The Cardinals “have had increased conversations” with Albert Pujols, reports Katie Woo of The Athletic, who also says that “interest is growing in bringing back the former Cardinal for the 2022 season.”
Just two weeks ago, it was reported that the Cardinals were considering such a move. But club chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. seemed to throw some cold water on that idea, saying “we’ve got most of our club pretty well set.” However, it seems the club may have warmed to the idea of bringing Pujols back to where he started his career and had his best seasons.
Pujols was drafted by the Cardinals in 1999 and made his MLB debut with the club in 2001. Over 11 seasons from 2001 through 2011, he hit 445 home runs and put up an incredible .328/.420/.617 for a wRC+ of 167. He was a key reason why the club was a continual competitor in that time, making the postseason in 7 of those 11 seasons and winning the World Series in 2006 and 2011. Based on that otherworldly run of success, he was signed by the Angels to a ten-year, $254MM deal covering the 2012-2021 seasons. Pujols continued to hit at a level above the league average for the first five years of that deal, though a few notches below what he did as a Cardinal. From there, things only got worse, as he hit just .242/.291/.406 from 2017 to 2020, producing a wRC+ of just 84. After 24 games last year, with just a few months remaining on the contract, the Angels released him. Surprisingly, he was picked up by the Dodgers, who planned to limit the veteran slugger to a bench/platoon role, primarily facing lefties. The strategy worked out fine enough, as Pujols hit .254/.299/.460 as a Dodger, a wRC+ of 101.
As per Woo’s report, the Cardinals would be considering a reunion with Pujols to implement his skills in a similar manner to how the Dodgers did last year. She notes that the club has traditionally shied away from platoon strategies in the past, but new manager Oliver Marmol is planning on changing that. Paul Goldschmidt is firmly entrenched as the club’s regular first baseman, meaning Pujols would be in the mix for DH/pinch-hitting duties, alongside Corey Dickerson, Lars Nootbaar and Juan Yepez. For Yepez, he seemed poised to make the team after a tremendous year in the minors. Between Double-A and Triple-A last year, he hit .286/.383/.586, for a wRC+ of 154. Then there’s Nolan Gorman, who also spent last year between Double-A and Triple-A, hitting .279/.333/.481, wRC+ of 115. However, Woo reports that, given that Yepez is just 24 and Gorman doesn’t turn 22 until May, the club is considering a plan wherein they each spend a bit more time in the minors getting regular reps, waiting for an opportunity to open up as the season progresses.
Regardless of how the roster machinations play out, the move would surely have its biggest reverberations in the public relations department. It was in St. Louis that Pujols established himself as one of the greatest hitters of his generation and more or less guaranteed himself a future plaque in the Hall of Fame. A return to where it all started for the 42-year-old would surely be a tremendously popular storyline with Cardinals fans and baseball fans in general.