Written by Sean Meyers
Albert Pujols was placed on the disabled list with a partially torn plantar fascia yesterday, possibly ending his season. For the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, this injury could be the proverbial nail in the coffin of a massively disappointing season. Heading into action on Monday, the Angels sit in fourth place in the American League West with a record of 48-55.
Pujols’ tenure in Los Angeles has almost mirrored the struggles of the Angels. Prior to the 2012 season, Los Angeles inked Pujols to a 10-year contract exceeding $250 million, the second-largest deal in MLB history. Adding the future Hall-of-Fame first baseman to an already potent squad established the Angels as World Series favorites last season.
Pujols struggled over the first few months, however, enduring one of the worst stretches of his career. He bounced back over the last four months of the 2012 season to post impressive numbers, although he set career lows in nearly every statistical category. Similarly, the Angels finished 2012 with a respectable 89 wins, but failed to qualify for the playoffs.
This winter, the Angels once again added the top-rated player in free agency when they signed outfielder Josh Hamilton to a five-year, $125 million pact. Pujols, Hamilton, and 20-year-old phenom and 2012 AL MVP runner-up Mike Trout were expected to form perhaps the most impressive trio in baseball history. Once again, great expectations loomed as the Angels opened the 2013 campaign.
Trout has lived up to his billing, but Pujols and Hamilton have endured the worst seasons of their Major League careers. Pujols, a lifetime .321 hitter, has batted only .258. His on-base percentage and slugging continue to plummet, as well, and his OPS is nearly 250 points below his career mark.
Likewise, Hamilton’s anemic .220 average and .273 on-base percentage are career-worst numbers, and his power has dropped considerably. To this juncture, he has been a below-replacement level player for the Halos.
Despite their $375 million investment between the duo, the Angels could finish with their worst record in the past decade. Ironically, Pujols’ former team, the St. Louis Cardinals, boast the top record in the National League, while the Texas Rangers, Hamilton’s prior employer, continue to fight for a playoff spot.
Pujols has displayed his typical professional approach despite the setbacks with the Angels, but his presence alone has not galvanized the club. His skills continue to decline, and this injury, the first serious ailment of his career, could further hamper his abilities in the future. Pujols’ age and compromised health could spell an end to his days as an elite player. Moreover, Pujols, who will be 34 entering next season, will be on the books for another eight years for Los Angeles.
Meanwhile, their lack of financial flexibility following these massive contracts could put an end to the Angels being among the elite teams in MLB for the foreseeable future.
Although Hamilton, and especially Pujols, should not absorb full blame for Los Angeles’ struggles, perhaps the Angels’ failures should serve as a cautionary tale to other teams around baseball. Signing the most coveted free agents certainly increases expectations for a team, but it doesn’t necessarily increase victories.