Albert Pujols Signs 10-Year Deal With Angels
“A person familiar with the deal” has claimed that Albert Pujols has agreed to sign with the Los Angeles Angels for $250-260 million over the next ten years, second only to Alex Rodriguez as the most lucrative deal in baseball.
After the 2010 season, the Cardinals exercised a $16 million dollar one-year extension on Albert Pujols’ contract. Pujols rejected a multiyear extension and cut off negotiations with the Cardinals on the first day of spring training last season. During the 2011 season he led the Cardinals to a World Series championship, and became just the third player in baseball history to hit three home runs in a World Series game.
Pujols was arguably the off-season’s highest profile free agent, and other teams were highly interested. The Marlins just recently dropped out of the race, and the Cardinals did their best to win back their superstar with a 10-year, $220 million offer. A third unidentified team, who some have speculated was divisional rival Chicago Cubs, may also have made an offer.
Pujols, who is 32 years old, will be under contract until he is 42. This is undoubtedly the downside to signing an aging superstar just past his prime. Pujols has seen his major offensive numbers decline over the past three seasons, since winning the MVP in 2009. His batting average has decreased from .327 to .312 to .299, and, more alarmingly, his OBP has dropped from a league leading .443 in ’09 to just .366 last year. His slugging percentage and OPS have taken a similar fall, reaching career lows of .541 and .906 last season. While injuries could be partially to blame, it’s likely that will only be more of an issue in the future as Pujols gets older. These trends call into question the logic of such a long term deal, although of course it is highly unlikely that Pujols would have settled for anything less.
The Angels are looking to regain domination of the AL West, and see Pujols as an ideal way to bolster their decidedly middle of the pack offense and compete with their divisional rivals the Texas Rangers, who led the AL in batting (.283) and were second in home runs (210) last season. Pujols is also an elite fielding first baseman and will likely be one of the best in the American League at his position. So the Angels are hoping that the deal pays off enough in the immediate future to make up for the fact that they will be paying Pujols 20+ million when he is in his forties and well past his prime. If they don’t make it deep into October in the next few seasons, the deal is effectively a failure. They also really need to consider getting another bat to protect Pujols in the lineup, especially if Mark Trumbo succumbs to the sophomore slump. Torii Hunter and Vernon Wells are not going to cut it. Pujols will likely see his intentional walk total skyrocket from last year’s 15, his lowest total in this category since 2004, and generally will see a lack of good pitches to hit.
While the move is risky for the Angels, it is mostly positive for Pujols. By moving to the American League he has allowed himself the option of taking days off from the rigors of first base as a designated hitter, and even transitioning to that role full-time as he reaches the end of his career. While he will not be as well-protected in the lineup in Los Angeles as he was in St. Louis, at least in the near future, he will be playing in a slightly more offense-friendly ballpark. According to The Bill James Handbook, Angel Stadium of Anaheim had a park index of 99 (with 100 being average) for home runs from 2008-2010, while Busch Stadium had an index of only 82. So theoretically, that should make it easier for Pujols to hit home runs in his new home (although the previously discussed lack of lineup protection could be a factor).
Expectations for Pujols will be astronomically high. He will be expected to produce immediately given how much money the Angels have thrown at him for such a long term. If the Angels make it far into the playoffs in the next couple of seasons the Angels will look smart for having snagged Pujols, even if the deal blows up in their face when they are paying a decrepit 41 year-old an astronomical amount of money to play DH. If Pujols doesn’t produce as expected and the Angels miss the postseason over the next several seasons, the deal will only look increasingly foolish with each passing year.
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