This week, the Los Angeles Angels designated slugger Albert Pujols for assignment, and he will most assuredly clear waivers and become a free agent soon. The three-time MVP will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and he currently has 3,253 career hits, 667 home runs, and the third-most RBI ever with 2,112.
However, at 41 years old, Pujols does not want to retire and feels he still has something left in the tank. Pujols attended Fort Osage High School and Maple Woods Community College in the Kansas City area. He was also teammates with current Royals manager Mike Matheny from 2001 to 2004 and still lives in the St. Louis area. Could the Royals bring him in?
For a decade, Pujols put up numbers the sport had never seen before. From his rookie season in 2001 - when he finished fourth in MVP voting - through his last year in St. Louis in 2011 he hit .328/.420/.617 with 445 home runs in just 11 seasons. He put up 86 WAR over that time, nearly the same amount of WAR George Brett put up in his entire 21-season Hall of Fame career.
But the Albert Pujols in Anaheim was a shell of his former self. He hit just .256/.311/.447 in his ten seasons with the Angels, good for a 108 OPS+. In the last five seasons he hit just .240/.289/.405, numbers on par with Adalberto Mondei’s career numbers, only without the speed and defense.
So it is hard to see Pujols as much of an upgrade offensively, even as the lineup has slumped in recent games. Royals designated hitters have hit .214/.310/.480, not great, but still ninth in the American League and pretty close to league averages. Most of that is from Jorge Soler, who has now moved over to right field with the demotion of Kyle Isbel. Designated hitter has recently been filled by 27-year old Ryan O’Hearn, who is hitting .200/.294/.433, and has hit .211/.303/.415 in 706 career plate appearances.
It doesn’t seem likely that Pujols would be an upgrade over that performance, and if the Royals did seek an upgrade, they might be better off moving Soler back to DH and calling up Isbel or Edward Olivares. When Mondesi returns, they could also move Nicky Lopez back to his natural second base and move Whit Merrifield back to right field, and Soler to DH. And there may be better trade options available this summer if the Royals are still in it and seeking an offensive upgrade.
Still, Pujols won’t cost anything but playing time. The Angels are on the hook for his enormous salary, the Royals would simply play the league minimum. Does it make sense to bring in a 41-year old to a team trying to build towards contention? The Royals already have the fourth-oldest lineup in baseball, and Pujols wouldn’t really be blocking any top prospect for now.
There is also the case for “veteran presence” which gets mocked a bit around here, and does get a bit overrated when it fits into certain narratives. It is a very real thing, it is just hard to predict how a new personality will mesh with the current dynamic - it’s not a formula of “old player + current team = learn to win.”
But there is evidence Pujols has had a positive impact on some younger players. Mike Trout considers him a mentor. The Royals have had success bringing in an older veteran released from the Angels - in 2014 they signed Raúl Ibañez, and while he didn’t do much with the bat, he provided the steady mentorship the team needed to get back into contention and go on one of the most amazing post-season runs in recent baseball history.
On the other hand, big superstars may find it difficult to take a lesser role. Pujols still wants to play every day, with Angels manager Joe Maddon telling reporters, “He does not want to be a bench player of any kind,” adding “He’s got a lot of pride.’’ Would Pujols accept a bench role if asked by the Royals?
There is some talk the White Sox could be interested in Pujols with their injuries and manager Tony LaRussa’s past with the slugger. Pujols has been said to want to return to St. Louis, although there doesn’t seem to be a good spot for him there. The Reds have a need at first with Joey Votto out, and the Rays and Indians could both use another bat.
There is a bit of a tradition of the Royals bringing in All-Star sluggers at the end of their careers. Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew spent the last year of his career in Kansas City. Others to spent their twilight years in KC include Orlando Cepeda, Tommy Davis, Vada Pinson, Lee May, George Scott, Bill Buckner, and of course, Ibañez.
But the Royals may have better options to turn to internally. Pujols might be fun for nostalgia’s sake, to give fans a chance to see a Hall of Famer one more time. But it may not make the most baseball sense.
Should the Royals sign Albert Pujols?
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