After several off-seasons of inactivity and missed connections with potential big name free agents, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and their new general manager Jerry Dipoto
recently landed the biggest free agent of this winter by signing first baseman Albert Pujols
to a ten-year, $254 million contract.
The massive deal will carry the soon-to-be 32 year-old slugger into his early forties, which many baseball pundits and sports analysts have questioned, particularly when considering the (still unfounded) rumors that Pujols may actually be older than his currently documented age. Surprisingly, USA Today writer Bob Nightengale reported
that the Miami Marlins, who have already been busy compiling top free agents this offseason, actually outbid the Angels and offered Pujols $275 million over the same ten years. The Angels deal marks the second-highest big league contract in history, trailing only Alex Rodriguez
's massive $275 million deal in 2004.
Pujols was the crown jewel of the 2011-2012 off-season, and for good reason. Since his rookie season of 2001, the former 13th round draft pick has hit .328 with a 1.037 on-base-plus-slugging (OPS) line (both tops among active major leaguers) and has averaged 40 home runs and 121 RBI in that span. He has also shown durability despite a well-documented elbow problem and has never played less than 143 games in any year, plus he has averaged 155 games per season.
His 445 career home runs put him well on his way to a place among MLB's all-time greats and, one would assume, a spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Despite a slow start and what many perceived as a "down year" in 2011, Albert still managed a .299 average with 37 home runs and 99 RBI in just 147 games. He was also excellent in the 2011 post-season, most notably slugging three home runs in game three of the World Series against the Texas Rangers.
Pujols' decision to leave the World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals was the result of many factors, including money and the retirement of manager Tony LaRussa
. The reaction from Cards fans (and some media) has been predictably negative, particularly in consideration of Pujols' long-time stance that winning games and being part of a community meant more to him than big contract dollars.
Without their top bat, the Cardinals will face an uphill battle to compete for another World Series crown in 2012. As it sits now, Lance Berkman
is expected to fill in at first base and he and outfielder Matt Holliday
will be counted on to anchor the offense. However, a recent off-season surgery and a long recovery will delay any 2012 contributions from outfielder Allen Craig
(who put up good numbers as a part-timer in 2011) and the Cardinals lineup will be without much of its firepower this year. It's possible the Cardinals may bring in someone like veteran slugger Carlos Beltran
for offensive support, but they haven't been convincingly linked to any other top free agent hitters at this point.
For the Angels, the Pujols signing is a massive boost to their offense, though the implications of bringing Albert on board may not be so positive for some other players. Clearly the club has little to no confidence in former 30 home run man Kendrys Morales
, who has struggled mightily with injury since his breakout season in 2009. Furthermore, the club's 2011 starting first baseman Mark Trumbo
may be displaced, despite a solid rookie season in which he hit .254 with 29 home runs and 87 RBI in 149 games. Trumbo has played some outfield in his young career, but the 25 year-old is a much better fit at first base. He and Pujols could split time between first base and the designated hitter spot, depending on who else the Angels return to the squad in the spring.
The Los Angeles community will also feel the effects of this deal, as the baseball fan base has been shaken throughout the last year or so by the ongoing drama of Dodgers owner Frank McCourt and his financial misdeeds. It's also quite possible that the strong Latin-American fan community of the city will embrace their new superstar, much in the same way they embraced former Dodgers outfielder Manny Ramirez
just a couple of years ago.
From a fantasy standpoint, the move to the Angels should only help the 2012 statistics of Albert and his new teammates. A potent home run hitter with solid on-base numbers will benefit the rest of the order in runs and RBI opportunities, and anyone hitting in front of Pujols will see far more hittable pitches than they would otherwise. In addition, a ten-year future with an American League club will prolong Pujols' career and allow him to better play through the nagging injuries of a given season, since he could still get time as a designated hitter when he isn't available to play in the field.
Overall, this deal signals a new chapter in the career of one of the game's very best hitters, and also a new era for the Angels franchise, owner Artie Moreno
, and manager Mike Scoscia
. If all goes to plan, the team could find themselves with some World Series titles and a lot of new fans when the ten years of this contract have finished.