First Pitch: Inside look at Albert Pujols’ free agency chase

Los Angeles Angels, Los Angeles Dodgers, St. Louis Cardinals

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Albert Pujols left the Angels only to sign with the crosstown Dodgers. What was his thought process, and just how close did the future Hall of Famer come to a St. Louis reunion?

The story arc of Pujols leaving the Angels is a controversial one, and something very few pundits saw coming given his enormous contract. Eventually, however, the two sides had little value for one another — Pujols could no longer provide any worth at the plate, and the Angels remain far removed competitively from World Series contention.

Pujols reportedly felt some friction with the Angels front office and manager Joe Maddon, as he wanted to remain an everyday player, but to no avail. At 41 years of age, Pujols is no longer consistent enough from the dish or in the field to make that claim. Pujols’ walk rate has dramatically decreased in the last few seasons, while his strikeout rate has skyrocketed. His numbers — both advanced and basic — are down across the board. His FanGraphs page is a damn tragedy.

Eventually, even Pujols came to the realization that he was being, well, unrealistic. In his press conference after signing with the Dodgers, he’d all but dropped his insinuation that he wanted — no, needed — consistent playing time at first base.

“I told them I’m here to do whatever — pinch hit, first base, whatever they want,” Pujols said, per ESPN. “I’m just excited to have this opportunity to wear this uniform and glad to be here.”

Pujols did make it clear that a selling point for the Dodgers was communication, a subtle hint that not all was right in his exit from the Angels.

“Communication is huge with me,” Pujols said. “And that was part of [Roberts] and Andrew’s communication with me. And I think having a game plan of what my role is gonna be in this clubhouse — that’s it. If this is gonna be part of my role, then I’m gonna listen, (and) I’m gonna be ready.”

No hard feelings, hey Albert?

For a brief moment in time, a reunion with the St. Louis Cardinals was floated as an opportunity. The Athletic’s Katie Woo, who covers the Cardinals for the website, stated that signing Pujols was discussed internally.

In the end, a chance to win another World Series was the most appetizing option available. The Dodgers are the favorites to do so for a reason.

MLB rumors: How did Albert Pujols land with the Dodgers?

The reporting around Pujols’ free agent chase was suspect at times. So, what really went down? We spoke to someone who would know.

FanSided MLB insider Robert Murray shed some light on how the Dodgers landed Pujols, and just how close the Cardinals came to making an offer.

1. What’s the truth behind Albert Pujols’ supposed dramatic exit from the Angels organization? Pujols denied asking the Angels to play every day, and said there are no hard feelings. Is it conceivable that this was a mutually beneficial split?

Robert Murray: “The Angels said Pujols did not want to be a part-time player and he later denied that. My guess is that the truth lies somewhere in the middle, with it being a mutual parting of ways so Pujols could play for a contender in what may be his last season in baseball. The Dodgers presented that opportunity and also a legitimate chance for meaningful at-bats at first base and off the bench. At this stage of his career, Pujols couldn’t have asked for anything more, especially since he was hitting .198/.250/.143 with zero home runs and two RBI when he was designated for assignment.”

2. Just how serious was any Cardinals “interest” in Pujols? Various reports indicated serious interest vs. limited internal conversations. 

RM: “The Cardinals had internal conversations about Pujols, which is something every team has when a player becomes available. But their interest was overblown. They never called Pujols’ agent, Dan Lozano, and never seriously considered a reunion with the 41-year-old. It would have been a cool story, but it was never happening.”

3. The Dodgers weren’t mentioned among the initial teams interested in Pujols’ services. Where did this fit come from, and what should Dodgers fans expect from the future Hall of Famer?

RM: “I had a few teams in mind when I looked at potential fits for Pujols: the Brewers, Mariners, Cardinals and Rockies. The only team that I didn’t rule out right away was the Brewers, so it was clear there were some other teams interested once I found out there were 3-4 teams in on Pujols.

I didn’t see the Dodgers as a fit, but the fit certainly makes sense. Pujols will be a part-time player and allow manager Dave Roberts to move Max Muncy to second base and bench Gavin Lux whenever the Dodgers face a left-handed pitcher. The Dodgers have had success signing veterans Chase Utley and David Freese toward the end of their careers. They think they can do the same with Pujols, whose resume includes 10 All-Star appearances and three MVP awards.”

4. Pujols claims he has plenty left in the tank, suggesting he could play beyond 2021. What’re his prospects after this season? Is it too early to tell?

RM: “Pujols says that he has a lot left in the tank, but I’m in wait-and-see mode. He has been on a sharp decline the last few seasons and has dealt with multiple leg injuries. I think there is a very real chance that this is his last season in baseball, but if there is any team that can extend his career for another season, it’s probably the Dodgers.”

Albert Pujols off to hot start with Dodgers

Pujols’ version of a prove-it deal has gone according to plan so far. As Murray states, the only way he has much hope of playing beyond this season is if he finishes strong in the latter two-thirds of the campaign in Los Angeles. Much like the top directors in Hollywood, the Dodgers have a habit of getting the best out of stars.

Through four games, Pujols is hitting .273 with a sole home run and 4 RBIs. His OBP has improved from .250 with the Angels to .333 across town. His slugging percentage is up significantly as well. It’s early, but a rejuvenated Pujols could be exactly what the beleaguered Dodgers needed in their push for another NL West crown and perhaps back-to-back World Series titles.

A third World Series is in sight for Pujols.

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