Advice to free agents: Maybe it's better to take the money and not run

One lesson future free agents can learn from watching Albert Pujols:

If you're planning to get off to a lousy start after signing that huge contract, it might be easier on you if you don't change teams.

Not that Albert would have gone unnoticed if he had stayed in St. Louis and gone homerless in April. But how many people noticed that until the next-to-last day of the month, Joey Votto was just one home run ahead of him?

Votto's start was nowhere near as bad as Albert's. Votto's recovery (.372 in his last 13 games, including the historic three-homer show Sunday) has been much more dramatic than Albert's.

But the pressure on Votto, who signed a $225 million, 10-year extension with the Reds two days before opening day, was nowhere near what it was on Pujols, who left the Cardinals last December to sign a $240 million, 10-year deal with the Angels.

"The people weren't on Joey when he wasn't being Joey, because they knew that sooner or later he was going to be Joey," Reds manager Dusty Baker said.

Baker has no doubt that Albert will eventually be Albert. But he also believes there's something to the theory that changing teams for big money can be tougher than staying put for big money.

"You get more tolerance," he said. "It's the comforts of home vs. the comforts of a new home. Albert will get comfortable, too, trust me. You can count on it.

"Albert's going to hit. There ain't a cow in Texas if Albert don't hit. I don't think so. I know so."

In Pujols' 11 years in the National League, he played 137 games -- nearly a full season -- against Baker-managed teams. In those 137 games, Pujols hit 38 home runs and drove in 103 runs -- and Baker walked him intentionally 28 times.

If it's the pressure of living up to the contract that has contributed to Pujols' awful start this year, well, he wouldn't be the first guy to have that happen.

"I always say, you can't eat money like Popeye ate spinach and make you better," Baker said. "It doesn't make you better."

More money doesn't make you better, but changing teams for more money can make things tougher.

Ask Albert.

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