In a league filled with fun, talented players, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim may take the cake. Mike Trout is 26 years old, and he already looks like a lock for Cooperstown. Meanwhile, Shohei Ohtani is throwing the ball over 100 mph on the mound and still has the ability to hit absolute bombs at the plate. And then, there’s Albert Pujols.
Pujols is a future Hall of Famer in his own right. He will go down as one of the greatest hitters of all-time, and he deserves every penny of the $300 million he is set to make in his playing career. But the now-38-year-old Pujols is a drag on the Anaheim offense and a detriment to their chances at making the playoffs out of a competitive American League.
Trout, despite all of his greatness, has played in just three career playoff games. All of them were losses, when the Angels were swept by the Royals back in 2014 ALDS. The all-world centerfielder is signed through 2020, but with the way the front office and management has failed to surround him with a winner, why would he stick around after that?
Contracts like those given to Pujols and Josh Hamilton have been the Angels attempts to throw money at a problem and hope it serves as a solution. So far, it hasn’t worked, and they are compounding the error by continuing to give Pujols so much playing time.
Even when the contract was first signed, most people knew it was an overpay so that the Angels could get the end of Pujols’ prime, but the team is really paying for that decision now. Between 2017 and this season, the veteran first baseman has hit .245/.288/.391 with 30 home runs in 200 games. Altogether, that performance has been worth -2.1 WAR, according to FanGraphs. That means Angels are paying north of $25 million per year to lose more games. At this point, they may as well just pay the money with no additional negative impact.
There is something to be said for respecting the legends of the game, and Pujols certainly is that. The man has three MVP awards, 10 All-Star selections, a batting crown, two World Series rings and 3000 hits to go along with a number of other accolades. But this Angels team only have Trout and Ohtani performing at their peaks right now. They must take advantage of that while they can, and Pujols isn’t helping the cause on the field.
History: Albert Pujols gets his 3,000th career hit. pic.twitter.com/rBAjDbwUD0
— FOX Sports (@FOXSports) May 5, 2018
Perhaps the only reason for holding onto Pujols at this point is to sell tickets to fans interested in watching him climb the all-time offensive leaderboards. He could reasonably be expected to pass Ken Griffey Jr. in home runs some time this season, and may also beat out Lou Brock, Ichiro Suzuki or even Alex Rodriguez in hits.
That may make sense if this were St. Louis, where Pujols built his legacy as a member of the Cardinals. Angels fans would more likely prefer to see a World Series contender on the field.
It becomes even harder to deny when you look down at Triple-A Salt Lake and see 23-year-old Matt Thaiss hitting .314/.385/.714 during his first taste at the level. The left-handed hitter is one of the top first base prospects in baseball and was expected to move quickly through the minors after being drafted in 2016. He’s done just that, and may soon be ready to unseat Pujols in Anaheim.
Sentimentality is great, and it would be fine for a team in the midst of a rebuild. This Angels team has real talent, and they need to take advantage of it. Pujols has had a great career, and perhaps it can continue elsewhere. For Anaheim, they need to focus on the present. Pujols is a player of the past.