Alarm bells rang out briefly across Angels’ social media Monday after Deirdre Pujols — the wife of Angels veteran slugger Albert Pujols — posted on Instagram that her 41-year-old husband was experiencing the “first day of the last season” of his gloried career.
Shortly afterward, Mrs Pujols amended her Insta-post by saying “This is not an official statement of Pujols’ retirement. I’m just trying to send my husband with blessings into (the) 2021 season.”
The all-caps amendment sufficed to serve notice that Pujols — who is in the last season of his 10-year, $240 million contract with the Angels, had made no such official statement, neither personally nor through the club.
In essence, the whole situation was a one-day tempest in a No. 5 tea cup: Veteran scribe Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times was quick to note that a person “close to Pujols” had said the Cooperstown-bound legend “has not determined yet if it’s going to be his last year.”
True or not — and it’s hard to imagine a source closer to Pujols’ thinking than his own wife — we still do not know if Pujols will play beyond 2021 in an Angels uniform or another.
This much is clear: Whenever Pujols decides to hang up his spikes — whether that be after a farewell tour with the Angels, or, as some has suggested, a one-day contract in the uniform of the St. Louis Cardinals, where the slugger had his halcyon days — the time is coming soon.
And … five years to the date of that eventual retirement, Pujols will unquestionably be a first-ballot selection into the Baseball Hall of Fame by the BBWAA — despite the fact that he has been a different player in an Angels uniform than when he burst like a comet into superstardom with the Cards.
In 11 years in St. Louis, Pujols earned the moniker “The Machine” by grinding out stats like a .328 average and a 1.037 OPS with the Redbirds.
As an Angel, despite some very noteworthy highlights, Pujols has only logged .257 with a .761 OPS.
He has played hurt, but many pundits have also suggested that the sheer weight of Pujols’ massive contract in Anaheim has perhaps hindered the Angels’ quest for post-season glory in the era of Mike Trout — a superstar who has matched or surpassed Pujols’ legendary feats in St. Louis.
Fittingly, the man who has always worn No. 5 stands fifth on baseball’s all-time home run list, behind only Barry Bonds, Henry Aaron, Babe Ruth and Alex Rodriguez. Pujols is third in MLB history with 2,100 RBI.
Pujols was among the position players reporting to the Angels’ spring training complex in Tempe, Arizona — perhaps fueling fire to the legitimacy that Deirde Pujols’ Instagram post may be a legitimate window into the baseball icon’s thoughts.
He enters the 2021 campaign looking at perhaps diminished playing time. Pujols has been a mainstay at either designated hitter or, injuries permitting, at first base for the Halos.
But Jared Walsh looks to be the favorite as the starting first baseman in 2021 after slashing .337/.368/.774 and nine HRs in an incendiary September during the truncated 2020 season.
Pujols may also find DH opportunities limited by the presence of two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani, the 2018 American League Rookie of the Year.
Age hasn’t been kind to Pujols, and despite his beloved status in Anaheim, St. Louis, and his native Dominican Republic, Pujols will know the right time to make his official retirement announcement.
A farewell tour as an Angel would be attractive to the Machine, giving the legend a chance to bow out with the plaudits and gifts a player of his status deserves.
Like other players as well, Pujols could opt to end his contract in Anaheim with a farewell tour, then sign a brief contract in order to finally retire in 2022 in the uniform of the St. Louis Cardinals.
As befits a man of his stature, Pujols has his choices. In his Angels’ contract, he has a 10-year, $10 million personal services contract with the Angels, a role he can begin any time, and could fittingly fill in retirement as an ambassador or coach.
The decision will be Albert’s — and one suspects we’ll know soon enough on an official basis what that decision is.
— Stu Matthews is managing editor and lead columnist for Angels Nation.