It was impossible to be a baseball fan yesterday and not hear the big news – the Los Angeles Angels have designated Albert Pujols for assignment. The future Hall Of Famer will find himself a free agent once he clears waivers.
Details began to emerge as the day went on. Pujols had found himself with less playing time with the emergence of rookie Jared Walsh and the continued dominance of Shohei Ohtani. Rumors have spread that Pujols took exception to not being played recently and had a late night meeting with team officials. He expressed the desire to play regularly or be allowed to explore a market that would let him do so.
During a recent Cardinals broadcast, Dan McLaughlin turned to color commentator Jim Edmonds and asked if he felt Albert would play past 2021. Edmonds didn’t hesitate with his response. He said that Albert wants to hit 700 home runs and would certainly play next year to assure he got there.
These details are being glossed over by a lot of pundits at this point. Pujols isn’t just a free agent looking for a nostalgic ride into the sunset. He’s a superstar on the back end of a career that he’s not ready to walk away from yet. Alternatively, he’s an iconic player that is chasing a few milestones he has yet to check off his list.
Given all this information, the list of potential landing spots is far fewer. There’s reunions that would tug on heart strings. There are teams that would benefit from the farewell tour. But are there teams that would benefit Pujols’ quest for immortality?
Here’s a look at potential suitors.
St. Louis Cardinals
Speaking of heart strings – this seemed to be the immediate thought on everyone’s mind. Pujols was now free to return home to the roost and get the farewell that he deserves. Fans remember the ovations given when he returned as a member of the Angels to Busch Stadium. Could you imagine the farewell tour St. Louis could provide him with now?
The voice of reality rings loud on this rumor, though. Albert wants playing time. The Cardinals have Paul Goldschmidt firmly entrenched at first base. Not only is he there, he rarely takes days off, preferring to play as much as possible. There’s no designated hitter in the National League. If Pujols is looking for playing time, there’s not much to be had in St. Louis.
A reunion sounds great from an emotional standpoint. But playing time limited to pinch hits, occasional games at first to give Goldschmidt a breather and a handful of games as the designated hitter when the team is playing in American League ballparks.
Should Pujols decide to play one final year in 2022 or beyond, St. Louis might be a perfect landing spot. But if he wants playing time in 2021, St. Louis is not the right choice.
Chicago White Sox
The next emotional spot for Pujols to land is on the southside of Chicago. If he cannot reconcile with his old team, why not his old manager?
Tony LaRussa took over the helm of the White Sox for 2021. The manager for the first decade of Pujols career would surely make for a great reunion, based solely on emotion.
The reality is a bit more harsh. Similar to St. Louis, Chicago just doesn’t have a lot of playing time available for Albert. Arguably the two best offensive players for the White Sox are Yermin Mercedes and Jose Abreu. The two stars occupy first base and designated hitter most games.
The respect between LaRussa and Pujols is immense. The slugger and manager have always spoken fondly of each other. But LaRussa’s short tenure in Chicago has not been a smooth one. Moving established production players around to fit in an emotional memory that fans of the team have no connection to wouldn’t help that.
Kansas City Royals
Now here’s the one emotional connection that makes some business sense. The Kansas City Royals could use a designated hitter. Albert has always hit well at Kauffman Stadium. To top it all off, Kansas City was home to young Pujols when he was playing community college baseball and flying well under anyone’s radar.
The Royals have used Jorge Soler and Ryan O’Hearn at designated hitter most games. Soler is an average outfielder and could serve the team well while playing the field. O’Hearn’s production to this point doesn’t suggest that he is a superior option to Pujols.
The Royals would certainly enjoy the added attention to an already attention worthy start to 2021. A slugger hitting some milestones throughout the summer while the team keeps playing at a high level couldn’t hurt attendance. Pujols jerseys in royal blue would certainly move quickly.
There’s an emotional and realistic landing spot for the slugger.