Dodgers to sign Albert Pujols, but Corey Seager fractures hand in win over Marlins
The Dodgers beat the Miami Marlins 7-0 at Dodger Stadium on Saturday to extend their winning streak to four, but the events before and during the game paint a less encouraging picture of the state of the team.
The Dodgers started the day by agreeing to a contract with 41-year-old future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols for the remainder of the season, according to people with knowledge of the situation, to bolster their thin depth.
Hours later, that depth took another significant blow when Corey Seager, the reigning National League Championship Series and World Series most valuable player, exited in the fifth inning after getting hit by a pitch on the right hand. After the game, the Dodgers announced that X-rays revealed a fracture. He will go on the injured list Sunday.
“We’re all concerned about him and the extent of the injury,” manager Dave Roberts said minutes before the Dodgers announced the injury. “Obviously, you don’t want to lose any player for an extended period of time.”
Injuries are the reason the club signed Pujols after he was abruptly designated for assignment by the Angels last week and officially released Thursday after clearing waivers. The first baseman batted .198 with a .622 on-base-plus-slugging percentage and five home runs in 92 plate appearances this season. He was seven for his last 43 before his release.
The Angels remain responsible for his $30-million salary in the final year of his 10-year, $240-million contract. The Dodgers will pay him a prorated share of the $570,500 league minimum. The deal is expected to become official Monday.
The Dodgers initially didn’t entertain adding Pujols, but their depth was diminished further last week when Edwin Ríos was lost for the season because of a partially torn labrum in his shoulder after going four for 51 at the plate. Right-handed-hitting rookies Sheldon Neuse and DJ Peters, meanwhile, weren’t producing enough when given opportunities, pushing the club to consider Pujols.
The last two days haven’t helped. AJ Pollock re-injured his left hamstring Friday and was placed on the injured list Saturday. Roberts said he is expected to miss at least two weeks. Seager then cast a dark cloud over a good night for the home team, the Dodgers (22-17) winning behind another stellar performance from Trevor Bauer.
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The right-hander yielded two hits and recorded 10 strikeouts — all in the first four innings — without a walk across seven scoreless innings. His earned-run average dropped to 2.20 in 57-1/3 innings over nine starts.
The Dodgers mustered plenty of offense on just six hits off four Marlins pitchers. Max Muncy went three for four with an RBI to continue his torrid stretch. Chris Taylor went one for three with a bases-loaded walk and two RBIs. Peters cracked a two-run single.
The Dodgers’ pursuit of better bench pieces continued minutes before Seager’s injury when they acquired infielder Yoshitomo Tsutsugo from the Tampa Bay Rays for a player to be named later or cash. Ríos was transferred to the 60-day injured list to make room on the 40-man roster.
Tsutsugo is a left-handed hitter who has split time between third base, first base and left field since coming from Japan on a two-year, $12-million deal before last season. He hit .187 with a .292 on-base percentage and a .336 slugging percentage in 272 plate appearances before he was designated for assignment.
Tsutsugo is the latest in the Dodgers’ bevy of transactions made this month to improve their depth. Since May 1, they’ve signed veteran right-handers Kevin Quackenbush and Nate Jones to minor-league deals and claimed right-hander Phil Bickford and infielder Travis Blankenhorn off waivers.
None of those moves approach the gravity of Pujols’ addition. He started 571 games as the Angels’ designated hitter, but that usually won’t be an option for the Dodgers, who had sought an additional right-handed batter since the offseason. Pujols gives them one who happens to be headed to Cooperstown as soon as he’s eligible.
Pujols saw his playing time in Anaheim decline for the first time last year. He still made 22 starts this season — 20 at first base. He was pushed out soon after the club decided to make Jared Walsh the full-time first baseman and use Shohei Ohtani as the designated hitter, relegating Pujols to the bench.
“I would imagine being close to home would have some benefit there,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said about Pujols joining the team up the road. “I don’t know exactly what the conversations were like, but I do wish him well. His family is right there, so it makes sense. If you get that opportunity closer to home, take it.”
Despite his production plummeting, advanced statistics such as expected slugging percentage and batting average on balls in play suggest Pujols should’ve had better results this season.
Additionally, he was a potent threat against left-handers in a small sample size, posting an .878 OPS with three home runs in 28 plate appearances. The Dodgers, meanwhile, have scuffled versus left-handers. The club entered Saturday ranked 23rd in the majors in batting average (.217) against them and 21st in OPS (.663). Their 11 home runs off left-handers ranked 20th.
Pujols is expected to make the occasional start at first base against left-handers, but he mostly will be used as a pinch-hitter. It’s a role similar to the one the Dodgers assigned David Freese after acquiring him at the waiver trade deadline in 2018, but with fewer starts. When Pujols does start, the Dodgers can move Max Muncy to second base, pushing Gavin Lux, a left-
handed hitter, to the bench.
Pujols bolsters the Dodgers’ depth, which has withered since last season because of free-agent departures and injuries. Then there’s his standing as one of the most accomplished players ever, a resume that will garner respect in the clubhouse.
Albert Pujols signing with the Dodgers might not make a lot of sense on the surface, but the Dodgers have plenty of reasons to sign a player like him.
He hasn’t been a league average hitter since 2016, but Pujols ranks fifth all time with 667 home runs and 14th with 3,253 hits. He’s a three-time NL MVP, a 10-time All-Star and will join Clayton Kershaw as two surefire first-ballot Hall of Famers on the roster. Once his signing is official, he’ll again become the oldest active player in the majors and the fourth former MVP on the Dodgers.
“When you sort of surround your clubhouse with guys like that and that have a proven track record, that’s a recipe that’s shown that works,” Roberts said. “Guys follow.”
Staff writer Mike DiGiovanna contributed to this report.
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