It seemed liked old times watching the video of Albert Pujols playfully booing his former St. Louis Cardinals teammates during the All-Star Game introductions in Cincinnati.
Afterward, Albert Pujols referred to the players on his former team as “My Cardinals.”
With most of the venom of St. Louis fans who thought of Pujols as a traitor when he took a big-money deal to defect to the Anaheim Angels evaporated -- not to mention the Redbirds’ desperate need for a first baseman who can hit -- the reunion talk was sure to follow.
Pujols said his decision to leave wasn’t about the money, although he got one season and about $40 million more from the Angels than the Cardinals’ reported best offer of $210 million. It was about winning, he said.
The Cardinals have made it to the league championship series every year since Albert left St. Louis. And The Angels have been both regular season and playoff disappointments. So it would be logical that Pujols would be in favor of erasing his Anaheim decision.
Meanwhile, baseball has been turned upside-down. Pitching used to be the most valuable commodity. Now there is a glut of top starters on the market - Cole Hamels, David Price is going to be a free agent, Zack Grienke has an opt out... It’s hitters who are in huge demand.
Pujols has enjoyed his best season in California this year. Supposedly healthy for the first time in his stay there. He’s batting an un-Pujolslike .255. But his 26 homers and 56 RBIs would be a great tonic for the Cardinals’ sad offense.
I couldn’t see him moving back into his familiar third spot in the order. But he’s be a nice addition if he was installed in the fourth or fifth spot.
Anaheim showed some appetite to eat its mistakes when Josh Hamilton was shown the door despite a giant pile of money scheduled to come to him from the Angels’ vault. But that doesn’t mean Halos owner Arte Moreno is going to pay Albert to go away. While he was put off by Hamilton’s wild ways, he likes Albert. He bought not only Pujols’ playing days. He bought his legacy. That’s not something that easy to let go of.
If the hitting-desperate Cardinals were willing to commit to taking Pujols back, how much would they invest?
First, I don’t see general manager John Mozeliak parting with prime young players to re-acquire an aging slugger at terms he was unwilling to pay when Albert was a free agent.
If they could agree on players who wouldn’t significantly impact the Redbirds’ future, Anaheim would have to eat a huge amount of money to make the deal even close to being palatable for St. Louis.
Albert is owed $165 million for six seasons beyond this year - and he’s 35 years old. It might be nice to have him this year and next. But Pujols has seen his production decline precipitously since he left St. Louis. There is no reason to believe that negative trend won’t continue.
Even though he’s playing his best baseball in four years, Pujols’ 2015 doesn’t compare even to his worst seasons as in St. Louis. While he was a Redbird, Albert had a .420 on base percentage and a .617 slugging percentage. This season his on base percentage is .323 and his slugging percentage is .532.
Supposing the Angels agreed to eat $45 million of Pujols’ contract, making him a $20 million player for the Cardinals through his age 41 season, there is still going to be a long, ugly period at the end of the deal. I don’t see how the Cardinals could get past that. And Pujols would risk going from a returning hero to the greedy guy who doesn’t know when to quit in the court of public opinion.
It would be the story of the year if Pujols was returned to the Cardinals and led the team to another championship. But it just seems like such a deal would be completely unworkable and that the risks would never be less than the potential reward.
Sadly, a Pujols reunion seems forever impossible because of the contract he signed.
Those wounds have healed. It’s best not to even think about re-opening them.