Many times aging veterans don’t get a chance to depart teams on their own terms. For every John Elway or Peyton Manning who gets to go out with a victory, many others are unceremoniously cut when teams decide they have reached a point where they are either not worth the money they’re making, or they can get the same thing for much less with a younger player. However some situations look worse than others, and few have looked as bad as the Los Angeles Angels last week with the release of Albert Pujols.
This one has gotten messy quickly, and now different accounts are being told regarding exactly what happened. The initial story was that it was a mutual decision between Pujols and the team. It was already known that this was his final season, as he was in the last year of a 10-year, 240 million dollar plus deal. Pujols was hitting .198 at the time, and it was apparent that he was near the end of the line as a productive performer.
But what makes it messy is he evidently thought he’d get more chances to at least bring his stats up to a more respectable level. Now a report has circulated that Pujols clashed with manager Joe Maddon prior to the decision being released, and that he felt mistreated and lied to by Angels management.
Their counter is he’s still getting his full money for the season, and that they have to focus on making the playoffs. They have Mike Trout, the consensus best player in baseball. who is off to the best start of his career. Trout has considered Pujols a mentor and close friend throughout his tenure with the Angels, and was stunned to discover that Pujols had been designated for assignment (cut), learning the news after the fact.
Albert Pujols had a 10-year run with the St. Louis Cardinals that was among the finest in baseball history. Over that decade he won three Most Valuable Player awards, led the team to a pair of World Series victories, and each year was among the top echelon in the sport. The Angels outbid every other team when Pujols hit the free agent market, but never came close to duplicating those feats in the American League. He also increasingly became such a defensive liability that his final years with the Angels were spent as a designated hitter. The Angels have had five consecutive losing seasons even with Trout, and management made it clear that this season the playoffs were a priority.
During his time with the Angels, the team made the playoffs once in nine years. They were swept by the Royals in 2014. They’ve not come close to the postseason since. Now depending on how one wants to look at it, the Angels either disrespected a surefire Hall of Fame player by not letting him have one final year. or a once-great player refuses to acknowledge that he’s reached the end of the line and is trying to hold on despite the total decline of his skills.
Whatever the case. MLB hasn’t had many classier players over his 19-year career than Albert Pujols. It’s just a shame that things reached the point where he was bounced less than two months into what was supposed to be his final year. Pujols wants to finish up the season with someone, and perhaps he’ll get that chance.
Still, no matter what happens the remainder of this season, hopefully the last thing people remember about Albert Pujols won’ be him being cut in early May from the Angels.