Pujols, Dodgers finalize one-year deal

May 17th, 2021

LOS ANGELES -- Future Hall of Famer won’t have to drive very far to continue his illustrious career, as the Dodgers and the first baseman have agreed on a one-year Major League deal, the team announced on Monday.

Pujols, 41, was designated for assignment by the Angels on May 6 and cleared waivers on Thursday. He hit .198 with five homers and 12 RBIs over 86 at-bats for the Halos before being let go. Over his last five seasons, Pujols has had an OPS of .700 or higher twice.

Still, Pujols is the Majors’ active leader in home runs (667), RBIs (2,112), runs scored (1,852) and games played (2,886), and he’s fourth among active players in career OPS (.921).

Pujols thanked the Angels and their fans and discussed his excitement to join the Dodgers in a Twitter thread on Monday.

"The role that [Dodgers president of baseball operations] Andrew Friedman and [manager] Dave Roberts have presented to me is one that I embrace," Pujols said in the tweet. "I am excited to be part of the Dodger family and want to thank Andrew, Dave and the rest of the Dodger organization for this opportunity."

The Dodgers have 30-year-old Max Muncy, who's been one of the team’s best hitters and defenders this season, as their first baseman, but the club is running very thin with its position-player depth this season.

Cody Bellinger and Zach McKinstry are sidelined with injuries, and the team lost Edwin Ríos to season-ending shoulder surgery earlier this week. AJ Pollock, who aggravated his left hamstring on Friday, appears to be on his way to the injured list for a couple of weeks.

The Dodgers’ other options at the moment are infielder Sheldon Neuse and outfielder DJ Peters, neither of whom has produced so far this season. Neuse has shown flashes but hasn’t been able to put together consistent strong at-bats. Peters just appears overmatched by any fastball that is up in the zone. The Dodgers still remain high on both of those players, but they see Pujols and his veteran approach as an upgrade.

Two or three teams were interested in signing Pujols, sources told MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand and Jon Paul Morosi, but he ultimately chose the Dodgers. L.A.’s need for a right-handed bat off the bench played a role in the decision for both sides.

The Dodgers have struggled to hit southpaws over the last few seasons, and that’s no different in 2021. L.A. is hitting .259 with a .799 OPS against righties this season, but that significantly drops to a slash line of .217/.312/.352 against lefties.

While Pujols has struggled at the plate as he’s aged, he can still hit left-handed pitching. In 27 at-bats against lefties this season, Pujols has an .878 OPS and has launched three homers. The Dodgers, as a club, had 11 homers off lefties entering Saturday.

Now, the task for the Dodgers will be to find playing time for Pujols. It’ll mostly come against left-handed pitching and at first base. The Dodgers could slide Muncy to second or third base, two positions he has played, or they could simply limit Pujols’ at-bats to whenever Muncy needs a day off. With the Dodgers prioritizing health and another deep-October run in mind, this move could give L.A. that flexibility.

Adding Pujols will give the Dodgers clubhouse yet another household name. The Dodgers would have four former MVPs and three former Cy Young Award winners. The opportunity will also allow Pujols to try to chase some more history, and tack on a third World Series title. Pujols is 29 homers from tying Alex Rodriguez for the fourth most in Major League history.

It wasn’t always an obvious fit -- but one that could ultimately help both sides.