Back to the Future: Pujols Returns
In case you haven't heard, Albert Pujols is back. The Cardinals have agreed to sign him to a 1 year, $2.5M deal, pending a physical. He had multiple offers from other teams, but wanted to return home. Word came out yesterday from The Athletic's Katie Woo that the Cardinals and Albert Pujols were increasing their talks. Late last night, word came down that an agreement had been reached. This make Albert Pujols the oldest player in MLB (Rich Hill was considered the oldest until this signing). Also, fun fact, he's the last player in MLB to have been drafted in the 1900s (1999) and immediately play for an affilate.
His return is bringing mixed emotions across social media. There are some that have still never forgave him for leaving after the 2011 season. However, personally, I think those people need to turn their dismay to the front office because it was well known that Pujols was not interested in taking a "hometown" discount like he had before. He was looking for $200+M. The Cardinals were hoping for that discount and initially offered him a reportedly $150M. To me, that offer is the reason why Pujols left. There are also people who are very excited to see Pujols return. He is, of course, one of the greatest Cardinals of all time. Many welcomed him in 2019 when he returned to Busch Stadium for the first time since signing with the Angels. I can only imagine what his first at bat will be like this season.
It's no secret Pujols is a shell of his former self. No longer a perennial .300/30/100 hitter and MVP candidate, he now is merely a platoon player with some pop. Pujols is currently sitting at 679 career home runs, 21 shy of becoming the 4th player ever to hit 700 home runs. He will have a difficult time reaching that as I don't expect him to be an every day player. I expect him to share the DH duties with Corey Dickerson with Dickerson getting the bulk of the ABs against RHPs and Pujols hitting against LHPs. His splits show he did well hitting against lefties in 2021. Let's compare some numbers against said lefties with Pujols and a current 1B in the league.
Player A: 153 PA, .294 Ave, 11 HR, 30 RBI, .603 Slugging %
Player B: 146 PA, .294 Ave, 13 HR, 34 RBI, .603 Slugging %
Wow, these look very similar! Which one is Pujols and who is this mystery other player? Pujols is actually Player B. Would you be surprised to hear that White Sox star 1B Jose Abreu is Player A?
So what can we expect from Pujols in 2022? As I mentioned, he's likely to see most of his time against LHPs. He should be able to see some time against RHPs as well. Let's first look at Opening Day. This Opening Day could be extremely special for Cardinal fans as this very well could be the last one for Adam Wainwright, Yadier Molina, & Albert Pujols. I fully expect Wainwright to be the Opening Day starter with Molina behind the plate. I also expect Pujols to be the team's DH regardless whether or not the Pittsburgh Pirates start LHP Jose Quintana. Whether or not he produces April 7, fans will likely enjoy seeing all 3 in the lineup one final Opening Day.
What about the rest of the season? Pujols is going to see the vast majority of his time against left handed pitching. Even though he saw equal amount of at bats between the LHP/RHP last year, I expect that to change this year. He was far more productive as you can see from the numbers above Hitting against lefties should also give him plenty of rest as well. This is why I think he comes extremely close, if not eclipsing 700 career home runs.
Here is my prediction for his final numbers:
.268 average, 23 home runs, 51 RBI in 271 ABs
I expect this is going to be it for Pujols. He has always spoken highly of St. Louis and his love of the city. He's coming back home to finish his career and I can't wait to see him don the Birds on the Bat again.