The Los Angeles Angels shocked the baseball world on Thursday when they announced that they had designated Albert Pujols for assignment.
It was shocking because players of Pujols’ caliber aren’t normally discarded in this manner. But in another sense, it wasn’t so surprising, as the future Hall of Famer had been hitting just .198.
Regardless, knowing they were in the final year of the slugger’s 10-year contract, the fourth-place Angels had simply seen enough. They didn’t see a place for Pujols in their lineup anymore. They simply felt they had better options to help them dig out of the AL West cellar, and they knew Pujols wouldn’t accept a secondary role. So they cut him loose.
As FOX Sports MLB writer Pedro Moura wrote, it was a sudden and awkward end to a relationship that never quite lived up to the hopes of either party. Pujols’ best year in L.A. was worse than his worst year in St. Louis, and the Angels didn’t win a single playoff game with the slugger on their roster.
So now what happens? Where does Pujols go? Or does he simply start the clock on its countdown toward a surefire induction into Cooperstown?
At this point, things are murky.
One option that has been mentioned is a possible reunion with Tony La Russa, who was Pujols’ manager in St. Louis and is currently managing the Chicago White Sox. But those rumors ignored the fact that the White Sox don’t have any room on their roster, a point that La Russa himself made on Friday.
Mercedes, Chicago’s designated hitter whom FOX Sports MLB Writer Jake Mintz profiled in April, has been crushing the ball, hitting .386 with five home runs through his first 25 games. Abreu is not only the White Sox’s first baseman, but he’s also the reigning AL MVP. He’s not going anywhere.
Another team mentioned is the St. Louis Cardinals, where Pujols broke in back in 2001 and grew into a three-time MVP. But the Cardinals have star Paul Goldschmidt at first base, and the NL is not employing the designated hitter this season.
“I see the Indians probably being the best fit,” said MLB Network analyst Eduardo Perez. “It’s not only because Albert Pujols can probably be an upgrade to Bauers and Cheng especially with what they’re doing, but at the same time this is a team that’s going to be competitive in a division that will stay competitive, and I don’t see any team just running away from it.”
Other potential teams that could fit are the Cincinnati Reds, who recently lost first baseman Joey Votto to a broken thumb, or the New York Yankees, who are waiting for Luke Voit to return from knee surgery. But both teams have other internal options that might be better.
The problem, as Buster Olney and Karl Ravech pointed out on the “Baseball Tonight Podcast,” is that Pujols no longer produces as he used to and that as a slow-footed slugger, he lacks defensive flexibility.
“Every part of the deck is stacked against his continued long-term success,” Ravech said.
By comparison, Olney recalled the story of another aging star – Ichiro. In 2012, the Seattle Mariners were looking to move on from the Japanese legend. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman called Ichiro to ask if he’d be willing to play a couple of days a week and sometimes be a defensive replacement late in games. Would he be willing, in other words, to be a role player?
Ichiro responded that he would, according to Olney, and the Yankees made the trade.
The difference, of course, is that Pujols reportedly has no interest in being a role player, and he is not a defensive player of the caliber that Ichiro was.
“He does not want to be a bench player of any kind,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said. “He’s got a lot of pride.”
Pujols has yet to comment on any of this, as he is likely waiting until he officially clears waivers and becomes a free agent on Sunday. Then we’ll see if he finds a team willing to take a chance on an aging slugger to man the DH spot in their lineup, or perhaps first base.
With a player of his pedigree, it wouldn’t be surprising if a team gives him a chance. One could even see the possibility of a couple of teams giving Pujols chances as the season unfolds.
Or perhaps retirement will ultimately be the best option.
Whatever happens, La Russa says that a team that decides to give him a chance could end up being very happy.
“They’ll get a very determined Albert,” he said. “I would never underestimate him. He is one of the game’s great, winning, competitive players.”
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