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Closing Time on the Pujols Era with the Angels


Dave Saltzer

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Photo Credit: Alex Gallardo/Associated Press

By David Saltzer, AngelsWin.com Senior Writer

—"Closing time, every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end.” Semisonic

In life, we all will face the point where we will be replaced. It’s never easy. If we are lucky, it’s on our own terms and we can retire when we want to. At other times, life dictates the ending. Whether it’s a business closing, an illness affecting us, a life event happening to someone else, a global pandemic, it will happen. That’s an unfortunate certainty to life.

If baseball is anything, it is brutally honest about when it’s time to go. Injuries and age take their toll. Whether one is a sure-fire Hall of Famer, a regular player, or just up for a cup of coffee, players with more ability and skill will eventually force the issue. It may be hard for the player to accept it, but the game doesn’t lie about it.  

There are a lot of ways to analyze the end of the Pujols era with the Angels. As a baseball decision, it is an easy decision. His performance on the field wasn’t good enough to justify the playing time. The emergence of Walsh and Ohtani playing everyday made the team better offensively. There wasn’t going to be much playing time for Albert going forward.

Additionally, after a shortened season last year, the concern about pitching is very real. The Angels aren’t the only organization to be struck by injuries to pitchers. Teams are carrying more pitchers for a reason, and that meant that keeping Albert in a bench role didn’t make sense. The Angels needed someone with more defensive versatility and better offensive performance than he could provide. 

Baseball, though, isn’t just a game of numbers. While fans may care most about numbers, those inside the business know that the people are just as important as the numbers. If I learned one thing from all of Tim Mead’s dugout talks with AngelsWin, it’s that how people are treated is of great importance in life.  

Right now, there’s a ton of speculation online of what happened prior to the Angels designating him for assignment. We have the statements from the Angels Front Office that the meeting with Albert ended with Minasian giving him a hug. Hopefully, the meeting went well and Albert didn’t feel “disrespected” as Pedro Martinez tweeted.  

Many fans have a hard time understanding the importance of respect for players. They focus on the money the players earn and the lifestyle and conclude that that should be enough for them.

To those fans, I would say, everyone deserves respect, whether they make millions or hundreds. And, at some point or another, we will all feel disrespected. It may be how a doctor delivers bad news to us in an unfriendly manner, or a judge rushing us through a traffic ticket violation, a boss giving an unfair performance review, etc. At some point, we will all be treated with disrespect and would not want others telling us to just accept it because they envy our position

As fans, we will never know the whole story. I have every reason to believe that Albert will continue to be as classy as he can about the situation and won’t divulge all the details of the meeting. While I do expect him to talk about it at some point, I don’t expect him to reveal much more than what we already know. The Angels Front Office won’t issue more statements about it, so, as fans we have about as much information on the subject as we are likely to get, at least in the short term. We will have no way of knowing how this may affect the Angels in future negotiations with other players.

If there is more to the story (not assuming that there is more to the story), those inside the industry may learn about it. How this affects future players signing with the Angels remains to be seen. If this changes the perception of the Angels as a franchise within the industry, it could have long-term consequences as players and agents may steer players away from the Angels if they perceive the team as disrespectful. This could be a case where those fans gloating over Albert’s release should be cautioned to be careful of what they wish for.

What does this mean going forward for the Angels in 2021? Honestly, not too much. Releasing Albert won’t solve the pitching and injury problems that are hampering the team. It won’t help with many of the shifts from the analytics department that didn’t work. Until those issues are resolved, the team will struggle.

There is one way, though, that releasing Albert will help the Angels in 2021. It will alleviate a potential issue for the future. As noted above, from a baseball standpoint, the move made the most sense. At some point this season, a Minor Leaguer such as Adell or Marsh would likely emerge and force the issue by performing so well that the Angels would need to promote him to play the outfield and move Walsh back to first base.

At that point, the issue of Pujols’ playing time would become a distraction for the team. It would take a toll on players, the coaching staff, and the Front Office as Albert got less and less playing time and reporters asked about that issue more and more. In many ways, biting the inevitable bullet now prevents a future issue and team distraction from arising. 

