Dodgers Dugout: Here’s why the Albert Pujols signing makes sense

Albert Pujols
Albert Pujols
(Steph Chambers / Getty Images)

Hi, and welcome to another edition of Dodgers Dugout. My name is Houston Mitchell, and was Steve Garvey unavailable?

So, when the Angels basically released Albert Pujols recently, my first reaction was “Wow, what an inelegant way to get rid of a Hall of Famer.” My second reaction: “At least the Dodgers won’t sign him.”

Then the news broke on Saturday, first reported by colleague Jorge Castillo: The Dodgers have signed Albert Pujols for the remainder of the season.

My first reaction, parroted by Dodgers fans across social media: “Huh? Why do the Dodgers need an aging, slow player who can only play first base and whose last above-average offensive year was in 2016?” Judging by me emails, I was not alone in this reaction.

And the signing continued to puzzle me, until I tried to see what Andrew Friedman saw in Pujols. After all, Friedman has made signings or trades in the past that seemed baffling. I mean, why sign Max Muncy, who had a .195 average in two seasons with Oakland? Why trade a pitching prospect (Zach Lee) to Seattle for Chris Taylor, a utility infielder they had given up on, a guy who hit .240 with no power? Why sign a player (Justin Turner, actually signed by Ned Colletti) who hit .260 with eight homers in almost 1,000 plate appearances and who had been cast aside by two organizations (Baltimore and the Mets)?


Of course, those players were all much younger than Pujols, true. But, no one thought much of those acquisitions of the time.

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No, this signing is much closer to a different acquisition. On Aug. 19, 2015, the Dodgers sent two minor leaguers to Philadelphia for a guy who, while not a first-ballot Hall of Famer like Pujols, was a borderline candidate and at one point one of the best players in the game. But he hadn’t had a good season in a while and was hitting a paltry .217 with the Phillies. His name: Chase Utley. He hit .202 the rest of the way for the Dodgers, but was such a valuable clubhouse presence for the young players they had at the time (Joc Pederson, Kiké Hernández and Austin Barnes) that they brought him back the next season, where again he was below average offensively but mentored Pederson, Hernández, Barnes, Chris Taylor and Corey Seager. So they brought him back in 2017, when he hit .236, but mentored Pederson, Hernández, Barnes, Taylor, Seager and Cody Bellinger. And many of those players asked for him to come back one more year, and in 2018, he hit .213 but mentored Pederson, Hernández, Barnes, Taylor, Seager, Bellinger, Max Muncy and Alex Verdugo. Heck, Hernández joked about Utley being his second father.

So, the Dodgers now add one of the best mentors in baseball, for less than the league minimum. And how do we know he is one of the best mentors in baseball? Well, here’s what the best player in baseball Mike Trout had to say when the Angels let Pujols go:

“He mentored me throughout my career so far. Everything you can accomplish, on a baseball field, he’s done. 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.”

The Dodgers may have been able to use a player like that when they had everyone struggling during a 5-15 slide.

But wait, there’s more. Pujols’ overall numbers are way down this season, but he is still an above-average hitter against left-handers. Let’s look at his overall OPS+ versus his OPS+ against lefties the last three seasons:

Overall: 76 (.198/.350/.372)
vs. Lefties: 141 (.259/.286/.593)

Overall: 78 (.224/.270/.395)
vs. Lefties: 68 (.231`/.242/.385)

Overall: 93 (.244/.305/.430)
vs. Lefties: 113 (.261/.315/.515)

If we consider 2020 an outlier because it was such a bizarre season, then we have a guy who still has quite a bit of pop against left-handers. And the Dodgers overall have not hit well against left-handers this season. Here are those batting averages against lefties, through Sunday’s game:

Chris Taylor, .361
Zach McKinstry, .333
Corey Seager, .296
AJ Pollock, .281
Justin Turner, .273
Cody Bellinger, .250
Max Muncy, .222
Mookie Betts, .212
Will Smith, .175
Austin Barnes, .167
Gavin Lux, .125
DJ Peters, .111
Sheldon Neuse, .077
Matt Beaty, .000
Luke Raley, .000
Edwin Rios, .000
Keibert Ruiz, .000

Pujols slots in as the sixth-best hitter against lefties.

