photo: Albert Pujols (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Albert Pujols was in the news this past week. On Friday evening, the 40-year old hit his 661st career home run, passing the great Willie Mays and moving him into sole possession of fifth place on the all-time MLB leaderboard. Only Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth and Alex Rodriguez (next ahead with 696) have more.
Of those home runs, the future Hall of Famer swatted 445 in his 11 seasons starring for the St. Louis Cardinals. The 217 remaining have come since he joined the Los Angeles Angels starting in 2012, and in my estimation, that long ball total is higher than it would have been had he remained a Cardinal.
Pujols’ Angels contract drew wide attention at the time due to its high monetary value and long duration, especially for a player already in his 30’s. The 10-year deal delivers him $240 million plus incentives and runs through 2021. From there, a since-abolished-for-others 10-year personal services contract of $1 million per year will kick in.
Many Cardinals fans were angry at the time, but given Pujols’ drop in production as he aged, few if any would do it differently today. The common understanding is that his $24 million annual salary would have continually hamstrung the Cardinals attempts to improve the team in other areas.
On Twitter, a poster wondered how Pujols’ career path would have changed had he remained with St. Louis.
My answer is that it seems likely his career totals would have been lower. Here is why.
Despite them being managed carefully, Pujols’ chronic foot problems have continued to limit his ability to play in the field. Fortunately, the Angels being an American League team enabled Pujols to remain in the lineup at a less physically-demanding position – designated hitter – something he has done often over the years.
Prior to 2020, Albert appeared in that role in a whopping 546 games for the Halos. Had he remained a Cardinal, those opportunities would not have been available to him.
Could he have played in the field in part of those designated hitter games? Perhaps, but at what cost physically and how many of his future games could have been lost as a result?
I feel quite confident in suggesting that Pujols’ career results are greater because he has played in the American League the last nine years.
So, not only for the Cardinals payroll and their overall competitiveness, but also for Albert’s legacy, his move to the Angels has likely worked out for the best.
Exclusive for members of The Cardinal Nation
Join The Cardinal Nation for the most comprehensive coverage of the St. Louis Cardinals from the majors through the entire minor league system.
© 2020 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.