It's amazing how much things have changed for former St. Louis Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols during the past five years.
We've all watched Pujols, who spent the first 10 years of his career as one of the most feared sluggers that baseball has ever seen, evaporate before our eyes. The guy who once challenged St. Louis Hall of Famer Stan Musial's .331 career batting mark has been helpless to stop it as his lifetime average sinks down dangerously close to the .300 mark. Still, Pujols remains in the middle of the batting order of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim where he slugs more than his fair share of homers and continue climbing the all-time list. Is he worth his $252-million, decade-long contract? I don't think there is anyone who follows baseball who would say yes. But he's worth something, right?
I'm not so sure anymore.
I play in the same fantasy baseball league every year. Everyone in the group is a dyed-in-the-wool, lifetime Cardinals fan. We used to wait in nervous anticipation for the draft order to be decided each year so we could find out who would get the top pick — and use it to take Albert. This year, after I had largely filled out my roster, I was scanning the remaining players for guys who had been overlooked that might make an impact from my bench. To my surprise, after 232 players had already been selected, there sat Pujols, still looking for a virtual home.
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In case anybody ever wondered whether my head could win an argument with my heart, the answer is decidely no. Even though I know Pujols seems destined to hit about .235, pile up strikeouts in bunches and spend an increasing amount of time on the bench either because of injuries or ineffectiveness, I couldn't pass up the chance to add him to my roster. Maybe I'll be down by a home run on a Sunday morning and I can slide him into the order so he can hit a dinger for me and save the day for old time's sake.
According to Yahoo Fantasy baseball, Pujols has been selected in only 52 percent of the leagues that have drafted so far. I know the numbers are against me. But what do I have to lose? Albert was 3-for-3 with an RBI in Cactus League play earlier this week. He hit 23 homers last season and drove in 101 runs. And it could be worse. Remember when Minnesota Twins fans gloated that they were able to keep their homegrown superstar, Joe Mauer, when the Cardinals couldn't retain Pujols as a free agent? Mauer has been selected in only EIGHT percent of Yahoo Baseball fantasy leagues. Yikes.
In the 90 seconds I had on the clock to decide which player to pick, I agonized over the Pujols decision before pulling the trigger. But, after I did, the seal was broken and I was free to sacrifice my remaining choice with a fanboy move. While I was at it, with my 25th and last pick in the draft I found two St. Louis starting pitchers still looking for a virtual job. One was new addition Miles Mikolas who has a bit of mystery surrounding him because he spent the past two years playing in Japan after faring poorly in the major leagues earlier in his career. A few spots below him in the rankings sat another beloved Cardinals star who no longer stirs fear in the heart of opponents. At least on my fantasy team Pujols and Adam Wainwright are on the same team again.
Was Mikolas a safer choice? Probably. While he doesn't have a great track record to go on, we know that Wainwright has had trouble keeping his earned run average under 5.00 the past two years. Those numbers can sink a whole pitching staff over a fantasy baseball weak. I may not make the most sound roster decisions. But at least I can't be accused of being a fair-weather fan.