So how will the Dodgers use Pujols? Well, they haven’t even officially announced the signing yet (they should sometime Monday), but it is expected he would be their top pinch-hitter against lefties (Dodger pinch-hitters are hitting .196 overall this season, with 29 strikeouts in 56 at-bats), with occasional starts at first base against left-handers, allowing Muncy to move to second and Lux to hit the bench. Sort of the role David Freese filled, though if Pujols starts as often or hits as well as Freese did (.328/.421/.607), well, that would be a bonus.

So, when you step back and look at it, the signing does make some sense. That doesn’t mean it will turn out to be a great signing, but it does mean that the logic behind it is there. Now we have to see what Pujols does with the team. And honestly, at this point, with all due respect to those involved, I’d rather see Pujols up in a key situation late in a game than Peters or Neuse.


But, there’s a part of me, the cynical part of me that I try to ignore, that thinks back to 1997. The Angels had released a first-ballot Hall of Famer whom the Dodgers took a flier on to be a pinch-hitter who might get a start or two. His name was Eddie Murray.

The 1997 Dodgers began the Sept. 20 game against Colorado one game behind the San Francisco Giants for the division lead, with eight games to go. The Giants had lost. The Dodgers were trailing, 2-1, but had loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the ninth. Up to the plate came Murray, signed for just these types of situations. He grounded into a double play and never batted again that season. The Dodgers finished two games behind and missed the playoffs.

By the way, if you think my analysis is crazy, read what Dylan Hernández had to say here.

Corey Seager injured

The Dodgers have a team on the IL that could almost win a few games on their own, and they added to it Saturday when Corey Seager‘s right hand was broken when it was hit by a pitch.

X-rays revealed a fracture in the bone at the base of his pinky finger and he is expected to miss at least four weeks.

“I think we dodged a bullet,” Dave Roberts said. “No surgery required. He’s in a splint, and we’re just going to let it heal. With a broken hand, the timeline is pretty vague, so that’s where it’s at.”

The big concern, other than how to replace Seager and his bat in the lineup, is that hand injuries can be tricky. He could come back 100% with no impact at all, he could come back with lingering soreness that hurts his swing, we’ll just have to wait and see.

How do the Dodgers replace him? Well, on Sunday they moved Lux to short and Taylor to second, moving Muncy up to the second spot in the order. Taylor can also play shortstop. McKinstry played shortstop some in the minors and in college. Lux will get the majority of time at short though. Speaking of McKinstry, let’s take a look at the Dodger injury list.

Scott Alexander, LHP: On the 10-day IL with shoulder inflammation. Still 2-3 weeks from returning.

Cody Bellinger, OF: On the 10-day IL after a hairline fracture in his leg. At last report, he is running at 80% and will return when he can run 100%, which could be this week, could be in three weeks. There’s no way to predict.

Caleb Ferguson, LHP: 60-day IL. Ferguson had Tommy John surgery last year and probably won’t pitch this season.

Tony Gonsolin, RHP: 10-day IL. Gonsolin had shoulder inflammation, but is throwing now and the Dodgers are stretching him out so he can start when he comes back, hopefully by the end of the month.

Brusdar Graterol, RHP: 10-day IL. He has a tight right forearm and is throwing, but there is no timetable for his return.

Tommy Kahnle, RHP: 60-day IL. He had Tommy John surgery and might make it back in the last month of the season, but it’s unlikely.

Corey Knebel, RHP: 60-day IL. Knebel has a strained back muscle and is out at least two months, probably longer.

Dustin May, RHP: 60-day IL. He had Tommy John surgery and may not be back until 2023.

Zach McKinstry, Utility: On 10-day IL with a strained rib/abdominal muscle. He will start a rehab assignment this week, so he should be back soon.

AJ Pollock, OF: On 10-day IL with a strained hamstring.

David Price, LHP: 10-day IL. His return from a strained hamstring is expected any time now, perhaps even today.

Edwin Rios, INF: 60-day IL. Out for the season after shoulder surgery.

Corey Seager, SS: 10-day IL: Out at least four weeks with a broken hand.

And that doesn’t even include Brandon Morrow, who was never officially on the roster but is injured and may not pitch this year at all. And keep an eye on Chris Taylor, who was a late scratch from Sunday’s lineup because of a sore wrist. He will be evaluated further today.


