ANAHEIM, Calif. — Albert Pujols was cut by the Los Angeles Angels on Thursday, abruptly ending the 41-year-old superstar slugger’s decade with his second major league team.
The Angels surprisingly announced the move to designate Pujols for assignment a day after he wasn’t in their lineup for the slumping club’s fourth consecutive loss. The three-time NL MVP for St. Louis was in the final season of a 10-year, $240 million contract with Los Angeles.
Pujols is fifth in major league history with 667 career homers, and the first baseman is 13th in major league history with 3,253 hits. A 10-time All-Star and the oldest active player in the majors, he is batting .198 this season with five homers and 12 RBIs while playing in 24 of the Angels’ 29 games.
“The Angels organization proudly signed Albert Pujols in 2011, and are honored that he has worn an Angels jersey for nearly half of his Hall of Fame career,” Angels owner Arte Moreno said in a statement. “Albert’s historical accomplishments, both on and off the field, serve as an inspiration to athletes everywhere, and his actions define what it means to be a true superstar. Since his Rookie of the Year season in 2001, Albert and his wife Deidre have generously given their time and resources to countless charities throughout the world. We are thankful to the entire Pujols family.”
Pujols joined the Angels after 11 successful seasons with the Cardinals during which he won three league MVP awards, earned two World Series rings, received nine All-Star selections, won an NL batting title and hit 445 homers while establishing himself as one of the greatest sluggers of his generation.
Moreno persuaded Pujols to leave for the West Coast with a lavish contract, but the Angels have not won a playoff game during the concurrent tenures of Pujols and three-time AL MVP Mike Trout at the heart of their lineup.
And though Pujols has crossed several statistical milestones with the Angels, the contrast in the two halves of his career is stark.
He batted .328 with a 1.037 OPS in St. Louis, but hit .256 with a .758 OPS in Anaheim along with 222 homers – just under half his total for the Cards. Pujols also earned just one All-Star selection with the Halos, back in 2015.
The Angels made only one postseason appearance in Pujols’ nine full seasons, winning the AL West title and promptly getting swept by Kansas City in 2014. The club is on skids of five straight losing seasons and six straight non-playoff campaigns since then.
Pujols’ achievements with Los Angeles have been mostly numerical, including the 500th and 600th homers and the 3,000th hit of his career. Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Alex Rodriguez and Pujols are the only players in major league history with 3,000 hits and 600 homers.
But Pujols has been a below-average statistical player for the past half-decade, during which he is batting .240 with minus-2 wins above replacement. His career average even dipped under .300 last season for the first time in his two decades in the majors.
Pujols hasn’t performed at a level commensurate with his pay for many years, although Moreno knew the near-certain consequences of such a long contract – and baseball’s salary structure all but guarantees a great player will be grossly underpaid for the first half of his career and effectively overpaid for the rest.
Pujols is making $30 million in salary this season in the final year of the deal, which includes a 10-year personal services contract with the Angels after his retirement. The club didn’t make any public statement about the status of that portion of the agreement reached in late 2011.
Despite his age and declining production, Pujols said he wasn’t ready to decide whether this season would be his last when he reported to spring training in February. Angels manager Joe Maddon acknowledged Pujols’ playing time could decline behind designated hitter Shohei Ohtani and first baseman Jared Walsh, two of Los Angeles’ top hitters alongside Trout, Anthony Rendon and Justin Upton.
Pujols still was in the opening day lineup for the 21st consecutive season, joining Pete Rose and Eddie Murray as the only major leaguers to reach that milestone.
After a decent start to the season, Pujols had been in a 7-for-43 slump since April 20, hitting three homers in that stretch. He was still playing regularly at first base because an injury to right fielder Dexter Fowler forced the Angels to play Walsh in the outfield, but he wasn’t in the lineup Wednesday against Tampa Bay.
Pujols is second in major league history with 2,112 RBIs since they became an official statistic, trailing only Aaron. He is fifth in doubles (669), total bases (5,955) and extra-base hits (1,352) in major league annals. His doubles are the most ever by a right-handed hitter.
Moreno is no stranger to handing out lavish contracts to midcareer stars in transactions that eventually hamstrung his franchise and its series of inexperienced general managers.
A year after signing Pujols, Moreno gave a five-year, $125 million deal to troubled slugger Josh Hamilton, only to trade him back to Texas two years later while eating most of the $80 million still owed to Hamilton. Moreno also gave a five-year, $50 million contract in 2007 to Gary Matthews Jr., who batted .248 with 30 homers in three seasons for Los Angeles.
If another team picks up Pujols after he clears waivers, the Angels still would owe him the rest of his $30 million, minus a prorated portion of likely the major league minimum salary.