog Talk Radio and live from Mickey Mantle’s Restaurant. He’s also built and maintained two popular social media hubs: New York Baseball Digest and Sports Media Watchdog. Mike has broken national and local stories, as well as been mentioned on the YES Network, SNY.tv, WFAN, Sports Illustrated, ESPN, NY Daily News, New York Magazine, Journal News and the NY Post. Contact Mike professionally at mikesilvamedia.com

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1 Response to Could Pujols Play the Role of Piazza?

  1. Jeff from Delaware

    Mike, the more I’ve thought about it, the more I get excited about the logic, and yet I come back to earth knowing the current Mets leadership could never pull it off.

    Even though (for once) we wouldn’t have to outbid the EE, Red Sox, or Phillies for a premium player, our management just doesn’t have the stones for such a franchise-shaking move.

    Nice to dream, anyway.

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