How this affects the team in the future remains to be seen. There’s no doubt that the Pujols contract had wide ramifications on the baseball industry. Paying older players large sums for many years is not likely to happen often again. Teams now know that paying players more money in their prime years is less risky and less detrimental to the franchise than spreading the money out over more years.

So, if the Angels are at the end of an era with Pujols, I hope this means that the Front Office is going to move ahead fully with the notion of paying players more money for prime years. There’s no need to repeat the mistake of jumping onto a new idea with one foot, like they did when they signed Roberto Baldoquin and no other major international free agents.

There are signs that this may be the case under Perry Minasian with the recent contract for David Fletcher. Hopefully they will lock up their own players earlier in their careers and find ways to sign free agents for more of their prime years.  

But again, I will caution fans who want this approach to be careful of what they wish for from the Front Office. Not all those future contracts will work out, even for younger players in their prime. The Angels, like all teams, will get burned eventually on a deal with a player. Injuries and aging still happen, and at some point, the team may get hampered by a shorter-term deal with a higher salary. It is the nature of the industry. So fans wishing for this approach need to understand that there are risks to these deals just as there are risks to signing players for longer term contracts.

Personally, I would like to think of the Pujols era for what it meant to the franchise. When we signed him, it was the third largest contract in MLB history. I remember the buzz online and at the stadium for the press conference announcing the signing. The national perception of the Angels dramatically changed as a result of signing him. Suddenly, the Angels were on the map as a destination for players—not just some players, almost all players, especially the best of that year’s free agent class.

Signing Albert changed the way the Angels were seen nationally—much in a way that signing Vlad did not. The Angels went from being a scrappy team that won the World Series in 2002 to one of the larger payrolls in baseball. During every offseason for years, we were the rumored “mystery team” involved in negotiations, and that made being an Angels fan special. Our payroll has gone up quite a bit since we’ve signed Albert and doesn’t appear to be in jeopardy of shrinking.

I get that many fans are upset because the Angels never got the performance from Albert that they paid for. That is truly regrettable as he was such a joy to watch in St. Louis. The fact that Albert didn’t perform so well wasn’t due to a lack of effort on his part. Age and injuries take their toll on everyone, and baseball is brutally honest about that. He is still, a no-doubt first round Hall of Famer, and he should go into the Hall of Fame with a unanimous vote.

As for the contract that he signed—that was the result of the way baseball operated at the time. The Angels were freely negotiating with him, and was later revealed, the Marlins had a higher offer for his services.

The fact that the Angels never won a postseason game with him was not entirely his fault. That had more to do with the lack of pitching and lack of depth in the organization throughout his time with the Angels. According to Matt Birch, the Angels had a 590-591 record in games in which he appeared.

Albert was and is a class act on and off the field. He never whined to the press or complained about the team or its record. I saw him personally interact with fans in meaningful ways, often not in ways that the public could see. He gave us some great moments (my favorite being when he and Trout fired arrows back at Fernando Rodney on July 20, 2014). He hit many milestones with the Angels and ranks in the top-10 in many all-time records for Angels offensive categories. 

Now that it’s closing time on the Pujols era with the Angels the endless debates about his contract and performance will come to an end. We can and should appreciate him for what he was throughout the entirety of his career, and hope that as we move forward, that the end of his era leads to a better new beginning—one with Walsh at first base and Ohtani as the full-time DH.

I wish Albert Pujols all the best in the remainder of his career and look forward to seeing him inducted into the Hall of Fame.

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  Truthfully, the "firing arrows" incident with Rodney is the ONLY highlight I remember about Pujols' tenure here.  Hardly worth a quarter of a billion dollars.  I also think his 10-year negative WAR run with the Angels should keep him from being a unanimous inductee.  Can you name one other Hall of Famer who had a similar 10-year run?  Check out Hank Aaron's age 31-42 seasons. Even HE didn't even get elected unanimously!  For that matter, neither did Ted Williams, Willie Mays, Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Frank Robinson, Ty Cobb, Joe Dimaggio, Lou Gherig, Yogi Berra, or Johnny Bench.   Someone like Albert, who played in the golden age of steroids, shouldn't be elevated above those guys!  

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