Thursday afternoon’s news of the Los Angeles Angels releasing future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols sent shockwaves throughout the sports world.
The first baseman was in the final year of his 10-year, $240 million contract and sits just over 30 home runs shy of 700. Such a milestone was previously reached only by Barry Bonds, Henry Aaron, and Babe Ruth. Now, he finds himself a free agent.
Albert Pujols still wants to be an everyday player. But on an Angels club with Shohei Ohtani in the lineup as the designated hitter and Jared Walsh at first base, Pujols’s playing time was diminishing. The organization released the slugger and will be obligated to pay him $30 million this year. In return, the 41-year-old slugger can find a new home with any of the other 29 MLB franchises.
Quickly, many in the MLB community began speculating that a reunion with former manager and good friend Tony LaRussa in Chicago would make sense. After all, the White Sox recently lost both Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert for the majority of the season. That match seems to be remote now after LaRussa recently praised the veteran but stated that “there’s not a fit for him here, unfortunately.” This may be the case with the majority of MLB teams still viewing themselves as contenders in the first quarter of the season.
Making matters worse is the lack of the universal designated hitter MLB instituted for 2020 during this 2021 season. This limits Pujols’s suitors greatly as many NL teams, such as his former St. Louis Cardinals, have hitters like Paul Goldschmidt at the first base position. Look no further than free agent Edwin Encarnacion, the best poster child for the lack of a universal DH. Encarnacion, who is three years younger than Pujols, remains unsigned even after hitting 30 or more home runs in each of the past eight full seasons.
Still, Pujols could be viewed as a box office draw by several smaller market teams. This may ultimately be The Machine’s best chance of getting another MLB job with abundant plate appearances. Here are three organizations that could potentially see value in Pujols in the coming week.
The Rockies have found decent production from Pujols’s former teammate, C.J. Cron. The 31-year-old is hitting .290 with an .889 OPS through his first 29 games. Cron could still have value off the Rockies’ bench and potentially offer some trade value as the deadline approaches. Pujols playing half his games at hitter-friendly Coors Field might be enough to get him the 30-plus homers needed to reach 700. The common warning track flyouts that Pujols witnessed off his bat in Anaheim’s marine layer recently could equate to home runs in Denver’s high altitude.
Kansas City Royals
Pujols’s family moved to nearby Independence, Mo., when he was 16 years old. After high school, he attended local Maple Woods Community College before being drafted by the Cardinals. In addition to his roots in the city, the Royals are managed by former Cardinals teammate and friend, Mike Matheny. The Royals have Carlos Santana playing every day at first base so his chance for playing time there could be limited. Designated hitter Jorge Soler is struggling early and could find playing time in right field. While a St. Louis Cardinals swan song would be the storybook ending for Pujols career, the interstate rival Royals may be the next best thing.
The Indians’ offense has been among the worst in the American League in the first five weeks of this season. Adding Pujols to their lineup in place of current first baseman Jake Bauers or Yu Chang would arguably be an upgrade. Pujols’s next organization will likely only pay the league minimum salary as the Angels continue to pay his previous contract. The risk is minimal for Terry Francona to welcome Pujols into his clubhouse. A locker room that recently lost leader Francisco Lindor would likely benefit from Pujols’s presence. Of these three potential landing spots, Cleveland’s pitching staff could also present Pujols with the best chance of finishing his career playing in a postseason.
Follow B.J. Martin on Twitter @_HaloLife
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