Albert Pujols was designated for assignment by the Angels Thursday afternoon, a somewhat surprising move considering he has a 10-year, $ 10 million personal services contract with the franchise that begins after his original 10-year contract expires and $ 240 million.
Pujols will end in Cooperstown. We know that for sure. It will be a Hall of Fame election on the first ballot in your only year on the ballot. But will he make another stop as a player before heading to rural New York as a baseball immortal?
At 41, he is no longer the player he once was, as everyone knows. He has five home runs in 24 games this year, but was hitting just .198 with a .622 OPS when he was released. Those aren’t big numbers, but when you take a tour of the league, you’ll see that those numbers are better than other regular players who play first or designated base. And then there is this.
Pujols’ expected numbers have been pretty decent this year, although Statcast needs some recalibration as a result of the new ball:
.273 xBA (.198 actual)
.543 xSLG (.372)
.359 xwOBA (.269)
These are some of his best numbers for balls hit since 2016, when he posted 110 wRC +.
– Devan Fink (@DevanFink) May 6, 2021
So where could it end? Almost certainly not in the National League, which is without DH this season. A club could be an exception. Let’s take a look at that club and see if there’s a possible fit, and we’ll look at possible American League destinations as well.
MORE: Why did the Angels release Albert Pujols so suddenly?
Obviously, the connection to St. Louis is strong. Cardinals fans were upset when he went to the West Coast in 2011, but all has been forgiven. Remember the constant cheering when Pujols and the Angels played at Busch Stadium in 2019? And that home run by Pujols was not just any home run, neither for the fans nor for the player.
In an interview with @Cards Two weeks ago (around the 2011 and 2006 title seasons), Albert Pujols said of all his home runs, regular season and postseason, his favorite is the one he hit at Busch in 2019. “The best moment of my career” I call. #STLCards
– Cardinals Magazine (@CardsMagazine) May 6, 2021
If this release happened in August or September, when the charts expand (or are close to expanding), the Cardinals would likely be at the top of the destination list.
But it’s early May and the Cardinals are fighting for the top spot in the NL Central. The feel-good places on the meeting list are fine for a month or so, but five months? Probably not.
And that’s what it would be like, a homecoming roster spot. The Cardinals have an established first baseman in Paul Goldschmidt, and he doesn’t take many days off – he’s only missed 23 games since the start of the 2015 season. And, as we mentioned, there is no designated hitter in the National League this year, for what the Cardinals would essentially be dedicating a roster spot to a pinch hitter with a 76 OPS + and .263 on-base percentage in his last 63 games.
It is difficult to see this happening anytime soon.
This would be a Rays thing, right? Sign a guy for cheap and get some pretty impressive production out of him, make another playoff run. And it’s worth noting, perhaps, that the Rays are the only team in the majors without a home run from anyone playing first base. Yandy Diaz is the main first baseman; he’s hitting 260 with a .700 OPS and just three extra-base hits (all doubles) at 120 PA.
The connection to coach Tony La Russa is obvious. And the last time La Russa managed before joining the White Sox this season, Pujols was still a dominant force.
And, as some have pointed out, the injuries to Eloy Jiménez and Luis Robert leave the White Sox looking for offense. Dots are being connected.
But here’s the thing: Pujols doesn’t play outfield like Jiménez and Robert. He plays first base or is the designated hitter. José Abreu is the club’s first baseman and comes from the AL Most Valuable Player award in 2020. AB is not losing. And the club’s designated hitter, Yermin Mercedes, has been one of the best stories in baseball so far this year. He’s hitting .386 with five home runs, 16 RBIs and a 197 OPS + so far this year.
You can’t take at-bats from him in any way, right? And Mercedes cannot move to the gardens; He played a total of six outfield games in a minor league career that began in 2011. Once again, it’s hard to see that happen.
Franmil Reyes has produced an excellent production from the designated hitter spot, and they are spinning in the AL Central conversation despite just one home run from their first base. Jake Bauers and Yu Chang have each made 13 starts at first; Bauer is hitting .188 with a .569 OPS and Chang is hitting .146 with a .384 OPS. Pujols is far from the elite outfielder he once was, but he can still play well enough to have multiple starts a week.
The Ms have been one of the surprise teams earlier this year, going over .500 despite last-place predictions from many. And they see Evan White as the future at first base, but maybe a little break would be a good thing right now. He’s hitting just .141 with a .408 OPS and a 21 OPS +. Maybe bring in Pujols to mentor the kid?
And we all know there is nothing GM Jerry DiPoto likes like making a deal to turn things around.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.