As everyone that has ever been a Cardinals fan knows by now, Albert Pujols was released from the Angels. It was a shocking and ignoble end of The Machine’s time out in Anaheim. There’s no doubt that things had been trending this way for a while, but I never expected anything but Pujols playing out the rest of that contract, probably with less and less time, then a celebration of his career in September. Especially since the odds of the Angels going anywhere in that division are slim.
That was not the way it played out, though, and Thursday afternoon’s game against the Mets was overshadowed by one simple debate: should the Cardinals bring Pujols home for a final farewell? Could #Pujols2STL happen? Should it happen?
It’s ironic to me that so many people scream about the fact that “they aren’t putting their best team out there!” when a prospect or a guy who had a good spring starts in Memphis or when Matt Carpenter gets playing time but then there’s this push for an obviously compromised Pujols. I’m not saying it’s wrong, I’m just saying if you are willing to factor in tradition and emotion at one time, you have to be understanding of roster rules and plans on the other. If you want to set the bar at excellence, you can’t be on the Pujols train.
There’s a great emotional pull to having Albert Pujols put on the birds on the bat again. I’ve often said that, if the abomination that is the designated hitter comes to the National League next year as most everyone thinks it will, I’d be fine with them signing him to a contract that let him be a part-time DH and occasionally play first as he tried to chase down #700. Being able to cheer Pujols on a nightly basis, even if it was just one at bat, would be a lot of fun.
However, this isn’t 2022. This is a season that still has about 80% of the games remaining. This is a team that looks like it can contend or win the NL Central, but not in a runaway fashion. This is a league that doesn’t have the DH and has one of its biggest starts ensconced at first base.
There’s been enough complaining about Matt Carpenter playing this year and with good cause. Carpenter is hitting .113/.250/.283. He has an OPS+ of 52. While we know that there are metrics that show he’s been hitting the ball hard, the fact is that he’s not having much success and he’s been reduced to an occasional spot start and usually the first bat off the bench as a pinch-hitter.
Can the Cardinals afford to carry two such players? Pujols is slashing .198/.250/.372 with an OPS+ of 73. Having two guys like that on your bench really doesn’t give you much option for late inning maneuvering, especially if you are hesitant to use the backup catcher. That would leave maybe two spots (assuming a 13-13 roster split) and you figure that’s Edmundo Sosa, who would be needed for the infield but also isn’t a terribly scary offensive threat, and Justin Williams.
Before you get too far down the “well, we could just get rid of Carp” trail, the only reason they’d be bringing Pujols back is loyalty and sentiment. That same loyalty and sentiment is why they haven’t even hinted about getting rid of Carpenter. The Cardinals would never have just flat out released Pujols like the Angels did because they are loyal to players that have been around and have given so much to the team. Carpenter isn’t going anywhere and I can’t imagine they could handle a bench with two of them.
Of course, the biggest issue here is that the biggest reason the Angels released Albert was the fact that he still wants to play regularly. That’s not going to happen in St. Louis. I don’t know that it’ll happen anywhere. The White Sox basically said they aren’t interested because they have a DH and a 1B (and it seems Pujols wants to play in the field mainly). There’s a thought that maybe KC would be an option and maybe that’s where he winds up, though as they are contending at the moment they may have less desire to bring in what would mainly be a marketing player. A team like Detroit, which is going nowhere, would make some sense except they already have Miguel Cabrera.
(BTW, that article from The Athletic mentions that the current GM of the Angels is the third one since Pujols signed with them 10 years ago. That’s a little different from St. Louis, which technically has had two in that span but the first one is still around and mainly the focal point of the front office.)
There was a quote floating around yesterday from the spring of 2017. “You don’t retire, the game retires you.” Pujols said that four years ago. The game might not be retiring him now, but it will be if he doesn’t recognize his limitations. If he wants to play however much he can, he might find a team willing to take him on. If he wants to play every day, then retirement might be here.
Rosters do expand in September. If they still got out to 40 I’d say this was a no-brainer, but maybe even with the 28 man you use one of those spots on Pujols. Sign him to a month-long contract. Let him take one final lap in the Cardinal red. Pujols deserves to go out in a better fashion than a cold DFA on a Thursday morning and while the Cardinals can’t really take him on for the entire season, they could help make his final memories as an active player full of the love and appreciation he deserves.