Ten Teams That Could Use Albert Pujols

ALSO: SHOW-ME OHTANI AMAZES OBSERVERS

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Pre-Game Pepper

Did You Know?

The Friday night no-hitter by Cincinnati’s Wade Miley against Cleveland was the fifth this season (and second this week) if we count the seven-inning hitless gem by Madison Bumgarner, suggesting the Modern Era one-season mark of seven is in serious jeopardy . . .

With Justin Verlander out with Tommy John surgery, 24-year-old righty Christian Javier has saved Dusty Baker’s Astros with a 3-0 start and two runs allowed in his first 20 1/3 innings . . .

Fred Tenney, player-manager of the 1905 Boston Red Sox, was not only an Ivy Leaguer (Brown) but also the off-season baseball coach at Tufts . . .

The ball Bo Bichette of the Blue Jays belted out of Boston’s Fenway Park April 22 landed near the now-closed Lansdowne Street gym where father Dante met Bo’s mother during the summer of 1991 . . .

Ex-Met Steven Matz, now with Toronto, is thriving now that he’s started throwing his slider again at the suggestion of Blue Jays pitching coach Pete Walker . . .

Since re-signing with Washington for seven years and $245 million in 2019, Stephen Strasburg – soon to turn 33 – has pitched a grand total of 15 innings.

Leading Off

Ten Best Landing Spots for Albert Pujols

At 41, Albert Pujols was the oldest man in the majors before the Los Angeles Angels designated him for assignment a few days ago.

The move was a surprise because the three-time MVP, though off to a slow start, had a clear shot at 700 home runs – if not this season, the next.

He was also in the 10th and final year of a $240 million contract that has $30 million left. Because of that albatross, no team is likely to work out a trade with the Angels or to claim him off waivers.

That means the Angels will release the Dominican first baseman, who was visibly miffed when informed that his playing time will diminish over the final five months.

Sure, the guy was hitting only .198 with five homers but hell, defending National League MVP Freddie Freeman went into Friday night’s Braves game at .202 with six homers. He was even benched on Thursday. And he’s a lot younger than Pujols.

Signed by the Angels in 2011 after a long tenure in St. Louis, Pujols is a lock for the Baseball Hall of Fame. But he’s not going to go slink away quietly.

The Angels, who haven’t won anything even with Pujols and Mike Trout, another three-time MVP, in the same lineup, are moving on. They’re going to bank on Shohei Ohtani, who went into Friday’s game with 10 home runs, and sudden slugger Jared Walsh, a .333 hitter so far, in addition to Trout, Anthony Rendon, and Justin Upton.

Though he’s hit just .240 since 2017 and bangs into more than his share of double-plays, Pujols still stokes fear into the faces of opposing pitchers.

He has 667 lifetime home runs, trailing only four men on the lifetime list, and is third in RBIs. He’s the active leader in hits (3,253), home runs, runs scored, RBIs, and WAR (wins against replacement). The only first baseman with a higher WAR than Pujols is somebody named Lou Gehrig.

Now that he’s embarrassed by his release, he’s also motivated to prove Angels owner Arte Moreno wrong for letting him go. But he’s pretty much limited to the American League now that the one-year experiment allowing the DH in the National League has been eliminated.

Here are 10 teams that could sign Pujols for the major-league minimum, let the Angels pay the balance of his bloated contract, and cash in at the same time:

1. Boston Red Sox – If he makes enough contact, the patented Pujols power could thrive in Fenway, with the Green Monster sending a siren call of “hit me” to right-handed batters. Boston hasn’t had trouble scoring runs this year but adding Pujols would conjure up memories of retired Red Sox DH David (Big Papi) Ortiz.

2. Chicago White Sox – Tony La Russa, who managed Pujols in St. Louis, would love to have a reunion that would help his injury-riddled team. The Chisox have lost Luis Robert and Eloy Jimenez to injuries and want to fill the power void at a reasonable cost.

3. Houston Astros – Like the Red Sox, the Astros have a home park with a very inviting left-field barrier. Dusty Baker, the second-oldest manager in the majors, would welcome the oldest player with open arms.

4. Detroit Tigers – Off to a terrible start for new manager A.J. Hinch, the Tigers have little to cheer about beyond fading slugger Miguel Cabrera, another fading first baseman. They would have an extra fan attraction if Pujols came to town and started swinging for the fences.

5. New York Yankees – Luke Voit missed the first month with injuries, Greg Bird played his way out of town, and D.J. LeMahieu has had to fill in at first base more often than manager Aaron Boone likes. Even though the Yankees are a righty-heavy team in a ballpark with a lefty-friendly fence, Pujols might perk up at the idea of finishing his career in pinstripes.

6. Oakland Athletics – Joining the Angels’ biggest rival has to have some appeal for Pujols, who would see his old team frequently if he stays in the same division. And when do the budget-conscious A’s have a chance to spend so little for such a big name?

7. Cleveland Indians – Like Oakland, this team can’t even afford a new nickname. But paying the minimum salary for a player like Pujols would energize the fan base and keep this surprise contender afloat. Manager Terry Francona would probably endorse such a move.

8. Tampa Bay Rays – A team that loves to juggle would be a great landing spot for Pujols, who would not only be a DH and part-time first baseman but also a huge gate attraction. Most fans can’t name the Tampa Bay lineup even though the team won the last American League pennant. Signing Pujols would change that.

9. Kansas City Royals – Another small-market team with an eye on its budget, the Royals returned to contention this year but can they stay there? Adding a seasoned veteran would not only help as a mentor to young players but also intrigue fans returning after the pandemic.

