The dream is dead.
On Saturday, it was announced that Albert Pujols signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers were not among the teams proposed by... anyone, so it came as quite a shock. The speculation and hope among some Cardinals fans that Pujols would have a retirement tour did not come to pass. As is usually the case with baseball, there is no Hollywood ending to Pujols and the Cardinals. (Although he will still be at Hollywood and I wish he wouldn’t because it messes up my sentence!)
While Pujols signing with the Dodgers is unexpected, Pujols not signing with the Cardinals is not. The purported reason for Pujols getting released by the Angels was because Pujols was unhappy with playing time. There was no real route to playing time in St. Louis. There is more playing time than you’d think with the Dodgers, something I’ll touch on later, but in St. Louis, an injury to Paul Goldschmidt is just about the only way he would ever be more than a pinch-hitter.
Despite all this.... some people are mad. Frustrated. Unhappy with the Cardinals. And speaking personally, I can’t help but react to that with utter confusion. Like I get it. Best case scenario, this would be a Hollywood ending. The Cardinals bench sucks so he fits right in. I get all that. But... I mean Pujols doesn’t want to be a glorified prop here. He has some agency in this decision. Signing with the Dodgers makes infinitely more sense for Pujols for a number of reasons than signing the Cardinals, where the only reason is nostalgia really.
Because I have never gotten the impression that Pujols believes he’s done. He actually thinks he can help a team. He can help the Dodgers win another championship (in theory). In St. Louis, he would just be here so fans could cheer for him every time he pinch-hit. He would have essentially no impact on the final product. The dream scenario for Cards fans operates under the assumption that Pujols is aware that he is a below replacement player and that just coming to St. Louis for a retirement tour is the best possible thing for him. (I did admittedly think this before the Dodgers swooped out of nowhere)
Because look: there is no baseball case for Pujols to St. Louis. None. Please don’t pretend there is. Just admit it’s for nostalgia and because you want to cheer Pujols in a Cardinal uniform one last time. I’ve seen people try to make a baseball case and please just stop. There isn’t a case. The baseball skills of Pujols offer nothing to the Cardinals.
The baseball skills of Pujols do actually offer something to the Dodgers, at least in a “you can squint and see it” kind of way. The Dodgers have a team wRC+ of 87 against left-handed pitchers this year. Pujols since the start of 2019, has a 105 wRC+ against left-handed pitchers. The Cardinals, on the other hand, hit lefties fine. So far this year, they have a 126 wRC+ against lefties (prior to yesterday’s game, which I don’t think would change the numbers by much) Every regular the Cardinals have is a right-handed batter against left-handed pitchers. They even already have a better version of Pujols - John Nogowski - if they wanted a pinch-hit guy who can only play 1B.
And the people who say Pujols can’t make the bench worse...he absolutely can! He has a projected 68 wRC+. Nogowksi, who I’m not even a huge fan of, has a 93 wRC+ projection. Matt Carpenter has a 91 wRC+ projection. Justin Williams has a 64 wRC+ right now, but it does come with a .244 BABIP and also he has value purely by seeing what he is now, good or bad, for the future. Edmundo Sosa has a projected 68 wRC+ by ZiPS, but he also reportedly plays an elite SS - you got to take defense and where these players can play into account with these things.
I think I’ve made my point. There’s really no baseball reason to sign him. Just because the Dodgers are smart and signed him doesn’t make signing Pujols a smart move for the Cardinals. Look, maybe I just happen to follow some people on Twitter who are more vocal about their distaste for not making the move than most and I’m speaking to the choir here. And if that’s the case, I apologize for misreading the room. But I know at least a few people are mad specifically because the Cardinals didn’t even try (or seem to)
And you know I honestly think the reason is that they probably thought they had more time to decide and that they couldn’t honestly offer him any playing time. Like the route to signing Pujols was always probably going to have to come with a cooling off period where Pujols drew no interest from anyone else and then getting a PH and occasional DH starts looks attractive. That didn’t happen. The best team in the National League, if not record-wise yet, offered him a contract. The Cardinals, even if they were interested or showed more interest, couldn’t compete with that situation.
And I am genuinely curious about the playing time Pujols will get. Right now on Roster Resource, their projected starting lineup features left-handed Matt Beatty (projected wRC+: 93) and left-handed Luke Raley (projected wRC+: 76). Beatty is in their outfield and while he might be good defensively, his 50 career games in the OF in the majors is nearly three times as many as he had in the minors...so that would be moderately surprising. And Raley, well he speaks for himself. So weirdly, there is a fit for Pujols and a path to playing time. Pujols was mad he didn’t face a lefty he crushed (in 9 PAs I believe), and for now, he appears to have a job platooning. Also, he’s given himself the best chance to add a ring to his career.
On the other hand, a lot of Dodgers are injured right now. I haven’t exactly looked at the timetables of their injuries, but I assume most will come back. Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager, AJ Pollock - I mean two of these guys are left-handed so maybe he’s still needed and Pollock isn’t very good anymore, but it could get awkward is what I’m saying. You can make a case for it now, add two starters and a right-handed batter who can play outfield defense and suddenly, it might not make sense. And Pujols’ performance will matter too.
So will Pujols find an unlikely resurgence or will we be going through this whole thing again, later in the year, when the Dodgers come to the conclusion he doesn’t really fit on their roster anymore? I don’t know. All I know is that Pujols to the Cardinals did not make baseball sense and from Pujols’ perspective, the Dodgers were simply the better option. I feel like it’s dumb to be mad at the Cardinals for this.