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Recent history suggests signing big contracts at Winter Meetings can be disastrous

Let me tell you a little story about a contract and an Angel. How the best player in a decade became the worst contract in baseball at the 2011 Winter Meetings.

Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Let me tell you a story about how the best player in baseball became its worst contract, non-A-rod division.

I hated the Ubaldo Jimenez trade, bemoaned the handling of the departure of Dexter Fowler, and we could all say plenty about a few select drafts still leaving stink-residue on Coors Field, but Dan O'Dowd never did anything as stupid as the Albert Pujols contract.

But before we get into that, let us pay homage and respect as baseball fans to a god among mere mortals. Let not this rant mislead: the man has earned a pretty penny. Quite a few pennies that fall into the Brad Pitt realm of pretty, as it turns out.

Albert the Invincible

In 11 seasons with the Cardinals, Pujols had never posted below a 4.4 WAR and only had two seasons below 6.0. His final season in St Louis (2011) was by far his worst, posting a slash-line of only .299/.366/.541, for only a 147 wRC+ and the measly 4.4 WAR I mentioned.

Putting that season aside, if you cherry pick the worst stats from each year in his first decade, his amalgamated floor amounts to a .312/.394/.561, 150 wRC+, 5.5 WAR player. The opposite exercise yields a .359/.462/.667, 184 wRC+, 9.6 WAR behemoth.

His lowest home run total in that decade was 32. He hit over 40 home runs six times and struck out less than ten percent of the time in seven consecutive seasons. He walked more often than he struck out every year but his rookie season.

From 2001-2010, Albert Pujols was the best hitter in baseball by a lot.

And while there were signs of slowing down, in his last three years in St. Louis, he accumulated 20.1 fWAR. In the three years since signing with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, he has accumulated 7.7 fWAR.

Albert the Vincible

At the 2011 Winter Meetings, the Angels signed Albert Pujols to a 10-year, $240 million contract.

In his three seasons with the Angels, Pujols has posted fWAR totals of, 3.7, 0.7, and 3.3.

His wRC+ numbers were the lowest of his career by at least 14 points, bottoming out at 112 in the middle year, which to be fair is still above league average. The .258/.330/.437 slash that came with it isn't exactly frightening.

His power leveled off a bit but remained impressive, tallying 30, then 17 (99 games), then 28 home runs.

He has struck out more than he has walked in each of his seasons in LA, and his ISO (isolated power) has been in steady decline for four seasons. This may all have something to do with the fact that before the 2015 season begins, Pujols will turn 35 years old.

For perspective, Troy Tulowitzki, the Rockies' highest paid player, will be 35 at the end of his contract. The one at the center of controversy in terms of his trade value.

Pujols' 0.7 fWAR season did come when he was hobbled by injury and only played 99 games, but of course we know that Tulo just put up 5.1 in only 91 games.

Pujols has a full no-trade clause. Tulowitzki can be traded once for a bonus, and has a team option at $15M in 2021 after his contract somewhat ingeniously drops to $14M in 2020.  Pujols will be making $24M next season and it will steadily rise until 2021 when he will be making $30M to Tulo's $15M.

Tulo will be 36, Pujols 41.

Pujols is still a very good baseball player but is clearly in decline and is likely only going to produce less and less as he makes more and more.

Recent results suggest this didn't totally kill the Angels, but that contract is likely to be a major blockade for many plans they may like to hatch in the future.

If the Rockies were paying $24M to a 3 WAR player next season, people would go ballistic ... for a refreshing change of pace. Tulo was paid $16M for his 5.1 campaign last season.

The Albert Pujols contract was not the only bad contract the Angels signed that winter -- C.J. Wilson for 5 years, $77.5M -- nor was it the only one in recent Winter Meeting history.

C.J. Wilson hasn't been bad and posted great numbers in 2012 (2.0 fWAR) and 2013 (3.2 fWAR) when he was paid reasonably at $10M and $11M respectively. But Wilson's contract bumped up to $16M last year in by far his worst season (0.6 fWAR) and is scheduled to jump up again to $18M next year and $20M the year after. That's a lot of cheese for a guy who may be done being much better than a league average pitcher.

The Angels were saved from the 2011 Winter Meetings by Mike Trout.

The Angels in the rest of us

Lest ye think the Angels alone in Winter-Meeting-tomfoolery, here is a quick rundown of other cautionary tales from the last five years of Winter Meetings.

2009 Brewers: Randy Wolf for 4 yr $29.75M

Even though they made the playoffs in 2011, it is hard to see that Wolf contract as anything less than a terrible value. Almost $30M for less than 3 total WAR.

2010: Carl Crawford signs with Boston Red Sox for 7 yrs, $142M

Because big market teams have more flexibility, the Crawford contract only killed Boston for two seasons.

In the four seasons prior to signing with Boston, Crawford was worth a total of 19.1 fWAR. In the four years since, he has been worth 5.5.

And 5.4 of that has been for the Dodgers.

Yup, Carl Crawford was worth 0.1 fWAR over two seasons -- and $33.5M -- in Boston.

After trading out of that contract (also including Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Beckett), the Red Sox won the World Series in 2013.

Don't freak out too much if the Winter Meetings come and go and your teams aren't the talk of the town. Or the country. You may have just dodged that anvil suspended over your head.