Albert Pujols’ ten-year, $240MM deal with the Angels is set to expire after the 2021 season, and it has been widely assumed that the slugger would retire once that contract is up. However, while 2021 is “my last year under contract…that doesn’t mean I can’t keep playing,” Pujols told ESPN.com’s Alden Gonzalez. “I haven’t closed that door.”
It should be observed that Pujols isn’t making a statement about his future in either direction, merely that he isn’t yet ready to make a decision that is still well over a year away. “I’m taking it day by day, year by year, but you haven’t heard from my mouth that I’m going to retire next year, or that it’s going to be my last year, or that I’m going to keep playing,” Pujols said. “I haven’t said any of that. When that time comes, we’ll see. Just because you have one year left on your contract doesn’t mean it’s your last year. It could be, but it could not be. God hasn’t put that in my heart yet.”
2022 will be Pujols’ age-42 season, and he has been beset by both injuries and an overall decline in performance over the last few years. While surgeries on both his right elbow and left knee in 2018 allowed for Pujols to have his cleanest bill of health in some time last season, it didn’t translate to a resurgence at the plate, as he hit .244/.305/.430 with 23 home runs over 545 plate appearances. Both Fangraphs (-2.6 fWAR) and Baseball Reference (-0.6 bWAR) rate Pujols as a sub-replacement level player from 2017-19, with Fangraphs giving him a negative fWAR in each of the last three seasons.
Barring a major late-career revival, it is hard to see how there could be much of a market for Pujols if he does wish to keep playing in 2022. There isn’t much roster value in a 42-year-old who can only play first base — and who will still require regular DH days — and doesn’t offer much with the bat, and one would imagine Pujols might not have much interest in signing with a non-contender just for the sake of continuing to play.
As Gonzalez notes, there are some big statistical milestones still within reach for Pujols, who has 656 career homers (sixth all-time), 2075 RBI (fifth all-time), and 3202 hits (15th all-time). Since the 2020 season will be greatly abbreviated and possibly canceled altogether, Pujols would surely have to play into 2022 to have a shot at joining Henry Aaron as the only players in the 700-homer/3500-hit club, and potentially break Aaron’s all-time record of 2297 career RBI.
While Pujols would surely love to make an even further impact on baseball’s record book, it remains to be seen if he would actually try to stick around long enough to achieve these benchmarks, especially since it is a foregone conclusion that he’ll be a first-ballot Hall Of Famer. Of note, Pujols is also in line for a ten-year, $10MM personal services contract with the Angels organization that will kick in as soon as he retires; this deal was arranged when Pujols initially signed with the club.