The Dodgers acquired infielder Yoshi Tsutsugo, 29, from the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for cash or a player to be named later. The Rays signed Tsutsugo to a two-year, $12-million deal in 2019 and he has a career .187/.292/.336 slash line. He went 0 for 3 against the Dodgers in the World Series. The Rays designated him for assignment, and the Dodgers will only have to pay him the prorated amount of the major league minimum salary. He was a power hitter for several seasons in Japan, but his power appears to have remained there.

The Dodgers also claimed infielder Travis Blankenhorn, 24, from the Minnesota Twins. He has had only three major league at-bats. Neither player is on the active roster, but provide depth on the 40-man roster.

The Dodgers also signed right-handed reliever Nate Jones, who was released by the Atlanta Braves. He had a 3.48 ERA with Atlanta, but walked 10 in 10.2 innings, giving up eight hits and three homers. He was assigned to triple-A Oklahoma City.

Your first Dodger memory

If you haven’t already, I’d still love for you to send me your first Dodgers memory, and it might run in an upcoming Dodgers Dugout. Include your name and where you live. And don’t send only a sentence. Tell why that memory sticks out in your mind. You can email me your memory at Thanks.

Michael Lipack of East Meadow, N.Y.: It was 1962 and I was home sick from school. My older brother was watching the one-game playoff between the Giants and Dodgers. It was late in the game. Some guy wearing 30 (Maury Wills) steals third for his 104th stolen base, extending his record. Plus the Dodgers went ahead 4-2. Oh boy, I was banking on a winner. Stan Williams comes in and gives up four runs. We lose to Giants and lose pennant.

1963 was different we win pennant and beat mighty Yankees.

It’s been a 58-year love affair.

Keith Angel: I have vague memories of attending Dodgers games in the late 50s and early 60s at Dodger Stadium. However, my most vivid and first real memory of that time happened at home, in 1965. Sandy Koufax announced that he would not play in a World Series game scheduled on the most holiest of Jewish holidays, Yom Kippur. Understand, we were not a deeply religious Jewish family, but Jewish we were nonetheless. When my father heard this announcement, it was like Sandy became his son, brother and best friend, someone of whom he could be intensely proud, all at once. I remember him standing in our kitchen beaming with pride that Sandy would stand up for OUR religion, respecting our culture and heritage, even in the face of enormous criticism for imperiling the Dodgers chances of winning a World Series. Here was the best pitcher in Baseball, standing up for us. I don’t know if this is the reason or not, but Sandy Koufax to this day remains my all time favorite baseball player.

Drew Robertson of Corvallis, Ore.: It was a nice night game at the Coliseum although on the cool side, July 30, 1959. I was in first grade, my brother was in third and driving down the 101 with our dad, I couldn’t believe my good fortune to be seeing the Dodgers in real life. When we made it into the stadium the beauty of the green ballfield made me pause on the steps taking it all in. We sat well above the first-base line, a little past the Dodger dugout. Outside of a wee bit of action in a fairly ho-hum game what I remember best was a fan or two pounding with the back of their fist on the corrugated metal press box hoping to rally the Dodgers to victory. Vin Scully and Jerry Doggett were present in the crowd through all the transistor radios. The Dodgers lost to the Pirates in 12 innings with Duke Snider fanning for the last Dodger out with Jim Gilliam the tying run on third. Too bad my favorite Dodger, Gil Hodges, didn’t play because he would of surely homered in the extra innings to win the game.

Up next

Tonight, Arizona (*Madison Bumgarner, 4-2, 4.12 ERA) at Dodgers (Walker Buehler, 1-0, 3.45 ERA), 7 p.m., Sportsnet LA, AM 570

Tuesday, Arizona (TBA) at Dodgers (*Julio Urías, 4-1, 3.59 ERA), 7 p.m., Sportsnet LA, AM 570

Wednesday, Arizona (TBA) at Dodgers (*Clayton Kershaw, 6-3, 3.20 ERA), 7 p.m., Sportsnet LA, AM 570

Thursday, Arizona (TBA) at Dodgers (Trevor Bauer, 4-2, 2.20 ERA), 7 p.m., Sportsnet LA, AM 570


And finally

Vin Scully recites the famous “Field of Dreams” speech. Watch and listen here.

Until next time...

Have a comment or something you’d like to see in a future Dodgers newsletter? Email me at, and follow me on Twitter at @latimeshouston. To get this newsletter in your inbox, click here.