Well, here it is folks: the end of the Albert Pujols era. His almost 10-year career with the Angels was riddled with some cheers, groans and injuries. He ultimately split the 2021 season between the Angels and Dodgers, with the latter being his main ballclub this year.
Right off the bat, it should be made clear that this review is limited to the 24 games Pujols played with the Angels in 2021. It will not provide an in-depth analysis of his numbers with the Dodgers, including his postseason run with them where he went 3 for 13 with five strikeouts and no RBIs against the Atlanta Braves. Nope, we’re not going to mention that.
Pettiness aside, Pujols had some nice moments with the Angels over his 10-year career with them and his philanthropy with The Pujols Family Foundation will be continually praised, deservedly so. However, a steep decline led to the Angels never seeing the Hall of Fame caliber player Pujols was during his time in St. Louis. In his final season with the Angels, Pujols was unable to turn it around and the team could not justify playing him every day when future All-Star Jared Walsh was primed to take the position.
In his 24 games with the Angels this season, Pujols never got hot. He recorded only two multi-hit games, both in Kansas City where he got two hits each game on April 12 and 13. On April 13 in Kansas City, Pujols reached a season-high batting average of .250. He mostly hovered around .230 for the rest of the month, but May saw his average slip below the Mendoza Line. Although still early in the season, all indications pointed towards another disappointing season for Albert.
Defensively, Pujols wasn’t a standout at first base, as he committed two errors in 20 games and looked lackadaisical at times. Meanwhile, Walsh was an upgraded glove, was hitting upwards of .350 into May and had an OBP of over .400. The Angels could no longer withhold at-bats from him and had to move on from Pujols to make Walsh an everyday first baseman. Add in the fact that when he hit DH, Pujols took at-bats from AL MVP Shohei Ohtani. Albert either had to be demoted to a bench role or released.
Slashing .198/.250/.372, Pujols, at age 41 and in the final year of his 10-year, $253 million deal, was designated for assignment on May 6. His release was made official on May 13.
Details surrounding the release are a bit fuzzy. The Angels said the release was mutual and Joe Maddon added that Pujols would not accept a role as a bench player. However, Pujols said he never expressed that and that the release was somewhat of a surprise.
Regardless, Pujols signed with the Dodgers on May 17, accepting a bench role with them. He thrived as a platoon player and became a fan-favorite, with nicknames like “Tio Albert” being used a lot and images of him hugging players circulating Twitter seemingly every night.
Although Pujols’ release worked out for both teams with the Dodgers getting a serviceable, veteran bench player and the Angels getting more at-bats for Walsh and Ohtani, there was hardly a ceasefire between the two fanbases. Animosity between Angels and Dodgers fans undoubtedly elevated with every Pujols hit and strikeout. Emotionally taxing, the saga of Albert Pujols was not allowed to fizzle out as quietly as it may have had he joined any other team.
Pujols did get an opportunity to play against the Angels from Aug. 6-8. The three-game series saw him go 2 for 9 with three RBIs, one home run and two strikeouts.
For what it’s worth, Walsh finished the season hitting .277/.340/.509 and an All-Star while Pujols finished the season hitting .236/.284/.433.
2021 STATS (Only with LAA)
24 Games / 86 AB / 9 R / 17 H / 32 TB / 0 2B / 0 3B / 5 HR / 12 RBI / 3 BB / 1 SB / .198 AVG / .250 OBP / .372 SLG / .622 OPS
BEST OFFENSIVE PERFORMANCE
Pujols collected three RBIs (a season high for him with the Angels) on April 2, the second game of the season. He went 1 for 3 with a three-run home run and a walk in the 12-8 loss to the Chicago White Sox.
WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2022
Albert looks like he has no intention of retiring, as he is currently playing in the Dominican Winter League.
Albert Pujols just hit a home run deep into the night sky pic.twitter.com/Tj64oeFLGs— Talkin’ Baseball (@TalkinBaseball_) December 4, 2021
After his successful run as a platoon player with the Dodgers, it’s likely he’ll have a suitor or two for next season. A return to the Dodgers on a one-year deal probably makes sense for them as well. With a new CBA imminent if MLB ever wants to play baseball again, we’ll know at some point before the next season starts if the DH becomes universal. If that happens, expect interest in Pujols to increase to teams in the NL that would not have looked at him otherwise. With the implementation of the universal DH, St. Louis is an interesting landing spot, where all of a sudden a reunion makes more sense.
As far as his professional relationship with the Angels goes, Pujols’ deal with the Angels included a 10-year, $10 million personal services contract after his retirement. There haven’t been any indications that it has been voided due to his release or if there are any changes to the status of said contract. The capacity of Pujols’ contractual responsibilities remains to be seen and the possibility of a messy litigation in order to void that contract exists. As of right now, however, it seems as though Albert’s time with the Angels isn’t technically over.
What’s next for Angels fans is a retrospective opportunity. As with most things in life, the Pujols years weren’t completely good nor bad. He hit a lot of historic benchmarks with the Angels and brought some excitement to the stadium during the early part of his deal. But can his time with the Angels be considered a success? Hardly. Albert Pujols’ contract will go down as one of the worst contracts in baseball history. Though the effects of that deal will continue to linger for quite some time, at least we’ll always have this:
2021 OVERALL GRADE: D