Is 2016 the Year Albert Pujols' Contract Goes from Bad to Embarrassing? | Bleacher Report
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Is 2016 the Year Albert Pujols' Contract Goes from Bad to Embarrassing?

MINNEAPOLIS, MN- APRIL 15: Albert Pujols #5 of the Los Angeles Angels looks on against the Minnesota Twins on April 15, 2016 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images)
Brace Hemmelgarn/Getty Images
Jacob ShaferFeatured ColumnistMay 11, 2016

The Los Angeles Angels' Albert Pujols has been many things in his brilliant MLB career: a three-time MVP, a 10-time All-Star and two-time world champion.

Now, he may be adding another, far less flattering label: albatross.

At age 36, Pujols is a shell of his former self. And—jamming salt deep into the wound for the Angelshe's not quite halfway through the 10-year, $240 million deal he inked with Los Angeles prior to the 2012 season.

To put a finer point on it: In 2021, Pujols' age-41 season, the Angels will pay him $30 million.

This is the part where phrases like "sunk cost" and "dead money" enter the conversation, and where Halos fans with sensitive stomachs might want to quit reading.

In February, ESPN.com's Dan Szymborski put Pujols' pact atop his leaderboard of worst contracts in baseball, calling it "a gigantic long-term drag."

After a month-plus of action, Pujols is making that sound like an understatement.

The big man can still crack the ball out of the yard, as his six home runs attest. And he can still provide the occasional historic moment, like when he passed Reggie Jackson for 13th on the all-time home run list in April.

The rest of the numbers, however, are ugly bordering on atrocious.

Pujols isn't quite halfway through the 10-year, $240 million deal he signed with the Angels.
Pujols isn't quite halfway through the 10-year, $240 million deal he signed with the Angels.Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

After going 0-for-4 in an 8-1 loss Tuesday against his former team, the St. Louis Cardinals, Pujols owns a .183 average and .611 OPS. His wins above replacement (WAR) is mired in negative territory.

He's not the only reason the Angels sit at 13-19. The roster has been depleted by injuries to pitchers Garrett Richards, C.J. Wilson, Andrew Heaney and Huston Street, as well as shortstop Andrelton Simmons. And outside of franchise cornerstone Mike Trout, the lineup is mostly punchless.

But considering how much payroll Pujols is chewing up, the Angels need him to give them something.

"Sometimes when [the hits] come, they come in bunches," Pujols said April 24 after breaking an 0-for-26 slump with a two-run homer, per Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times. "When you struggle, you just struggle. The main thing is to stay positive all the time. I've been in this situation before. I know how to get out of it."

Maybe. We are talking about a surefire Hall of Famer who was once the most feared hitter in the gamea baseball-punishing machine who left opposing pitchers trembling in their cleats.

On the other hand, even the great ones fade eventually. Yes, Pujols launched 40 home runs in 2015, but he also hit .244 with a career-low .307 on-base percentage. There were signs of his decline.

Now, he's looking less like a one-dimensional masher and more like a fallen star. Home runs are nice, but they can only mask so many flaws.

Despite cracking six home runs, Pujols has provided little protection for superstar teammate Mike Trout.
Despite cracking six home runs, Pujols has provided little protection for superstar teammate Mike Trout.Alex Gallardo/Associated Press

Again, if this were the final year of Pujols' dealor if he had one or two years remainingit wouldn't be such a debilitating problem for Los Angeles.

But Pujols is going to sap the franchise's resources for the next half-decade, plus a 10-year, $10 million "personal services" contract after that.

Add the fact the Angels have MLB's worst farm system, and it's easy to paint pessimism on the streets of Anaheim.

Granted, deals like this are supposed to look bad on the back end. The idea behind decade-spanning, nine-figure mega-contracts is to get premium value now and pay for dead weight later.

The only problem is, Pujols has never been great in an Angels uniform.

During his run of dominance between 2001 and 2011 with St. Louis, he averaged 7.9 WAR. His best mark with the Angels was 4.8 in 2012.

Now, he's a downright liability. And his contract has gone from bad to embarrassing.

It's gotten to the point where DiGiovanna suggested, with a seemingly straight face, the Halos should consider trading Trout in a year or two and attempting to tack on Pujols as a rider.

It sounds odd, but it's also the only way the Angels could shed their Pujols liability.

Is a renaissance possible? Sure. No doubt Los Angeles will give Pujols every opportunity to rediscover his stroke and nudge his stats northward.

At some point, however, that albatross label will be unavoidable. And while it won't erase the greatness of Pujols' past, it will color the ugliness of his and the Angels' future.

 

All statistics current as of May 10 and courtesy of MLB.com and Baseball-Reference.com.

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