Posted by: Larry Smith Jr. | March 16, 2010

A Cardinal Sin: Trading Pujols?

Over much of the last 48 hours the entire baseball World has seemingly been fraught with talk about the rumors coming from ESPN stating that the Philadelphia Phillies were considering offering Ryan Howard to the St. Louis Cardinals for Albert Pujols. Phillies General Manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has angrily and flatly denied the rumors and it appears that the whole thing was blown out of proportion, yet it seems strange to me that ESPN would report on this fire if there were not at least a little smoke. And while it is unclear just how far along these talks were — Whether it was something just thrown out in a brainstorming session in the Phillies headquarters or whether the offer was presented to the Cardinals — The idea that anybody thought of something like this anywhere in the Phillies office is somewhat scary.

Frankly, Pujols and Howard are not even in the same universe as players. And any offer that would involve the two being swapped would need to include several more players from the Phillies end (and very good players), to the extent that the trade could carry the potential to upset the balance of the strong team they already have in place and therefore not be worth the effort. The idea is silly in every respect. Pujols is better than Howard in every way, and much better than him in some ways. He has the same number of years remaining on his contract while being paid less during that time, and they are the same age. Pujols is competing for recognition as the best right handed hitter of all-time. Howard is simply one of the best power hitters of this time.

Allow me to review all of the ways in which Albert Pujols is better than Ryan Howard:

* – Most importantly, Pujols is great all the time. All the time. Against right handed pitchers he bats 330/419/622. Against lefties he bats 346/452/646. He is phenomenal, no matter what. While Howard is death to right-handed pitching (307/409/661) and even hits them with more power than Pujols hits either lefties or righties, Howard is almost a non-factor against lefties, batting 226/310/444 in his career. That is still fairly devastating power, but that type of performance is hardly providing much to have the team win. Howard can be neutralized by a left-handed pitcher. There is no stopping Albert Pujols.

* – Pujols is a better defender, by virtually every metric as well as popular opinion.

* – Pujols has a career wRC+ of 173, Howard 141. Howard is 32% worse offensively than Pujols.

* – Pujols is technically younger, though only by two months.

* – Pujols has been in the league longer and has more experience (Pujols has been in the league since 2001, to Howard’s 2004).

* – Pujols is a bigger base stealing threat.

In short, other than hitting right handers for power and taking pitches (Howard averages 4.06 pitchers per plate appearance to Pujols’ 3.83), there is nothing that Ryan Howard does of great importance that is better than Albert Pujols, and in many cases he is considerably worse. His contract runs for the same length of time and pays him more, and he’s older. Therefore, any gains that the Cardinals may see in swapping the two because “We can’t sign Pujols” seem like a shaky premise. In addition, Howard makes $20m in the final year of his deal (2011) and it seems unlikely that he would accept an immediate pay cut upon hitting the free agent market, in which case the Cardinals might have to pony up only slightly less to re-sign Howard than Pujols even though he is a much inferior player.

None of it adds up. It seems like a silly premise all the way around. And yet, somewhere, someone thought of it and its wholly possible that it came closer to fruition than any of the parties are letting on. I hope for the sake of the Cardinals and their fans, that their management would hang up the phone quickly if ever such an offer came to them over the phone lines, unless a large portion of the Phillies core were also mentioned on the same side of the ledger with Howard.

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