At 41 years of age, it does not take someone with a doctorate to figure out that Albert Pujols’ time in Major League Baseball is coming to an end. As true as that harsh reality may be, it is impossible to comprehend the thought that the legendary first basemen/designated hitter might not get to leave on his own terms.
On Thursday, Pujols’ release from the Los Angeles Angels became official, making him a free agent.
Many have called foul on the Angels organization for not letting the future first ballot Hall of Famer finish out the season, but, to play devil’s advocate, it is not that simple.
Shohei Ohtani is captivating baseball fans around the world with his stellar performances both on the mound as a starting pitcher and at the plate as the team’s designated hitter. At first base, where Pujols has played 1,948 games during his career, the Angels have Jared Walsh. The 27-year old has hit seven home runs to go along with 28 runs batted in through 35 games this season, all while hitting a stellar .328.
Pujols may have five longballs to his credit in 2021, but his .198 average and lethargicness on the field and basepaths (he may be the slowest player in the game today) makes it hard to justify playing him with any form of regularity over Ohtani at DH or Walsh at first base. Even the Angels 16-20 record is not enough to recommend throwing Pujols in as a “thank you” for what he has done for the game. The Angels are not out of contention, nobody is at this point, so prioritizing Pujols over younger talent is preposterous.
So maybe Pujols was not the right fit in Anaheim anymore. Maybe it was time for the team to cut him loose. That can all be true, as hard as it is to come to grips with. His shortcomings with the Angels are no excuse for another team to avoid signing him, though.
Los Angeles is still on the hook for paying Pujols for the rest of his contract, meaning that any potential suitors could just slap him onto their respective roster for the league minimum. With that low price, the chance at more records being broken and an influx of jersey and ticket sales (as parks begin expanding their capacities), Pujols could inject some life and starpower into a team going through a rebuilding phase or any bottom dweller in the league.
It is safe to say that Pujols is unlikely to jump to the National League. Even a return to his longtime home in St. Louis feels like a longshot with Paul Goldschmidt on the roster at first base and the absence of the DH in the NL. Maybe Pujols would be content with coming off of the bench and being a fun attraction for his adoring fans in St. Louis, although the move just feels far from realistic. Plus, imagine the weight on Mike Shildt’s shoulders when there is a need for a pinch hitter and Pujols is sitting on the bench. Regardless of who is needed in that situation, he would be subject to a wave of scrutiny if Cardinals fans expected to see Pujols and then got nothing.
In the American League, Pujols could slot in nicely at the designated hitter position and end his career on his own terms while not being tasked with shagging throws at first base.
Perhaps he could end up as a veteran presence on younger teams like the Tigers, Mariners or the newest Florida team; the Blue Jays. Another hometown fit could be the Royals, which could draw St. Louis fans to the ballpark due to the close proximity of the locations.
It could be entertaining to see him with the Jays and mentoring Vlad Guerrero, Jr. at first base while also taking a few hacks at DH or first base depending on the team’s need. George Springer may occupy the DH spot once he returns, but Toronto has nothing to lose and could benefit tremendously by adding Pujols to its lineup. Between rest days or the occasional slump, Pujols could be a great fit in blue and white.