The Los Angeles Angels knew this day was coming.
Albert Pujols sensed it, too.
The Angels believed that Pujols, a first-ballot Hall of Famer, simply was no longer an everyday player, citing his .198 batting average and .622 OPS.
Pujols, vehemently, but respectfully, disagreed, saying he still felt good at the plate and the results would eventually come.
Pujols refused to retire, and the Angels declined to let him stay in the everyday lineup, so they got together Wednesday night and decided to divorce after nearly 10 years, officially announcing Thursday that Pujols was designated for assignment.
“He does not want to be a bench player of any kind,’’ Angels manager Joe Maddon said. “He’s got a lot of pride.’’
Pujols made it clear in their meeting he was not interested in being a part-time player, and ultimately, the Angels were left with no decision but to part ways.
“Keeping him on the bench would not do him any good, or the team any good,’’ Angels GM Perry Minasian said. "We felt it was the best thing for the organization.’’
Angels owner Arte Moreno, who’s on the hook for the remainder of Pujols’ $30 million contract this year, signed off on it, giving the front office their wish by making Jared Walsh their full-time first baseman with Shohei Ohtani as the everyday DH.
And Pujols gets his wish of becoming a free agent again, with hopes of latching on with another team where he needs 33 more homers to become the fourth player in baseball history to hit 700 career homers.
“There was no fight,’’ Minasian said. “There was no argument. It was a conversation that went back and forth. He understood where we stood on the same situation.’’
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Pujols had no desire to collect his paycheck and be a glorified pinch-hitter. When he wasn’t in the starting lineup against the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday night, particularly with Ryan Yarbrough scheduled to pitch, Pujols wanted answers. He had six hits in nine at-bats off the left-hander with two homers and two doubles.
Maddon, who earlier told Pujols that he would be in the starting lineup, informed him the situation changed.
A few hours later, Pujols was no longer an Angel, ending his tenure four months before his 10-year, $240 million contract expired.
Pujols told two people with direct knowledge of the move that although he didn’t formally request a release, he didn’t want to hang around if he wasn’t going to be a regular. They spoke to USA TODAY Sports only the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
“There were several options that we discussed,’’ Angels president John Carpino said. “This was the most agreeable to.’’
Pujols declined to comment Thursday, and likely will wait until he clears waivers in three days and is a free agent.
Yet, he made it clear that he still wants to play, and retire on his own terms.
The question is where does he go?
There was immediate speculation of a reunion with manager Tony La Russa in Chicago, particularly with the White Sox's recent injuries to outfielder Luis Robert and Eloy Jimenez. There is nothing to it, White Sox officials say. Their first baseman is reigning AL MVP Jose Abreu, and Yermin Mercedes has been their primary DH, who just so happens to be hitting .386 with a 1.039 OPS.
If it were up to Pujols, he would finish his career in St. Louis, the city he never should have left. Yet, the Cardinals have a first baseman in Paul Goldschmidt. There’s no DH in the National League this year. And it’s hard to imagine they’d clear a spot for Pujols simply out of nostalgia.
Pujols, who still has a home in the St. Louis area, told USA TODAY Sports that the greatest memory of his career was returning to Busch Stadium as a visitor with the Angels in 2019, when he was serenaded with standing ovations every time he came to the plate.
“That was one of the best experiences, maybe the best, of my career," Pujols said. “I’ll never forget that. I mean, it didn’t shock me that I’d get a standing ovation in my first at-bat there, but did I think 13 or 14 standing ovations? No. That’s Cardinals Nation, man. That’s how loyal their fans are."
Yet, no matter where Pujols winds up, or if he ever plays again, no one can erase the memories of his greatness in St. Louis. He was a three-time MVP who finished among the top five in voting 10 seasons. He had a .328 batting average and a 1.037 OPS with 445 homers and 1,329 RBI with the Cardinals, leading them to two World Series titles.
“I had the best 10 years ever that anybody had,’’ Pujols said, “and I thought I was going to have the best career, I was going to continue to do it for the rest of my life. It’s just impossible to do that."
The Angels found out the hard way. Pujols hit .256 with a .311 on-base percentage and .447 slugging percentage with 222 homers and 783 RBI with them, and even having Mike Trout in the same lineup, failed to produce a single playoff victory.
Maybe Pujols never should have left St. Louis, but who in their right mind is going to leave about $100 million on the table. The Cincinnati Reds offered $225 million and the Miami Marlins were discussing a deferred deal approaching $280 million.
“You know, everything happens for a reason,’’ Pujols told USA TODAY Sports this spring. “No regrets. I know how hard they worked to try to keep me, and how hard I worked to try to stay there, but at the end of the day, it just didn’t work out. I don’t regret it. It was the best for both of us.
“People say, 'What would have happened if you stayed in St. Louis?’ My best numbers are in St. Louis, but it probably would have been worse if I stayed since I had those injuries, and they don’t have a DH.
“But I love that city. Those people were great to me. And they’re still great to me 20 years later. I came there as a little boy and left as a grown man. Our lives will always be blessed being in St. Louis.’’
Technically, Pujols will remain an Angel for the next 10 years. Well, at least he’ll be on their payroll. His contract includes a 10-year, $10 million personal services contract, but it’s difficult imagining him representing an organization in the community after coldly dismissing him.
It led to Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez ridiculing the Angels for the move, sending a tweet: “I know the glory is of God, not of man; that’s why I’m not surprised about the shameful way the Angels treated you and your legacy today.’’
The Angels, of course, never wanted this either. They wanted Pujols to be as great for them as he was with the Cardinals. It never happened. And, now, at the age of 41, the Angels stopped believing he was one of their best 26 players.
“It never ends,’’ Carpino said, “the way you really want it to.’’
Pujols will now wait to see if anyone shows any interest in the next few weeks. He’ll keep working out in hopes someone will call, refusing to give up the chase for 700, a fraternity that includes only Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth and Barry Bonds.
If no one wants him, he’ll be the one to decide if he wants to officially retire.
“I don’t think I’m ever going to think this is it,’’ Pujols said this spring. “My mind is not there.’’
Maybe it will be at the season’s conclusion.
Maybe even in a few months.
But, as the Angels were emphatically told, that time certainly is not now.
Follow Bob Nightengale on Twitter @BNightengale.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Albert Pujols wants to play but career may be over after Angels move