The Los Angeles Dodgers won't repeat as champions. Following a loss in NLCS Game 6 on Saturday night, the Dodgers' quest for another championship ended. They now face some tough decisions as some big-name players players are set to leave in the offseason.
Veteran first baseman Albert Pujols is far from the team's most pressing concern, but his status deserves attention. For years, it was assumed Pujols would retire from baseball once his 10-year, $240 million deal with the Los Angeles Angels came to an end this season. After joining the Dodgers midseason, he was standing on deck when their title defense came to an end in Atlanta.
There were multiple reasons fans assumed this could mark the end of the road. Pujols will be 42 years old next season, and his production has fallen off significantly over the past five seasons. Over that period, Pujols has a .241/.290/.410 batting line. His 87 OPS+ suggests he's been 13 percent worse than the average MLB hitter.
Those rumors seemed to be confirmed in February, when Pujols' wife posted on Instagram about Pujols' "last season." Pujols' wife — Deidre — later clarified she was talking about the last season of Pujols' contract. She even added a note claiming, "THIS IS NOT AN OFFICIAL STATEMENT OF PUJOLS RETIREMENT" after fans initially read the post as a retirement letter.
Pujols' contract made him an easy target in recent years, so it might be hard for some fans to remember his excellence. Pujols' first decade in the majors is among the best stretch of any player in the history of the game. If this is truly the end of the road for Pujols, he'll go down as one of the greatest players of his era, and an easy first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Albert Pujols could leave MLB with record-setting numbers
If Pujols retires, he'll leave the game with 679 home runs. That figure ranks fifth all-time, behind Barry Bonds, Hark Aaron, Babe Ruth and Alex Rodriguez. Pujols ranks third all-time on the RBI list with 2,150 runs driven in. He ranks 14th in MLB history in runs scored, a testament to his elite ability to get on base early in his career.
Upon joining the St. Louis Cardinals in 2001, Pujols turned in one of the finest stretches in baseball history. Over his first 11 seasons in the majors, Pujols hit .328/.420/.617 with 445 home runs. He averaged 117 runs, 121 RBIs and 40 home runs and 5.9 fWAR per season during those years.
With the Cardinals, Pujols won the Rookie of the Year award, made nine of his 10 career All-Star appearances and took home a batting title, two Gold Gloves, six Silver Slugger awards and three MVP awards. He led the franchise to two World Series titles, in 2006 and 2011, his final year in St. Louis.
Pujols' production dropped once he joined the Angels, though he did manage to post an above-average OPS in his first five seasons with the team.
Could Albert Pujols continue playing in MLB?
The last five seasons were a struggle for Pujols. He continued to see a lot of playing time despite a steep decline in play. Pujols hit just .241/.290/.410 since 2017, an unacceptable level of production for a first baseman.
In his brief time with the Dodgers, Pujols offered some hope he can stick around for another season. Pujols hit .254/.299/.460, with 12 home runs, after getting released by the Angels in May. Pujols' OPS+ with the Dodgers was 101, barely above league average.
Pujols wasn't an everyday player with the Dodgers. He was mostly used as a sub and a pinch-hitter. If Pujols wants to keep playing, he would likely have to seek out a similar role in 2022. If Pujols' resurgence with the Dodgers was real, it's possible that performance — along with his name recognition — could lead to Pujols catching on with another team in the offseason.
That scenario is dependent on Pujols wanting to continue his career. After 21 years in the majors, he has nothing left to prove. He has got two rings, and his induction to the Baseball Hall of Fame is guaranteed.
There is nothing wrong with Pujols sticking around in pursuit of a third championship or additional career milestones. But if this is it, Pujols leaves the game with nothing else to prove.
He cemented his legacy as one of the best to ever do it years ago.