I’ll preface this by saying that this is to take nothing away from a legendary career, but Albert Pujols needs to retire. He’s arguably the greatest first baseman to ever play the sport, however, he is no longer fit for Major League Baseball, and no team should sign him. Yesterday, the future Hall-of-Famer was released by the Los Angeles Angels in the final year of his 10-year, $240MM contract. Pujols signed that deal following a World Series victory in 2011.
It was already speculated that Pujols would retire at the end of this year, his age-41 season. The Angels notified Pujols that he’d be losing playing time, as they had settled into a lineup with Shohei Ohtani at DH and Jared Walsh at first base. It is rumored that Pujols had requested to be released and the team granted his request. Now, for the first time in 10 years, Albert Pujols is not on a major league roster.
Albert Pujols Needs to Retire, as He Is No Longer Productive at the Plate
The first reason that Albert Pujols needs to retire is obvious; the 41-year-old is no longer a productive Major League Baseball player. Pujols has had negative wins above replacement in each of the past five seasons and was once again off to a terrible start in 2021. Through his age-36 season in 2016, Pujols had posted a positive WAR and a wRC+ above 100, but he hasn’t been able to achieve either of those feats since then.
As a Cardinal, Pujols played 11 years, 1,705 games, and accumulated an 81.3/99.4 WAR (as per FanGraphs/Baseball-Reference), 445 HRs, 1,329 RBIs, 1,291 runs, and had a .328/.420/.617 slash line with a .430 wOBA, and 167 wRC+. He also won three MVP awards, the Rookie of the Year, six Silver Sluggers, two Gold Gloves, a batting title, and two World Series championships.
In 2021, Pujols was slashing .198/.250/.372 with a .269 wOBA, 74 wRC+, and a -0.8 BsR (and he’s rarely on base), and -0.3 WAR (-2.0 on a 162-game pace). His walk rate was at the lowest of his entire career (3.3%) and was projected as a 68 wRC+ for the rest of the season by ZiPS, and 62 by THE BAT X. There have been rumors of Pujols to the Cardinals and White Sox, but those are more about sentimental reunions than the actual on-field baseball.
Pujols isn’t Playable in the Field
Pujols was once an elite defender at his position and was even able to have a positive DEF as a first baseman in 2007, which is more difficult than it may seem. That year, he had 31 DRS and 24.5 UZR. He was a positive defender until 2016 when he began to regress quite a bit and he began to see a lot of time as a DH. In 2021, Pujols already had -2 DRS, -0.6 UZR, and a -1 OAA, despite being a solid defender in 2020, relative to the average first baseman.
In his first few seasons, Pujols was extremely versatile defensively, as he logged innings at each infield position, as well as both corner outfield spots while maintaining all-time great offensive production. Pujols could be a designated hitter for an AL team or a pinch hitter for an NL team, but each of the rumored teams make little to no sense. Pujols could bring some value to a bad team as a mentor to their young players and reach the milestones that he’s close to, but he’d have to be a designated hitter with some bottom feeder in order to find plate appearances.
He Wants to be an Everyday Player
Pujols wasn’t released because the Angels didn’t want him around anymore, but rather because the Angels didn’t want to start him every day anymore. On a contender, there is no team with an open everyday job as a first baseman or DH. The Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians, and Milwaukee Brewers have all gotten little to no production from their first basemen, but in the case of Boston and Milwaukee, each team has younger players who they plan on using in those positions, even if they’re not producing as expected.
Keston Hiura lost his job as the everyday first baseman in Milwaukee, but once his bat gets going at the alternate site he should get his job back. The Red Sox have Bobby Dalbec, who they believe in, despite his slow start in 2021. There may be some bad teams interested, but first basemen and DHs are some of the deepest positions on almost every team, especially since teams tend to plug and play guys there. There isn’t a reasonable situation where Pujols could get everyday playing time, so his days playing Major League Baseball are probably over.
Albert Pujols had one of the most legendary careers in baseball history, and if it’s over, he’ll go into the Hall of Fame the first year he’s eligible. His exit from Los Angeles was ugly, as there was no press conference, on-field send-off, or tribute. For the sake of Pujols, his legacy, and baseball fans, I really hope he gets the chance to sign a one-day contract with the Cardinals as a send-off, but there is not a team in baseball who could use him as an everyday player anymore.
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