Albert Pujols, a St. Louis Cardinal since 2001, is heading west to Anaheim via the Gateway Arch. Pujols has signed a 10-year contract with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim worth between $250 and $260 million.
My first reaction is did the Angels just pay in excess of a quarter of a billion dollars for a DH? Pujols has played the bulk of his career at first base. But the Angels have a talented young first baseman in Mark Trumbo who finished runner up in the AL Rookie of the Year voting. (Interestingly, both Pujols and Trumbo share the same birthday – January 16th.) Of course, they could move Trumbo to left field and DH Vernon Wells. But even if Pujols plays first base for the Angels this season, I think he will become a full time DH in the not too distant future. In which case, the Angels overpaid him and for far too long.
Don’t get me wrong. Pujols comes to Anaheim with Hall of Fame credentials. He enters the 2012 season with a lifetime batting average of .328 with 445 homeruns and 1329 RBIs. Pujols not only has a good chance to pass Barry Bonds on the all-time homerun list (if A-Rod doesn’t get there first) but pass Hank Aaron for the all-time RBI lead with 2297. He’ll also likely reach the 3,000 hit mark to boot.
But if Pujols is relegated to the DH spot and Angels become a second division team then they could be put in a position where they have a tight budget which keeps them from maintaining a viable minor league system and acquiring established big league role players because of their obligation to Pujols not to mention his no trade clause. Then, of course, Pujols could also follow Ken Griffey, Jr’s path and get hit by the injury bug. Of course, that’s a risk in free agent signing or major trade but in Pujols’ case it is a big one.
It appeared that Pujols would sign with the Miami Marlins. However, the Marlins withdrew their offer yesterday after they and Pujols apparently could not come to an agreement over a no trade clause. It would have been great to see Pujols and Mike Stanton hit three-four in that lineup. But the Marlins have reeled in several free agents including closer Heath Bell (2-years, $27 million), Jose Reyes (6-years, $106 million) and starting pitcher Mark Buehrle (4-years, $58 million) who is reunited with Ozzie Guillen after the briefest of separations. The Marlins will be a force in the NL East in 2012.
As for Pujols, his signing intensifies the rivalry between the Angels and the Texas Rangers in the AL West. Between 2002 and 2009, the Angels were the class of the division reaching the post-season six times including a World Series title in ’02. But for the past two seasons the Rangers have won not only won the AL West but have won two AL pennants only to fall short in the World Series. Rangers fans have painful memories of Pujols’ three homeruns in Game 3.
And if that wasn’t enough, the Angels also landed ex-Rangers ace lefty C.J. Wilson for $77.5 million over five years. Wilson joins a starting rotation that already includes Jered Weaver, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana.
So where does this leave the defending World Series champion Cardinals? First, La Russa retires and is succeeded by Mike Matheny. Now Pujols leaves. Who will be given the unenviable task of filling Pujols big shoes in St. Louis? Can the Cardinals expect lightning in a bottle from Lance Berkman again? Can Matt Holliday recoup his falling offensive production? Is David Freese a flash in the pan? On the other hand, Allen Craig has some big pop in his bat and has a bright future ahead of him. Adam Wainwright will rejoin Chris Carpenter at the top of the rotation. Jason Motte could be a dominant closer for years to come. Nevertheless, the Redbirds have entered the post-Pujols, post-La Russa era.
As for Pujols, I think the Angels benefit from him for the short term but I’m not so sure about the long term. But for the moment, the halo shines bright.
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