Oct. 31: Pujols himself recently declared his intent to continue his playing career (link via ESPN). He notes that the decision to play in the Dominican Winter League for the first time is a matter of fulfilling a longstanding promise that he’d play there before retirement. However, Pujols emphasized that the timing of his DWL debut doesn’t mean his retirement is nigh.
“My time to retire hasn’t arrived yet,” said Pujols. “Why do I have to retire because someone tells me to? I’m going to do it on my terms and when I feel I can’t play anymore.”
Oct. 28: After 21 seasons in the majors, Albert Pujols isn’t quite done yet, as a source close to the veteran slugger tells Jeff Fletcher of The Orange County Register that Pujols “for sure” wants to play in 2022. Pujols is already planning to suit up in the Dominican Winter League for the first time, to further show his readiness for any interested big league clubs.
Pujols will be a free agent this offseason, as the ten-year, $240MM deal he signed with the Angels in his last trip to the open market is now up. The Angels paid handsomely for the superstar production of Pujols’ 11 seasons with the Cardinals, though his time in Anaheim was much less successful, as he batted only .256/.311/.447 over his 5053 plate appearances in a Halos uniform.
As his numbers declined, it seemed increasingly likely that Pujols would simply retire after his deal was up, though he found some level of a revival after joining the Dodgers. After the Angels surprisingly released Pujols back in May, the Dodgers signed him shortly thereafter, and he carved out a new niche for himself in a platoon role. While Pujols had only a .500 OPS against right-handed pitching in 2021, he was still very dangerous against southpaws, hitting lefties to the tune of a .294/.336/.603 slash line over 146 PA, with 13 home runs.
While 146 PA isn’t the largest of sample sizes, teams in need of some first base/DH depth could have interest in seeing what Pujols has left in the tank. Though Pujols was able to land with the Dodgers even without the benefit of an available designated hitter spot, soon the entire National League might have need for an extra bat, should the universal DH become part of the next collective bargaining agreement. For a relatively inexpensive one-year contract, teams could have a lefty-mashing veteran whose could also draw some extra fan attention, considering how Pujols continues to inch up the all-time lists in multiple categories. Pujols has 679 career home runs, and after he hit 17 in 2021, Fletcher suggests Pujols might be motivated to see if he can crack the 700-homer threshold.
The first base market is fungible enough that trying to predict a landing spot for Pujols is difficult, though the Cardinals stand out as the obvious sentimental choice. Paul Goldschmidt has first base now covered in St. Louis and the Cards’ lineup is already pretty right-handed as it is, but if there’s a DH spot to work with, more than nostalgia could be involved in bringing Pujols back for Yadier Molina’s last season (and could possibly also be Adam Wainwright’s last season).