Following his release from the Angels, Albert Pujols has become a free agent. While not the player he once was, there should still be some interest in Pujols free agency in the coming weeks.
Pujols has an 84 wRC+ since 2017. He’s barely even an option to play at first base. There are a lot of reasons to assume this Cooperstown-bound career is over. Many a baseball romantic will hope otherwise, however. This would be a sad way for a career of this greatness to end, a career which puts Pujols 32nd all-time in bWAR.
Albert Pujols free agency
As a player, there’s no question that Pujols is better than negative value. Since falling below league average as a hitter for the first time in his career in 2017, he has posted -3.3 fWAR. Even teams like the Tigers and Orioles, who rank last in production from DH, would arguably not benefit from signing Pujols to a league minimum deal.
The case for a Pujols signing is sentimental. It is an argument for his leadership, and it is an organization reaching out to a former MVP for a final hurrah. Major League Baseball is seldom a place for such sentimentality, but that could change here, and maybe it should.
A deal with a rebuilder makes most sense. While there’s a desire to link Pujols with a reunion with Tony LaRussa, Yermin Mercedes hitting at this rate makes that extremely unlikely. The Tigers or Orioles, perhaps, could benefit from Pujols’ presence, even if he’s no more than occasional bench bat.
Long-term impact of Pujols’ decline
The trouble as we look at Albert Pujols free agency, though, is not just about picking him up as a leader. Those rebuilding teams want to be trying out youngsters. Any at-bats he has would be taking away from players who could help them long-term.
If it’s assumed it must be an American League team, only a handful of moderately feasible candidates exist. Pujols, ultimately, is not a positive addition for teams any more. Unlike other discarded veterans, there’s almost no reason to believe he can bounce back. The Angels gave him a long time to do just that.
This is the sad state of these mammoth contracts. Many of the highest paid MLB players in 2021 look like good value right now, but how much longer will that last? Mega, decade-long contracts so often end in years holding the team back. Pujols is one of the more glaring examples of such a demise, but he won’t be the last.
Fewer contracts of this ilk are being handed out. There were signs of decline when the Angels landed Pujols, but this unhappy ending has served as a warning to front offices around the league. How this contract played out, and how a Hall of Fame career ended, could have a lasting impact on MLB free agents for years to come.
Hopefully we get to see Pujols on a Major League field once or twice more. A proper farewell would be nice, but he’s unfortunately reached a stage where even the league’s basement dwellers are not going to be motivated to sign him.