In a sudden and unexpected end to a monster contract that was supposed last long after he made history, Albert Pujols has been designated for assignment by the Los Angeles Angels and will be released by the team, the club announced Thursday.
Pujols, 41, is in the final playing year of a 10-year, $240-million contract that lured him away from the Cardinals after the 2011 World Series title.
He won three MVP awards and won the National League's "Decade Triple Crown" while with the Cardinals from 2001-2011. He left the team as a free agent, courted by teams as varied as the Marlins and Cardinals until the Angels overwhelmed the others with an offer that their owner made personally and person to Pujols.
The Angels enjoyed the milestones that come from signing one of the best righthanded hitters in history, and in 1,181 games for them Pujols hit 222 home runs, drove in 783 runs, and batted .256.
His playing time had diminished in recent years, and was expected to shrink further during this season. During a press conference to discuss the move, Angels officials described how they want to Jared Walsh to start every day at first and Shohei Ohtani, a two-way star, has taken over at designated hitter. The evaporation of playing time was presented to Pujols on Wednesday night as were alternatives.
Pujols told officials he wanted to continuing playing.
"Albert is not a bench player," Angels general manager Perry Minasian said. "If he does go somewhere else and does pursue playing I would not bet against him. ... Albert is passionate about continuing to play."
"He does not want to be a bench player of any kind," manager Joe Maddon said.
The move Thursday allows Pujols to explore openings with other teams that might permit more playing time or a reunion that appeals to him.
In a Cardinals-related twist, the player expected to take Pujols' spot on the 40-man roster and on with the team is outfielder Jon Jay.
Pujols' contract includes a 10-year personal services contract that was seen at the time as a lifetime commitment by the player and the Angels for life after his retirement. It is worth $10 million, and it is an option he has to accept after retirement. That element of his contract with the Angels continues with them regardless of when he retires, or the team he's on before retiring. He can decline that contract too.
The personal services contract was mentioned by the Pujols family as an appealing part of the contract, one the Cardinals thought was assumed as they tried to sign him as a "legacy" player. Cardinals ownership once contacted MLB officials to see if they could include an ownership stake in the team with their offer to Pujols.
The Angels' offer surpassed the Cardinals' offer in total guaranteed dollars before it ever got to the personal services contract, which are no longer permitted.
In exchange for their record-setting offer, the Angels got one playoff berth and all of the milestone numbers that will come to define Pujols' first-ballot Hall of Fame career.
He hit his 500th home run with the Angels, his 600th home run, too, and got his 3,000th hit, all in addition to scaling the ranks of the all-time greats when it comes to RBIs, total bases, and other offensive categories. He currently has 667 home runs and 3,253 hits.
In a statement the team released on Twitter, owner Arte Moreno said: "Albert Pujols' historical accomplishments, both on and off the field, serve as an inspiration to athletes everywhere, and his actions define what it means to be a true Superstar."
In the official announcement of the move the Angels stated that Pujols spent "nearly half" of his "Hall of Fame career" with them.
The last Cardinal to win the Rookie of the Year award, in 2001, Pujols went on to win six Silver Sluggers, two Gold Glove awards, and two World Series titles with the Cardinals. Of his 10 All-Star Game appearances, nine were with the Cardinals.
Pujols' 667 home runs rank fifth all-time, 29 behind Alex Rodriguez. In RBIs, Pujols, 2,112 rank third, and he is 102 behind Babe Ruth. Pujols' 5,955 total bases rank fifth, behind Willie Mays (third) and 21 behind Barry Bonds, at fourth.
Officially the Angels are designating Pujols for assignment to move him off of the 40-man roster immediately and explore possible trades and move him through waivers in the next seven days. It's unlikely that another team will pick up the remainder of his contract when, once released, he could be signed for the prorated minimum salary and the Angels must cover the rest.
This a standard process and the one the Angels have chosen en route to releasing Pujols.
This season Pujols has hit five home runs, played a few innings a third base for the Angels, but overall struggled in the first month to a .198 average with a .372 slugging percentage.
@dgoold on Twitter