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Angels, Marlins might regret reckless spending

Jeff Passan
Yahoo Sports
Angels, Marlins might regret reckless spending
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Pictured here before Game 1 of the World Series in St. Louis, Albert Pujols rebuffed the Cardinals and …

Over the last three days, as the Los Angeles Angels and Florida Marlins have emulated drunks spending money like it's their last night on earth, the rest of baseball has leered on voyeuristically and wondered how the mother of all hangovers is going to feel. No home remedy will solve this one. It was a bender they'll feel for years.

The most miraculous part of the contract offers the Angels and Marlins presented Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson is that they were proffered under the influence of nothing but fantasy. Free agency is osteoporosis to the rational bones in owners' bodies. It turned the Marlins' carnival barker, Jeffrey Loria, from Scrooge into Rockefeller. And Thursday morning, it goaded Angels owner Arte Moreno into spending more money in a single day than anyone in baseball history.

Almost 11 years since the day the Texas Rangers signed Alex Rodriguez for 10 years and $252 million, at the very same Dallas hotel, the Angels shocked baseball at its winter meetings by lavishing a 10-year, $254 million contract on Pujols, who turns 32 in January. Minutes later, they locked in Wilson for five seasons at $77.5 million. And they felt lucky to do so: The Marlins offered more money to both, including a 10-year, $275 million offer for Pujols that USA Today reported would have matched A-Rod's current contract as the largest in American sports history.

Distraught fans of the St. Louis Cardinals, the franchise that stole Pujols in the 13th round of the draft and watched him set about becoming one of the greatest hitters in history, receded into all five stages of grief simultaneously. Others around baseball sent gossipy texts and emails snarking about everything from Pujols' contract including a rolling walker to whether the Marlins' deals come with bankruptcy protection.

Between Pujols and Wilson, the Angels luxuriated in $331.5 million worth of contracts Thursday morning – or $148.5 million more than owner Arte Moreno paid for the entire franchise in 2003. The Marlins left the meetings having spent $191 million for Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell – $32.5 million more than Loria's purchase price in 2002.

The Angels and Marlins spent $522,500,000 in the last week. The rest of baseball has spent $214,150,058 million all winter.

From the Pujols temblor to the Wilson aftershock, the Angels' deals shook the meetings and immediately repositioned the team among the American League elite – for now. And as executives left Dallas, they tried to parse the prudence – or, perhaps more accurate, imprudence – of the spending sprees and their long-term effects on each franchise.

The Marlins generally got good marks. While Reyes' $106 million deal is excessive for a player with injury problems, it speaks to his superstar ceiling. Buehrle at $58 million for four years banked on his well-hewn ability to succeed with low strikeout rates. The opinions of Bell's three-year, $27 million deal depended on how teams value the comfort of a closer.

"Love it," one executive said.

"Silly," another said.

[Related: Brown: Angels snag Pujols and Wilson]

While the genesis of the Angels' binge will reveal itself in the coming days, what struck most was Moreno's forceful renunciation of his abhorrence for high-dollar, long-term deals – or, as one official put it, "He's such a hypocrite."

Rarely does hypocrisy cost so much. In dollars for Moreno. In reputation for Pujols. In tears for St. Louis. Pujols said, and repeated, that he wanted to be a "Cardinal for life." The price of his word, it seems, is about $35 million – the difference between what the Cardinals offered and the Angels paid.

Never were the Cardinals close, unwilling to compromise their payroll and profits for Pujols. Never mind that they have raked in $74.7 million in profit over the last five years, according to Forbes, whose annual baseball valuations were proven accurate by the leak of MLB financial data to Deadspin last year. Until two days ago, St. Louis never budged from its nine-year, $198 million offer to Pujols during spring training, a proposal that engendered ill feelings that not even a championship could make palatable.

On the other hand, this may be the day that saved the Cardinals, the one on which they avoided the sort of albatross – or, as it shall be called, the Albertross – that can hamper a franchise for years. Sort of like A-Rod's current deal, which he signed at age 32. Before Rodriguez signed this contract, he averaged 154 games per season and hit .306/.389/.578. His numbers have dipped significantly since, and he has played an average of 30 fewer games over the first four years. The deal is a disaster.

