Not that it needed an announcement, but there was a brief period of time last night when Albert Pujols’ wife had declared this upcoming season the last of his illustrious career. She did her best to walk it back later, as that’s how these things tend to go.
But this is the easiest 2+2 in baseball. Pujols is 41 and this is the last year of that gargantuan 10-year contract he signed with Anaheim/Los Angeles. It’s been five years since Pujols was even a decent hitter, and nine since he was a star one. It’s hard to fathom any team offering him much of anything come 2022. Maybe a minor league deal and an invite to spring training, but that’s the best he can hope for if he wishes to continue playing.
It’s hard to remember for a lot of baseball fans that Pujols was the most feared hitter in the game for a decade once. This is the product of modern sports these days, where players get more known for their contract than what they did on the field, especially if they go into the toilet well before that deal is up.. It can’t really be helped, even in a sport like baseball that supposedly doesn’t have a salary cap. Pujols’ contract kept the Angels from doing a lot over the past few years, like finding a true ace or letting Shohei Ohtani be a full-time DH or the massive amounts of shuffling they had to do when Pujols couldn’t play the field anymore (which was pretty much on arrival). But it’s not like Pujols was going to walk away from any of the remainder of this contract. It’s still paying hime $30M this year. And certainly he didn’t force the Angels to offer him that contract. The job pays what it pays.
It’s pretty foggy to remember the seasons when Pujols would hit .330 along with 40 homers and yet strikeout in less than 10 percent of his ABs. It felt like he could get on base whenever he felt like, and he probably could have if he didn’t also have to hit for power, which he did regularly.
The thing fans might remember most about Pujols’ heyday was how he never seemed fooled, never off-balance. He never stretched for a pitch, never was out front, and his stridelss swing always seemed perfectly poised and weighted between both legs. It was like he knew. Probably because he did. I know from experience — too many afternoons watching him club the Cubs mercilessly — that the ball sounded different off his bat than any other player. It was a thud. Not a crack, but a thud. The sound of a pitch actually dying upon his bat.
Pujols was also one of the smarter players around — he stole bases at the exact right time when pitchers fell asleep on him and it was just about the most annoying thing in the world. I nearly needed stitches when he predictably, regularly, did it against Carlos Marmol to lead to yet another blown save to the Great Red Enemy. He was also more than an acceptable first baseman when he finally landed there after sojourns at third and in left.
He’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer, though it’s hard to think of another player in the Hall who spent most of a decade being a detriment to his team. Willie Mays as a Met is always used as a symbol or metaphor, but he was only there two years and put up a 158 OPS+ at 40. It was a rough and long comedown, that’s for sure.
Pujols’s second act is the ghost story/boogeyman all GMs are told as children, and why almost all of them are terrified of handing out a contract to anyone over 30.
Watch your budget or The Pujols is going to cost you your job.
His first act deserves more than that, but that’s the way it goes.
As expected, Mariners president Kevin Mather had to fall on his sword yesterday after saying all of the quiet parts out loud at a rotary club meeting. There was no other way this was going to end, though the swiftness of it is a small surprise.
It’s still comedic to hear Mariners chairman John Stanton claim that Mather’s comments do not “represent our organization’s feelings about the players, staff, and fans,” when he was, y’know, the president, and was setting the policy for the organization. If he had gone completely rogue it would have been a different story. At least as far as their holding prospects down and not starting contract clocks, we know that’s what most teams want to do. We know the TV deals have kept them afloat during the pandemic.
The Mariners will hope that Mather’s resignation will be enough for everyone, and that the new guy would have the good sense to not broadcast the team’s secret files. Will there be any institutional change? You can forget that. This is how baseball is run now. You’re just not supposed to call attention to it.