Now that’s not something you see every day.
The last-place Los Angeles Angels announced Thursday that they’ve designated Albert Pujols for assignment. The 41-year-old future Hall of Famer is in the final season of a 10-year, $240 million contract.
This news ties a bow around a decade of disappointment for Pujols with the Halos. He arrived as a three-time MVP and two-time champion from his days as a superstar with the St. Louis Cardinals, but he began to decline immediately upon donning an Angels jersey. His best year in Anaheim was still a notch below his worst year in St. Louis, and he hasn’t been a productive hitter since 2016 despite keeping the strikeouts down and continuing to flex 20-homer power, with injuries becoming an increasing issue.
Pujols, 2017-21: .240/.289/.405, 84 wRC+, 76 HR, 13.7% Ks, .318 xwOBA
During that time he’s cost his team between 2-3 negative-WAR overall, and each summer has been consistently poor. The beginning of 2021 was no better, with five homers but a .198 average. In baseball terms, he was long past warranting regular playing time, even on the last-place Angels.
But still. A player of this historic magnitude who is this close to the end of their contract usually gets to finish it out, even if that means being traded elsewhere. They’re not often just let go.
Pujols had an OPS of .900 plus all 11 years with the Cardinals and only once did he even reach .800 with the Angels. Still it’s highly unusual to release a future Hall of Famer with less than a year to go on his contract.— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) May 6, 2021
On the other hand, nobody has ever accused the last-place Angels of being a smart or classy or good organization.
So what’s next for Pujols? He wants to keep playing, and some teams might be interested as a minimum-salary pickup in a smaller role. MLB insider Jim Bowden suggests three possibilities — the A’s, the White Sox amid a barrage of injuries, or the Cardinals so he could retire there.
“The A’s love being the final weird-as-heck stop for future Hall of Famers,” said Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle in response to Bowden’s tweet.
It would simultaneously be shocking and the least surprising thing ever to see Pujols wind up in Oakland. There’s certainly precedent, as Slusser notes, though the roster fit isn’t entirely clear for various reasons. He does have a strong .359 xwOBA so far this year, and you could at least envision a situation where he platoons with lefty Mitch Moreland at DH.
Here’s another fun idea, with Pujols sitting at 667 career homers.
The Rockies have nothing going on this year. They should just sign Albert Pujols and give him every day playing time and see how close he can get to 700 HR's playing at Coors Field.— Blake Harris (@BlakeHarrisTBLA) May 6, 2021
Whatever happens, let’s focus on the good memories from an all-time legend. He beat the Astros before it was cool.