Pujols will arrive in Los Angeles beset with bumps and bruises – a bad back, foot problems, a chronically injured elbow. No matter his otherworldly healing ability and pain tolerance, Pujols is a health risk on any sort of multiyear deal, let alone 10. If he can continue to average 155 games a year, as he did in his first 11 seasons, the contract won't look nearly as bad.

The only person to play that many games from his age-32 to -41 seasons is Pete Rose. And the only player with 1,500 games at that age over a decade is … Pete Rose. Knock it down to 1,400 games and the list grows to nine. Ever. And just 22 in history have played at least 1,300 games from their 32nd birthday to their 41st.

[Related: Henson: Buehrle added to Marlins' haul]

Of those players, the top four on-base-plus-slugging percentages belong to Edgar Martinez, Stan Musial, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays, the latter three to whom Pujols compares quite favorably. So it's possible, of course, that with Pujols deigning to take proper rest from Mike Scioscia – a manager who, more than anyone, should remind him of Tony La Russa – he can subsist with his body breaking down behind him.

Or he could turn into another player who wore an Angels uniform through his 33rd birthday, slogged through 150 games a year while fighting lower-body injuries and survives today as a desiccated version of himself: Vladimir Guerrero. Him or A-Rod or Ken Griffey Jr. – there are dozens more examples, each more harrowing than the previous, each speaking to human fragility and owners' insistence on ignoring it through long-term deals.

Moreno saw instead a glorious vision of owning the Los Angeles market for good. The name change. The cheap beer. The Vernon Wells acquisition. OK, two of three is still a .667 batting average.

Point is, Moreno bought the Angels from Disney at a foreclosure-auction price, and only now is he primed to run them like the big-market behemoth they ought be. With Frank McCourt about to sell the Dodgers, Moreno saw his last opportunity to steal fans who soon enough could return to a team with more history, deeper roots and potentially larger revenue streams.

He did it in the most L.A. way: with a star.

What Manny Ramirez did to the Dodgers a few years ago Moreno hopes Pujols will do to the Angels. Stars sell tickets and sponsorships and drive television ratings. And that last piece is the most important to the Angels' ability to do in one fell swoop what not even the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox have.

The Angels expect to make a mint on local television revenue during a renegotiation with Fox, and that annual burst of cash will more than pay for Pujols and Wilson. This isn't like the Marlins, whose TV deal doesn't expire until 2020 and who need strong attendance – a big if in south Florida – to prevent them from a fire sale. The Angels' revenue base is big and only getting bigger. They needed someone to represent that heft, recklessness be damned.

[Related: Passan's ultimate free-agent tracker]

So they threw back some shots, swallowed hard and put pen to paper guaranteeing one man more than the GDP of some small countries. If Moreno wakes up tomorrow morning and wonders what the hell he did Thursday – well, nobody would blame him.

It left all 31 of the general managers at the winter meetings incredulous – the 30 in baseball and the one who runs the Hilton Anatole, the Dallas hotel that must be perfumed with money-spending pheromones. Harold Rapoza is his name. He moved to Dallas eight months ago from, of all places, Anaheim. He roots for the Angels. And amid his giddiness at Pujols wearing an Angels uniform, Rapoza tried to explain why the Anatole brought out baseball's checkbooks like nothing else.

"The hotel is luxurious," he said. "We have great amenities here with the restaurants and spa. The owners have spent over $130 million over the last three or four years."

Or about half an Albert Pujols.

"It's the perfect environment to pamper yourself," Rapoza said, and pamper two teams did. The Marlins owned most of these meetings, Loria strutting about like the cock of the walk, but not even he could upstage Arte Moreno's gambit. He got Albert Pujols. He got C.J. Wilson. He got nice and soused before going home to sleep it off.

Now he'd better get himself a truck full of aspirin. He's gonna need it.

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