Last week, the hottest rumor making the rounds was the possibility of the Phillies offering Ryan Howard to the Cardinals for Albert Pujols. It doesn't appear that the trade is going to happen, as both teams have loudly denied Buster Olney's report, but that doesn't mean we can't have some fun with the idea of it. So why not try and project the consequences of this blockbuster?
First off, it would be one of the absolute biggest trades in baseball history and probably the most sensational since the Blue Jays traded Tony Fernandez and Fred McGriff to the Padres for Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter in 1990. The only thing keeping Pujols out of the Hall of Fame at this point is a career-ending injury in the next week, leaving him with only nine seasons (you need 10 for the Hall). Howard doesn't have the same résumé, but with 198 home runs the past four years, he's one of the premier sluggers in baseball in his own right.
The tightness of the MVP voting in recent years makes the difference between Pujols and Howard seem smaller than it actually is. Howard usually out-homers Pujols, but a few home runs can't make up for the fact Pujols usually has a batting average 60-70 points higher and is a significantly better defensive player. Overall, Fangraphs has Pujols with a large edge in wins above replacement over the past four years, with Pujols' 33 wins being well above the 20 that Howard has put up.
The Tale of the Tape
Pujols vs. Howard, 2006-2009
The ZiPS Projection System has Pujols being about three wins better than Howard in 2010, a conclusion held by the other widely used projection systems. To test the win totals further, I simulated 100 years of the 2010 season in Diamond Mind 9.0, the engine behind Rob Neyer Baseball, to see just how the Cardinals and Phillies would fare after their swap.
A Pujols-Howard trade would crush the Cards’ playoff hopes.
Yes, you read that right, with Howard instead of Pujols, the Cardinals go from making the playoffs more than 50 percent of the time, to less than 25 percent of the time. The Phillies, on the other hand, go from heavy favorites to reach the postseason, to a virtual lock. Philly averaged 31 more runs per season with Pujols in its lineup, while St. Louis' average run total dropped by 33. The only way in which the Cardinals would consider this type of offer is money, but they still have Pujols under control for two more seasons, and they're in no rush to unload him.
The fact of the matter is that Pujols is simply that much better than Howard, and that's why this rumor was denied so vehemently. A "challenge trade" of Howard for Pujols would be lopsided, and even the Phillies know it.
Dan Szymborski is the editor in chief of Baseball Think Factory.