In the end, Albert Pujols’s Angels career ended not with a retirement tour or a standing ovation, but with a DFA.
The Angels released the future Hall of Famer on Thursday, bringing an unceremonious end to Pujols’s tenure with the team fewer than five months before the expiration of his 10-year contract. In a statement, team owner Arte Moreno said the organization was “honored that he has worn an Angels jersey” and called Pujols an “inspiration to athletes everywhere.”
Though we have yet to hear from Pujols since the decision was made, his release reportedly has to do with the issue of playing time. General manager Perry Minasian said the team’s intention is to have Jared Walsh and Shohei Ohtani in the lineup daily at first base and designated hitter, respectively, narrowing Pujols’s pathway to regular at-bats, per Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times.
Though Minasian said the conversation with Pujols about the release was not a fight or argument, the 41-year-old was “passionate” about still wanting to play, according to Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register. Pujols has started 22 of the team’s first 29 games, but it appears the road map going forward did not include his continued presence in the lineup.
It became difficult for the club to continue giving the declining Pujols everyday playing time. Pujols is hitting .198/.250/.372 in 92 plate appearances, and owns a .240/.289/.405 slash line since 2017. If he does find a team willing to sign him as a lineup regular, it would likely be a squad in dire need of reinforcements at first base or designated hitter. He could fill the role of matchup-based bench bat for a lot of teams, as he's compiled a respectable .878 OPS against lefties this season.
Given his ties throughout the league and desire to still be an everyday player, let’s speculate on which teams make the most sense as Pujols’s next landing spot.
Kansas City Royals
Pujols attended high school and junior college in Independence, Mo., about 10 miles east of Kansas City. Royals manager Mike Matheny was Pujols’s Cardinals teammate for four seasons, then was part of the St. Louis coaching staff from 2008-11. Pujols clearly values a chance at regular at-bats, but presumably would also prefer heading to a contender. The Royals did not come into the season viewed as serious playoff contenders, but they’ve certainly looked the part through the first month. Royals designated hitters are batting a collective .200/.282/.369, thus far, with the slumping Jorge Soler getting most of the playing time.
Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays offense has been disappointing to this point. A big reason why is the lack of production from the DH spot. Rowdy Tellez is off to a miserable start, hitting .183/.222/.267 through his first 63 plate appearances. Toronto has enough talent to contend in the AL East, or at least for a wild card spot, and at present appear to be in need of a viable DH. Pujols might not fit that role exactly, but perhaps he and Tellez could form a viable platoon—his average exit velocity (90.5 miles per hour) and xwOBA (.359) are his highest in five years.
St. Louis Cardinals
While an American League team makes the most sense for a likely DH candidate, a reunion with the Cardinals would certainly be the sentimental favorite. Though he’s off to a slow start, Paul Goldschmidt is entrenched at first base and would not conceivably lose starts to Pujols. If Pujols indeed considers playing time to be a high priority, then the Cardinals don’t make the most sense. But if any destination carries enough sentiment to outweigh everyday at-bats, it’s St. Louis.
Chicago White Sox
Like the Cardinals, this one fits more from a familiarity/relationship standpoint. Pujols played 11 seasons for and won two World Series titles with Tony La Russa, and the two appear to still be on good terms. The White Sox look set at first base (José Abreu) and DH (Yermin Mercedes), but the team is firmly in the contender category, so maybe Pujols would prefer one last shot at a World Series ring even if it means settling for a bench role.
This just feels like an A’s thing to do—who could forget legendary Oakland players of year’s past like Mike Piazza and Frank Thomas? Mitch Moreland is the team’s primary DH, and he and Pujols could split those duties. If nothing else, landing with a division rival could enable the Angels to bear witness to a Pujols retirement tour after all—just from the visiting dugout.
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