A lot of conversation these past two months have revolved around Albert Pujols and his declining performance. The man is a mess of injuries, pressure, and unfair media scrutiny. I recently wrote about how all this could be worked through in an article from last week. One of the talking points was sticking Pujols in the DH spot, indefinitely. This is something we all knew would happen somewhere down the line during his career with the Angels, but I don't think any of us expected it to happen so soon. To be fair, it isn't solely because of his deteriorating skills (they haven't declined as bad as we all seem to think), it's more of a necessity to keep him healthy and allow our young starters to get out on the field every day. Once Bourjos comes back Trumbo is going to taking back the majority of the 1B starts and Pujols is still a player that needs to be playing every day. Adding that to the fact that keeping him at DH allows him to rest his ailing lower body without having to grind through 9 innings of 1B work nearly every day.
I know what you're all thinking, "$250 million to a DH?! Ridiculous! No DH is worth that money". I'd have to agree with you there, but Albert Pujols isn't just any hitter. Let's stop and talk about the money for a second here, many believe this will go down as one of the worst contracts in baseball history and I have to shoot this down immediately. One of the biggest issues people have with this is the size of the contract; everyone assumes that because it's $250 million over the next 10 years it's a franchise crippling contract. This couldn't be any further from the truth. Even with the "albatross" contracts of Josh Hamilton (5 years $125 million) and Albert Pujols (10 years $250 million) the Angels payroll is still under $150 million. This isn't like the Yankees or Dodgers where the organization has taken in a few star players with monster contracts that push the team’s payroll to $200 million+. This is a unique case because the management has worked out very team friendly deals with star players like Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar, and Jered Weaver for the next few years AND they have multiple young stars making scrap money. The Angels will have franchise cornerstones in Mike Trout, Mark Trumbo, and Peter Bourjos for most of the decade, and this isn't under the assumption that they will be signed to long-term extensions in the near future.
Again, this isn't like the Yankees where they throw out huge money to A-Rod as a cornerstone to the team, only to see him undergo a rather ugly fall from grace due to an illicit past with steroids and injuries and the franchise immediately goes into panic mode. Albert Pujols is just going to be a supplemental player to the likes of Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo, and even Josh Hamilton; he won't be anchoring the power of the offense like A-Rod was expected to. It's up to Mike Scioscia to realize this soon enough and move him out of the three hole and down the lineup in order to get the real star hitters on the team in the key batting spots, as I went over in my previous article.
I know you're all still thinking "But it's still $250 million for a DH!". It does seem like a massive number off the bat, but since this is such a unique situation it has to be looked at from a special perspective. Albert Pujols is practically paying for himself, without a question he will be paying for his own contract throughout his Angels career. How is this? The biggest reason the Angels were willing to throw so much money at him was the monster TV contract the deal would bring to Anaheim. The Angels will be pulling in $120 million a year thanks to the Pujols contract effectively sealing the deal, that's almost the entire Angels payroll right there. Bringing in $120 million a year will be more than enough to cover the cost of the Pujols contract, and then some. The Angels won't be left out to dry if they need to make any other free agent signings or take on extra payroll in a trade, or when the time comes to extend the young stars on the team. This contract in no way is going to come close to crippling the team due to the special circumstances surrounding this contract. Add in the fact that after 2017 the contract will be the only one on the books and it becomes clear that this is in no way a back-breaker for the Angels. No other long-term contracts to manage at that point makes it far easier for the organization to continue building without having to build around any other "albatrosses".
Now that we've talked about the financial aspects of the contract I want to point you to the career of another player. You might think it's a waste of money to pay for a full-time DH, even if it's Pujols and especially if it's for 10 years at $250 million (can't forget you're paying for the name at this point). Take a look at the Boston Red Sox and what they've done with David Ortiz. He's been practically a full-time DH for the better part of the last 13 years, over a decade he's hunkered down the DH spot for the Red Sox. Big Papi is beloved throughout the entire world of baseball, and especially inside the little bubble of Boston. Since 2003 Ortiz has posted incredibly effective numbers out of the DH spot for the Red Sox, hitting at least 20 HR's and 80 RBIS (not counting his down year, power wise, in 2012). Through his age 35-37(current) seasons he's hasn't hit below .300 and kept his OBP floating around .400, and adding in the fact that he hasn't slugged under .500 in his career in Boston aside from 2009 it becomes clear that the Angels have a very favorable card in Albert Pujols.
I hate to come back to the same point over and over again, but the fact is that if the Angels could take the mental pressure off of Pujols and the physical pain he experiences from fielding on a constant basis they'll be able to get a lot more offense out of him then we've seen so far this season. One phrase I absolutely hate hearing from commentators is "his numbers will be there at the end of the year", and this is absolutely true and that's what bugs me so much about it. If the Angels could get Pujols to settle in at DH the numbers just wouldn't be there at the end of the year, they'd be there all year. As long as the Angels continue to try and get the Albert Pujols from the Cardinals to show up they'll be having problems, if they sit on him busting out in the 3-hole and anchoring the offense they're in for a world of hurt. Just because he's a $250 million dollar man doesn't mean you have to play him like one, as long as he's out there hitting everyday then he'll be making his value, but if they constantly try and make play like the player he isn't anymore then the questions regarding his salary will forever hang over his head.
This contract won't look like such a big mess if the Angels stop pushing Pujols to be what he isn't anymore, he can still be a 30 HR 100 RBI guy IF they stop trying to play him like he's the key to this offense. What the Angels need to do is a take a page from the Red Sox playbook and let Pujols suck up the vast majority of the DH AB's over the next 8 years. Somehow I think the management will find a way to screw this up with their chronic bad decision making and pulling certain triggers far too late to make a difference. If they can let Pujols gracefully slide into DH and ride out the rest of his career doing nothing but hitting bombs for his team then we can all find salvation in his contract. If they let him play himself into the ground then shove him into DH for him to wither away for the rest of his career then the Angels will have themselves the worst contract in all of baseball.
If they can suavely manage their way around this then the Angels won't have themselves the worst contract in all of baseball, they'll have themselves the best DH to ever grace the field of baseball; far greater than what David Ortiz has been for the Red Sox. Here's to crossing your fingers and hoping the organization can figure it out fast enough.
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