The Albert Pujols Conundrum

Last Thursday, the Los Angeles Angels shocked the baseball world by designating Albert Pujols for assignment. Shocked might be a strong word, as his numbers don’t warrant everyday playing time, nor a $30M salary. As soon as the news broke, Cardinal fans started the debate: Should the team bring back their one time icon?

It’s an interesting question and one that should be looked at very carefully.

The team would get a nice PR lift by making the move. Bringing Pujols back to retire as a Cardinal would be a fitting end to his career; based off the reaction from his return in 2019, the fans would go nuts.

Albert Pujols homers during emotional St. Louis return, gets standing ovation from Cardinals fans

The cost would also be a big factor. No team claimed Pujols; no team wanted to take on $30M for a sub-.200 hitter. Since he cleared waivers, he’s available for the MLB minimum ($570,500); that is a much more palatable amount for a player at his level, especially when the Cardinals would make a small fortune marketing his return with jerseys, shirts, and other memorabilia.

The issue is the roster. While bringing in Pujols in place of Matt Carpenter would make fans happy, you would hamstring the roster. Carpenter can play a mediocre first, second, third, and corner outfield; Pujols is limited to a mediocre first base and he’s not going to push Paul Goldschmidt to another position, no matter how much the Cardinals could make off the move from merchandise. He’s also be the primary DH in AL ballparks.

The cost would technically be more then $570k; Carpenter and his $18M will not be taken by another team, so the Cardinals will be stuck paying him (even if he’s not playing for the team). While it’s technically a sunk cost if you dump Carpenter, some could argue you are essentially paying $18M to switch bad players since that money is still on the team’s payroll.

If the team were to try to have both Pujols and Carpenter on the roster, you’ll weaken the bench. Andrew Knizner will be safe since he’s the only backup to Yadier Molina. Edmundo Sosa is the only true backup shortstop on the roster (as we’ve seen, Tommy Edman can play it in a pinch). That leaves Justin Williams and Lane Thomas as the only current options to demote; you’ll have 1 backup outfielder plus Carpenter on the bench. And we all know that the team is better with Edman in second instead of the outfield.

The only reason Pujols would want to return to the Cardinals is because there would be no other options. It’s nothing about bad feelings; Pujols believes he is still a full time player. It’s why the Angels released him (for the Angels side of what happened, check out Jayson Stark’s latest podcast). Pujols would only come back if there were not other options so he could retire with the team.

2 slightly more realistic landing spot would be the Chicago White Sox or the Kansas City Royals. The White Sox have Tony LaRussa at the helm, and he’s big on legacy players; I would imagine he’s already approached GM Rick Hahn and President Kenny Williams about Pujols. The team also lost outfielders Eloy Jimenez for the season and Luis Robert for 3-4 months; they could use an established slugger in their lineup. The question for them is Pujols that slugger? They also have a weak bench, with 3 players sporting a slash line near where Pujols currently sits. The White Sox have already said they’ll pass though.

The Royals also have a managerial tie to Pujols; Mike Matheny played with Pujols from 2001-2004. He, like LaRussa, has a history of using veteran players; apparently this is a different Matheny with the Royals, as he’s taken more to analytics then during his run with the Cardinals. The Royals roster is a little more filled out then the White Sox; they have Carlos Santana at first and a combination of Ryan O’Hearn, Jorge Soler, and Jarrod Dyson to DH and mix in the outfield.

The most likely landing spot will be an AL team that doesn’t have much to play for…a team that could use a bump in attendance from having Pujols in the lineup. The Baltimore Orioles, Detroit Tigers, Seattle Mariners, and Texas Rangers could all fit this mold, although the Tigers are in a similar situation right now with Miguel Cabrera. These teams could play Pujols while doing little damage to their already limited potential.

While it would be a nice story to see Albert finish with the Cardinals, I just don’t see the team doing anything more then a 1-day contract so he can retire with the team.

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