FanSided’s Robert Murray reported Friday that as many as four teams have already shown interest in former Angels slugger Albert Pujols, who became a free agent after officially clearing waivers earlier this week. According to Audacy insider Jon Heyman, one of those clubs is the St. Louis Cardinals, who Pujols spent the first 11 years of his career with before departing as a free agent in 2011. Nine of Pujols’ 10 All-Star appearances and both of his World Series rings came as a Cardinal.
Drafted as a relatively unheralded 13th-round pick in 1999, the Dominican-born Pujols debuted in the big leagues two years later, ultimately batting .328 with 445 homers and 1,329 RBI over his 1,705 games in St. Louis, earning Rookie of the Year honors, three MVP awards, one National League batting crown, two Gold Gloves and six Silver Sluggers during that remarkable span. Pujols was paid handsomely to join the Angels (his monster, 10-year, $240-million pact remains one of the most lucrative free-agent signings in MLB history) but never experienced the same success there, qualifying for just one American League All-Star team during his decade-long stint in Anaheim (.256/.311/.447 batting line with 222 homers in 1,181 games).
The nostalgia element can’t be overlooked, though Pujols would seem to be an odd fit for the Cards with no designated hitter available and perennial All-Star Paul Goldschmidt entrenched at first base. With Los Angeles footing most of the bill, taking the future Hall-of-Famer on as a backup/veteran mentor (the need for pinch-hitters is obviously much greater in the National League) would make some amount of sense for St. Louis. However, that might not be what Pujols, who is 33 home runs shy of 700 for his career (a milestone the 41-year-old has been eyeing for quite some time), has in mind.
Pujols clashed with Angels skipper Joe Maddon for not playing him enough, a conflict that many felt was the impetus for his release. If Pujols sulked about coming off the bench in Anaheim, why would he be any happier filling the same role in St. Louis? Not that the Cardinals have ever struggled to fill Busch Stadium, but staging a de facto farewell tour for one of the most accomplished players in franchise history, certainly wouldn’t hurt their bottom line (recall the thunderous ovation he received upon his return in 2019).
Heyman backpedaled somewhat in subsequent tweets, contending that Goldschmidt’s presence complicates Pujols’ path to a Cardinals reunion. We’ll see what other teams pursue Pujols now that he’s a free agent, though his former manager Tony La Russa doesn’t anticipate the White Sox being one of them, with Chicago committed to Jose Abreu and Yermin Mercedes at first base and DH, respectively.