As spring training begins the biggest question in major league baseball is a simple one.
Were the Angels wise to give Albert Pujols a 10-year, $240 million contract?
It’s a fact that Pujols was baseball’s most coveted free agent in this bidding season and it can be argued that he’s been the best player in baseball over the last 10 years. He’s been National League MVP three times and a vital member of two World Series winners.
But he’s 33, and how productive will he be in the latter years of this contract? Will he still rank as one of baseball’s biggest stars? Or will his skills decline as he approaches and then passes 40?
The St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series with him last season yet resisted the urge to match the Angels’ offer. The Angels guaranteed Pujols $30 million more than the Cardinals, and none of Pujolls’ money is deferred.
The difference in the offers suggests the Cardinals don’t believe the Angels’ investment will be worth it. But Tony LaRussa, their great manager who retired after the World Series, disagrees.
“He doesn’t have a flaw,” said LaRussa. “If you find one tell me about it and I’ll set you straight.”
When I studied Pujols closely last season I saw very little decline in his bat speed but I was even more impressed with his defensive ability at first base.
He’s a master there and if it’s possible for such a decorated player to be underrated it centers on his defense.
But, primarily, his offense has earned him the Angels’ huge contact.
Pujols has a .328 career batting average and 445 home runs He broke a bone in his wrist last June and with 99 RBI had what some considered an off-season. He says the wrist is fine now.
I wrote a column last season saying Angels owner Arte Moreno was fuming because the Texas Rangers, a team in the Angels’ division, made the World Series two straight years.
Moreno aims high and had to compete financially against the free-spending Yankees and Red Sox. But it wasn’t either of those organizations which reigned as American League champions, just the Rangers.
Soon the Angels fired their general manager and his assistant. That was an example that he was fuming. And outbidding others for Pujols was another example.
Whether it works out or not I admire the man for his determination.
On the day the Angels signed Pujols they also signed pitcher C.J. Wilson, the former Loyola Marymount University star who became a free agent after helping Texas get into the World Series last season.
Wilson was a relief pitcher for the Rangers who developed into a starter. He joins the already-outstanding Angels rotation which includes Jered Weaver. Dan Haren and Ervin Santana.
In signing Pujols and Wilson the Angels added $317 million to their payroll.
At his opening press conference Monday at the Angels’ training facility in Arizona Pujols said “the Angels are a great organization. I’ve only been here one day but I already know that.”
The Angels already had two quality first basemen, Mark Trumbo and Kendry Morales, the latter coming back from an injury. One of them will probably become the Angels’ Designated Hitter unless it’s outfielder Bobby Abreu. But Abreu has asked to be traded unless he’s in the lineup most days.
Can the Angels finish ahead of the Rangers? We’ll see, but the chase should be very interesting.