One of the signs of true greatness is the lack of any good comparables. There simply haven’t been many talents like Albert Pujols in Major League Baseball history. Through 11 big-league seasons, he’s won three NL MVP awards and finished second four times. He’s finished in the top five in the balloting 10 times.
Overall, Pujols has hit .328/.420/.617 with 445 homers and 1,329 RBI. He’d be a Hall of Famer if he retired today, yet we know that that’s unlikely, what with the Marlins offering him a whopping 10-year contract to continue his career through 2021.
So, despite the fact that Pujols doesn’t really have any equals in big-league history and there’s plenty of speculation that he’s actually a couple of years older than his listed age of 31, I thought it’d be fun to see when his most comparable players turned in their last Hall of Fame-caliber seasons. Here’s the list, going by Baseball-Reference’s most similar list:
1. Jimmie Foxx – 138 OPS+ at age 33
2. Ken Griffey Jr. – 144 OPS+ at age 35
3. Frank Robinson – 141 OPS+ at age 38
4. Hank Aaron – 177 OPS+ at age 39
5. Lou Gehrig – 132 OPS+ at age 35
6. Mickey Mantle – 149 OPS+ at age 35
7. Mel Ott – 151 OPS+ at age 36
8. Juan Gonzalez – 148 OPS+ at age 31
9. Willie Mays – 158 OPS+ at age 40
10. Manny Ramirez – 153 OPS+ at age 37
It doesn’t exactly bode well for Pujols’ two bidders that only four of these 10 players had productive seasons after their 36th birthdays. Still, Pujols fits more into a class with Aaron and Mays than he does Griffey and Gonzalez. Plus, it’s definitely easier for athletes to stay in shape than it once was.
So, yeah, there’s a really good chance that Pujols will still be an All-Star-type performer in his upper-30s. Of course, it’s going to be tough to keep it going at 40, and if Pujols is actually entering his age-34 season in 2012, not his age-32 season, that 10-year contract could get ugly by the time it’s barely more than halfway through.
But that’s the price one pays to land the player of the century.
There’s certainly never a bad time to hit a home run, but when you get the opportunity to crush a triple-deck, 493-foot shot off of Tyler Duffey, you should take it. With the Mariners down 2-0 to the Twins in the fourth inning, Cruz hammered a fastball to deep left field for his 39th long ball of the season — and the second-longest home run hit in 2016, to boot.
It doesn’t hurt that the Mariners are 1.5 games back of a playoff spot, although they’ll have to oust the Blue Jays, Orioles, or Tigers to get a wild card. They’ve gone 3-3 in the last week, dropping two consecutive series to the Astros and Blue Jays and taking their series opener against Minnesota 10-1 on Friday night.
Cruz, for his part, entered Saturday’s game with a .299/.337/.610 batting line and six home runs in September. According to ESPN.com’s Home Run Tracker, Cruz sits behind Edwin Encarnacion and Mike Napoli with 13 “no-doubt” home runs in 2016, third-most among major league sluggers. It’s safe to say he can add Saturday’s moonshot to that list.
Marlins’ outfielder and undisputed home run king Giancarlo Stanton remains untouched at the top of the Statcast leaderboard with a 504-ft. home run, and it’s difficult to envision any slugger reaching beyond that before the end of the season. Even so, Cruz won’t need to clear 500 feet to extend an impressive hitting record. One more home run will put the 36-year-old at 40 on the year, making 2016 his third consecutive season with at least 40 homers, and his second such season doing so in Seattle.
It’s been a strange season for Red Sox’ third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who lost his starting role in spring training, went 0-for-6 in three regular season appearances, and underwent season-ending surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder in May. That was the last the Red Sox were supposed to hear about Sandoval until spring 2017, when he was expected to rejoin the team after a lengthy rehab stint in Florida.
On Saturday, manager John Farrell was telling a different story. Per MLB.com’s Sam Blum, Farrell hinted that Sandoval could return to the team as soon as October, albeit in a very limited capacity.
At the time of the surgery, it was all looking at the start of next Spring Training,” Farrell said. “We’re not getting too far ahead of ourselves here, but at the same time, we compliment him for the work he’s put in, the way he’s responded to the rehab, the way he’s worked himself into better condition. We’re staying open-minded.
If the 30-year-old does return in 2016, don’t expect him to look like the three-home run hitter of the 2012 World Series. Should the Red Sox lose another player to injury, Sandoval might be called on as a backup option, but he’s unlikely to see substantial playing time under any other circumstances. Despite making two appearances at DH in the instructional league, Sandoval has not started at third base since undergoing surgery, though Farrell noted that a return to third base would be the next logical step in his recovery process.
Sandoval has yet to hit his stride within the Red Sox’ organization after hitting career-worst numbers in 2015. According to FanGraphs, his Offensive Runs Above Average (Off) plummeted to -20.2, contributing approximately two wins fewer than the average offensive player in 2015. (The Diamondbacks’ Chris Owings held the lowest Off mark in 2015, with -26.3 runs below average.) Sandoval has not appeared in a postseason race since the Giants’ championship run in 2014.
Heading into Saturday evening, the Red Sox could clinch their spot in the postseason with a win over the Rays and an Orioles’ loss.