The Los Angeles Angels made a surprise decision on Thursday, designating Hall of Fame first baseman Albert Pujols for assignment. The baseball legend was in the final year of his 10-year contract, and had seen his quality of play significantly decline over the past few years.
At the plate, Pujols was slashing a poor .198/.250/.372 through the first month of the 2021 season. His fielding was also less than ideal, as he had already committed two errors from the first base position and saw a career low number in fielding percentage.
Reportedly, Pujols asked for his release, sensing that he was going to be getting less playing time in the coming months, according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today:
Albert Pujols wanted to be released if his playing time was going to be greatly reduced by the #Angels. He will get his wish. The #Angels notified Pujols that he will be officially released today, as @Feinsand reported.
— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) May 6, 2021
Pujols also doesn’t see this as the end of the road, as he wants to continue playing and contributing, even if the opportunities will be sparse, according to Jon Heyman of MLB Network:
Pujols got the message his playing time was going to decrease with the Angels. And word is, he wants to play. Hard to see him getting significant time elsewhere, but ya never know. He’s one of the best hitters ever but hasn’t had an OPS plus of close to 100 (average) since 2016
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) May 6, 2021
If it’s true that Pujols asked for his release, then the picture becomes much more clear as to why this decision was made now. The Angels defense has been one of the worst in the MLB all season, but it reached a boiling point with a four-error performance against the Tampa Bay Rays.
After that game, Joe Maddon hinted that Jared Walsh — who had been playing right field — could be moving back to his natural first base position. With Shohei Ohtani locked in as the Angels designated hitter, there simply was no room for Pujols to be an every day player anymore.
Hopefully, Pujols will find opportunity elsewhere, as there could be plenty of teams struggling offensively that could use a designated hitter. For the Angels, it means a return to first base for Walsh and a platoon at right field between recently called up Juan Lagares and Taylor Ward.
Justin Upton considered day to day
As the Angels make moves that they hope will restore order on defense, they desperately need their team to be healthy. This means that Justin Upton — who is currently considered day to day — needs to come back as soon as possible. Anthony Rendon has already been placed on the injured list due to the same injury, a knee contusion.