10. St. Louis Cardinals – Want to soothe ruffled feathers? Bringing Albert back for a last hurrah would do that, but the Cards already have Paul Goldschmidt at first base and no DH except in inter-league games. But Pujols would make one helluva pinch-hitter and most Cardinals fans would be wild about welcoming the return of their one-time hero.

Here’s The Pitch weekend editor Dan Schlossberg writes for forbes.com, Latino Sports, Ball Nine, Sports Collectors Digest, and USA TODAY Sports Weekly. E.mail him at ballauthor@gmail.com.

Cleaning Up

Can Shohei Ohtani Add MVP Hardware to Rookie of the Year Trophy?

By Dan Schlossberg

This week, we celebrated the 90th birthday of the Say-Hey Kid. This season, we’re celebrating the coming of age of the Shohei Kid.

Shohei Ohtani is the 6-4, 210-pound player most likely to succeed Jose Abreu as the Most Valuable Player in the American League.

Already this season, he’s become the first man in 100 years to start a game as a pitcher while leading his league in home runs.

The best two-way player since Babe Ruth, Ohtani already owns big-league hardware: he was American League Rookie of the Year in 2018, earning a spot on the cover of the Los Angeles Angels media guide the following spring.

The only other Angels to win freshman honors were outfielders Tim Salmon in 1993 and Mike Trout in 2012. Trout, still going strong at age 27, also has three MVP trophies, the same number former Angels teammate Albert Pujols won during his earlier tenure with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Ohtani, who will celebrate his 25th birthday the day after Independence Day, hopes to win his first this year, when he will also make his first trip to the All-Star Game.

The problem is finding a position for him to play.

Unless he starts the Sunday game before the mid-July All-Star break, Ohtani could be the starting pitcher for the American League. Or he could wind up in the starting lineup as the designated hitter. He might even play an inning or two in the outfield.

He’s done all of that for the Angels, since manager Joe Maddon is a master of maneuvers who craves versatility.

Ohtani is already on record asking to be considered for Home Run Derby, the popular exhibition held the night before the Midsummer Classic. American League manager Kevin Cash, whose Tampa Bay Rays gave the Los Angeles Dodgers a scare before dropping the 2020 World Series, would love to cash in on Ohtani’s obvious prowess as a slugger.

During his five-year career in Japan with the Nippon Ham Fighters, Ohtani hit .286 with 48 home runs , posted a 42-15 record and 2.52 earned run average, and won a pair of ERA titles.

He signed with Los Angeles as an international free agent on Dec. 9, 2017.

Because he bats left-handed but throws right-handed, Ohtani exposes his pitching shoulder when he stands at the plate. Only a month of this season had gone by when he ran into trouble. Struck by a pitch on the protective elbow pad, he was scratched from his Monday night start.

Ohtani has already had Tommy John surgery to replace a balky elbow ligament that kept him off the mound entirely in 2019 and most of 2020. But he could still hit.

Given a clean bill of health this spring, he hit five homers in spring training and eight more – in just 96 at-bats – after the season started April 1.

The only man in major-league history to hit 15 homers and strike out 50 hitters in the same season, Ohtani and Ruth are the only players during baseball’s Modern Era (starting in 1900) to hit at least 10 homers and win at least four games in a season.

In his rookie year, Ohtani hit more home runs (22) in the American major leagues than any previous Japanese import. If he stays healthy, he’s going to hit a lot more than that in 2021.

No slouch on the mound, he fanned 23 batters in his first 13 2/3 innings this year while posting a 1-0 record and 3.29 ERA. He also knocked in 20 runs in his first 24 games.

Who says pitchers can’t hit?

Maddon needs no DH when Ohtani pitches and often bats him second in the lineup, ahead of Trout, Anthony Rendon, and Justin Upton – a Murderer’s Row in red.

Batting him second gives Maddon more speed at the top of the lineup; Ohtani stole four bases in the first month of the season.

Also helping Ohtani this year is the arrival of veteran catcher Kurt Suzuki, signed as a free agent after spending several seasons in Washington. He’s become Ohtani’s personal catcher.

In his first start, Suzuki helped calm frayed nerves after Ohtani yielded four first-inning runs. He then settled down to fan eight over the next four innings and pick up a win.

Baseball fans all over the country will be watching for Ohtani’s name when the American League All-Stars are announced for the July 14 game at Coors Field. They will also be watching when rosters are picked for Home Run Derby.

No one is betting against him.

Timeless Trivia

Underrated at the start, the rambunctious Red Sox were leading the American League in runs scored, batting, slugging, and OPS the last time we looked . . .

Three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer, though physically sound, is completing a seven-year, $210 million deal but will be 37 on July 27 and won’t get such a large contract again . . .

Not counting Toronto’s tiny spring training park in Florida, the smallest permitted capacity to start Covid Year 2 was in Fenway Park, which opened the 2021 season with a fan cap of 12 per cent (4,500 spectators) . . .

In addition to opening its stadium to maximum capacity, the Texas Rangers have suspended sales of grilled rattlesnake sausage on a hoagie roll, a 2019 concessions staple that could return next year . . .

Still available is the Boomstick, a 24-inch, one-pound beef hot dog with chili, nacho cheese, grilled onions, and jalapenos priced t $27.50. The team averages 100 sales per game, or $223,000 over the 81-game home schedule.


Know Your Editors

HERE’S THE PITCH is published daily except Sundays and holidays. Brian Harl [bchrom831@gmail.com] handles Monday and Tuesday editions, Elizabeth Muratore [nymfan97@gmail.com] does Wednesday and Thursday, and Dan Schlossberg [ballauthor@gmail.com] edits the weekend editions on Friday and Saturday. Readers are encouraged to contribute comments, articles, and letters to the editor. HTP reserves the right to edit for brevity, clarity, and good taste.


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