Albert Pujols plays baseball well.
He sure does, but enquring minds have to wonder, for how much longer? I recently read an article regarding whether Pujols, who turned down a nine year, 200+ million offer, could likely deliver value over the ten years he wants, or even over nine. Here is the Baseball Reference list of the ten players whose careers were most similar to Pujols's' through age 31.
Jimmie Foxx *
Frank Robinson *
Hank Aaron *
Lou Gehrig *
Mickey Mantle *
Mel Ott *
Willie Mays *
(* signifies in Hall of Fame)
Of the seven long since retired, Hall of Fame players on the list, only Aaron retained even a substantial fraction of his earlier value over his next eight years.
Foxx had only two more full, productive seasons of hitting .300, with 35 and then just 19 homers, before petering out as a .230 hitter..
Frank Robinson played in over 133 games only once after age 31, never again scored 100 runs in a season, and exceeded 30 homers once but never again exceeded 100 RBI.
Gehrig had three successive top 5 MVP seasons and then declined somewhat in his next and final full season before abruptly retiring after just 8 at-bats in his fifth, "post age 31" season.
Mickey Mantle had only five abbreviated seasons of baseball left in him, only once hitting more than 23 home runs and only once driving in more than 56 runs.
Mel Ott hit over 30 homers in a season seven times before he turned 31 but never after. He scored 100 or more runs and drove in 110 or more eight times through age 31, but only exceeded those thresholds once in runs scored and twice in RBI thereafter,.and only once after the age of 31 did he finish higher than 16th in MVP voting
Willie Mays had four monster years from ages 32-35, finishing first, third, fifth and sixth in MVP voting, but became a .rather pedestrian 280-20homer-80 RBI player for the remainder of his career.
Only Aaron had maybe 3/4s the value in his eight years beyond age 31 as he did before. Aaron scored or drove in 100 or more runs four more times each, remained a perennial home run crown contender, hitting 40 home runs in 120 games at age 39, and was an MVP vote getter each and every one of those next eight years, finishing 12th at age 39, but over that remarkable late career span, he was not the player he had been previously.
As far as the contemporary players on that list are concerned, Ramirez, aided by steroids, had five comparably productive years, Gonzales had none, and Griffey spent those years posting JD Drew numbers, never again scoring or driving in 100 runs in a season while averaging a hundred games played.
I remember when Bill James derided the then popular notion that a baseball player's prime was from ages 28 to 32. He determined that hitters peaked at age 27 and pitchers at 28 and it was downhill from there. Moderrn players have longer and later performance horizons because of improved nutrition, surgery, training and, yes, performance enhancing drugs, but it is wishful thinking to book the value of any allstar caliber players' outyears to approach that of his earlier ones. Theo Epstein is going to have an opportunity to spend someone else's money this winter, and I predict he will either overpay for Pujols or force the price up for someone else.