The White Sox will not be adding Albert Pujols to their lineup, Chicago manager Tony La Russa said on Friday.
Might the future Hall of Famer, released on Thursday by the Angels, then be a fit for Cleveland? That got Paul Hoynes and Joe Noga talking on their podcast.
Or how about a return to St. Louis for Pujols to finish his career where it began?
Anyone can sign Pujols for the league minimum, as the Angels are on the hook for the rest of the $30 million he’s owed this season. But… should anyone?
The sad fact is that since the start of the 2017 season, Pujols has hit .240/.289/.405, with as many doubles — 67 — as ground ball double plays. Over the same stretch, Pujols has been “good for” negative-12 defensive runs saved as a first baseman. He’s two full wins below replacement level over the 460 games he’s played.
If Pujols hadn’t been on a huge contract, if instead he’d been a free agent year-to-year, he probably would have found somewhere around 2019 that the best he could do was a minor-league contract with an invitation to spring training and a chance to make a team. That doesn’t take away what he did from age 21 through 36, when he was regularly good for at least 30 homers a year, won three MVPs, a pair of Gold Gloves, and had 11 seasons of 5 WAR or better, including seven years of 8-plus WAR.
But that’s not who he is anymore, and hasn’t been for a while. Among the 268 major leaguers with at least 1,000 plate appearances since the start of 2017, Pujols’ OPS+ is tied for 233rd with such luminaries as Nick Ahmed, Leury Garcia, Joe Panik, Daniel Descalso, Ian Kinsler, and Gerardo Parra — and it should be noted that those last three didn’t play past 2019.
Pujols has a lower on-base percentage since his decline hit full force than Billy Hamilton, a lower slugging percentage than Eduardo Nuñez, and fewer walks, in a few hundred more plate appearances, than Chris Davis.
Find someone over the past three years who was really good once, but clearly washed — Curtis Granderson, Jose Bautista, Ben Zobrist, Alex Gordon — and Pujols has very clearly been worse.
Yes, it stinks for it to end this way, and it’s too bad that Pujols’ split with the Angels was messy. But it’s not “shameful,” as Pedro Martinez claimed, for the Angels to have cut ties with one of the worst players in the majors. They’re still paying him his $30 million this season. It’s just that they’re better off paying Pujols $30 million not to play for them than paying Pujols $30 million to play for them. There’s not a single team in the majors that would get better by adding this version of Pujols, even at the league minimum.
It’s sad, but it’s true, and it’s a reminder that as much as we might want to see the great ones go out on their own terms, the drive and pride that made them great in the first place is the same thing that leads a lot of legends to keep trying to find their old form, well after it’s as far gone as the ball that Pujols hit off Brad Lidge all those years ago.