Column: Why the Dodgers’ decision to sign Albert Pujols makes a lot of sense
On the surface, this doesn’t make sense, a 41-year-old with diminished bat speed who can play only one position on a team that values defensive versatility.
Look closer, however, and this makes complete sense.
Baseball’s most sabermetrically advanced team has a history of making deals like this.
Chase Utley. David Freese. And now Pujols, according to The Times’ Dodgers beat writer, Jorge Castillo.
Andrew Friedman is known for making decisions based on exit velocities, spin rates and who knows what else, but he has a soft spot for the game’s wise old men.
He understands not everything can be quantified, that some contributions extend beyond what a player does on the field.
The Dodgers agreed to a contract with Albert Pujols for the rest of the season and then beat Miami 7-0, but Corey Seager is headed to the injured list after he was hit in the hand by a pitch.
Utley was a part-time player, Freese was a part-time player and Pujols will be one too.
Utley’s imprint on the Dodgers was enormous, the second baseman acquired in a midseason trade with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2015. He played 3½ years for the Dodgers, his play and his words teaching others how the smallest details could decide the outcomes of the most important games. He remains in the organization as a special assistant to Friedman.
Freese was also acquired in an August waiver deal, this one in 2018 with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Others were struck by how quickly he connected with his new teammates, how he always seemed to have young players around him. His stay also extended beyond the initial couple of months, as the Dodgers re-signed him for the following season.
With their roster turning over and a new generation of players starting to filter into the clubhouse, the Dodgers could use a voice like theirs — or Pujols’.
“He mentored me throughout my career so far,” Trout told reporters.
Read back what Trout said.
He wasn’t talking about just his rookie year. He was talking about his entire career.
“Everything you can accomplish, on a baseball field, he’s done,” Trout said. “I can go up to him and talk about anything. If I was struggling at the plate, he knows the perfect time to come up and throw something out. He has that feel. I can’t thank him enough. He was an unbelievable person and unbelievable friend to me.”
If the best player in baseball could use pointers from Pujols, Sheldon Neuse and Luke Raley could too.
Who knows, maybe next time Mookie Betts or Corey Seager struggles, Pujols can help them snap out of it before the team loses 14 of 18 games again.
Something else: He’s Albert Pujols.
He’s a 10-time All-Star, a three-time most valuable player and two-time World Series champion. He’s blasted 667 home runs, collected 3,253 hits and driven in 2,112 runs.
Utley had some magic left in him, so did Freese, and Pujols might too.
The Dodgers were a loss from elimination in 2016 when Utley stroked a two-run single against the Washington Nationals in Game 4 of their National League Division Series to break a 5-5 stalemate in the eighth inning.
The Dodgers went on to win the game and the series.
Freese thrived as the right-handed-hitting half of a first-base platoon with Max Muncy, batting .385 over the final month of the regular season. He batted .400 in the postseason that year, including .417 in the World Series.
The Dodgers were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs the next year, but Freese batted .500 in that NLDS against the Nationals.
Angels star Mike Trout developed a special relationship with Albert Pujols, so the news of Pujols’ release Thursday left the three-time AL MVP emotional.
Why can’t Pujols have a moment like that?
In the short term, Pujols will provide Dave Roberts with another option at first base, which will allow the manager to shift Muncy to second base and bench Gavin Lux when the Dodgers face a left-hander.
Lux is batting .143 against left-handers.
Pujols represents a minimal risk for the Dodgers, who‘ll pay him a prorated share of the major league minimum salary of $570,500. The worst-case scenario is they cut him and have to sell a few more Shake Shack burgers.
The remainder of Pujols’ $30-million salary is the responsibility of the Angels.
Before last season, the Dodgers agreed to trade Joc Pederson to the Angels, pending the completion of a separate deal with the Boston Red Sox for Betts. Angels owner Arte Moreno became impatient waiting for the Dodgers and Red Sox to finalize their trade and scrapped the deal for Pederson.
The Dodgers should have sent Moreno a World Series ring for saving them from themselves. Pederson shined on their World Series run, batting a team-leading .382 with two home runs and eight runs batted in during the postseason.
Moreno might have just sent the Dodgers another gift.
Are you a true-blue fan?
Get our Dodgers Dugout newsletter for insights, news and much more.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.