Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon
news

MLB News

Inbox: What do Angels expect from Albert in '20?

Beat reporter Rhett Bollinger answers questions from Los Angeles fans
@RhettBollinger
January 24, 2020

ANAHEIM -- The results of the 2020 Hall of Fame ballot were released on Tuesday, and it’s a special club that veteran Angels first baseman Albert Pujols should join once he’s eligible five years after retirement. The question, however, is when will Pujols’ final season in the Majors come, as

ANAHEIM -- The results of the 2020 Hall of Fame ballot were released on Tuesday, and it’s a special club that veteran Angels first baseman Albert Pujols should join once he’s eligible five years after retirement.

The question, however, is when will Pujols’ final season in the Majors come, as he’s signed through the 2021 season after inking a 10-year, $240 million contract prior to the 2012 season. Pujols is due $29 million this season and $30 million in '21.

Pujols has the résumé to be an inner-circle Hall of Famer, as he's already racked up more than 3,200 hits and 650 homers. He even created his own exclusive club -- becoming the first player to reach at least 650 homers and 650 doubles. So it's been quite a career for Pujols, but he turned 40 on Jan. 16, and he is getting close to the end of his career. With that in mind, here's the first question of this week's Angels Inbox:

To Pujols' credit, he was able to stay healthy during the 2019 season, never missing any time due to injury. He rarely played more than three days in a row and the plan worked well, as Pujols played in 131 games and had his best offensive season since '16.

Pujols batted .244/.305/.430 with 23 homers and 93 RBIs, posting a .913 OPS with runners in scoring position. He also made 98 starts at first base after combining for just 104 starts at the position over the previous three seasons. It’s also worth noting that he didn’t have any surgeries this offseason, which is something he’s had to deal with in recent years, including coming off left knee surgery and right elbow surgery heading into last year.

So the Angels are confident he can put up similar numbers to last year, but his stats still don’t rank well among other first basemen across the Major Leagues. His .734 OPS ranked 20th among all Major League first basemen and his defense graded out below-average, according to advanced metrics.

Pujols, though, will still see action at first in 2020, but Tommy La Stella could also see time there with the addition of Anthony Rendon at third base. The Angels could utilize an infield with Rendon at third, Andrelton Simmons at shortstop, David Fletcher at second base and La Stella at first. Pujols could use rest days or even serve as the designated hitter on the days when Shohei Ohtani is unavailable to hit.

The Angels also have youngsters Jared Walsh and Matt Thaiss who can play first base, so there is some depth, but both struggled offensively in the Majors last year. Unless the Angels surprisingly add a first baseman to platoon with Pujols, having La Stella see action there would make sense.

But the big question with Pujols still remains if he can stay healthy over the next two seasons. If he suffers a major injury or his production falls off a cliff, the Angels will have to decide what to do with Pujols, given his contract situation. But the Angels aren’t at that point now, as Pujols stayed healthy last year and was about as productive as can be expected.

It’ll be interesting to see how new manager Joe Maddon handles the infield after the addition of Rendon at third base. La Stella was an All-Star for the first time last year, while Fletcher is coming off a breakout season that saw him finish second on the team in Wins Above Replacement, per baseball-reference.com.

Fletcher is more versatile than La Stella, as he can handle shortstop and even saw some time in the outfield last year. La Stella, though, can play first base, which could give him more playing time as a platoon partner of sorts with Pujols. Fletcher is expected to be moved all around the diamond and could also see some time in the outfield again in 2020. Both players can also play third and could give Rendon a break when he needs a rare day off.

So the Angels do have some middle-infield depth and that also includes Luis Rengifo, who is coming off a solid rookie year but could open the season at Triple-A Salt Lake to get regular playing time. Thaiss was moved to third base last year, but with Rendon in the fold, he’s expected to see more action at first when he’s in the Majors.

There’s not an obvious choice here for the Angels, especially if Ohtani isn’t ready for the start of the season or they want him lined up for Sunday starts, much like his rookie season in 2018.

Julio Teheran, though, has the most experience with that role, as he made six straight Opening Day starts for the Braves, including last season. Dylan Bundy was also Baltimore’s Opening Day starter in 2018, while Andrew Heaney has yet to receive that honor but is the longest-tenured Angels starter on the staff.

Of course, injuries could change things, but Teheran is likely the best bet given his experience pitching in regular-season openers.

Rhett Bollinger covers the Angels for MLB.com. He previously covered the Twins from 2011-18. Follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and Facebook.