What would you buy with $250 million?
Sounds like an absurd question, but when you’re Angels owner Arte Moreno you’re going to want quite the return on your investment, which means $250 million better buy a lot of home runs.
We're only in late April, but Angels fans and surrounding media are already wondering if the franchise overpaid for the 32-year-old slugger.
Back in December, Anaheim came out of nowhere, shocking the sports world with one of the biggest free agent signings in the history of sports, signing former St. Louis Cardinal and two-time World Series champion Albert Pujols to a ten-year contract worth over $250 million.
Because of the pressure of adjusting to a new city, new team, new league and even more attention in an even larger market, I quickly anticipated that Pujols would get off to a slow start with his latest franchise. However, even my boldest prediction probably wouldn't have matched what we've seen so far from Pujols at the plate in 2012.
As of April 25, nearly a month into the regular season and 17 games in, the $250 million man is only hitting .232 with four RBI and 0 home runs. That’s right. Zero long balls. Only four runs batted in… Again, no home runs. Nada. Don't pass go, do not collect $200.
To put that into a little bit of perspective, only two other regular starters on the Angels squad are without homers, which does not include Peter Bourjos, the speedy center fielder who has one home run already this year and is only his 19th for his career. Pujols has 445 for his career.
The Dodger’s Matt Kemp, who signed last November for $160 million, already has nine home runs this season. Carlos Beltran, who was signed by St. Louis in the off-season for $26 million to essentially replace some of the void left by Pujols, already has five bombs to his name.
Also, Pujols leads the team in at-bats so far this year with 69; so he’s had plenty of appearances. After going 0 for 4 on Tuesday, Pujols is officially homerless in his last 23 games dating back to last season, which is the 2nd-longest streak in his pro career.
Manager Mike Scioscia thinks it’s as simple as making small adjustments against facing new pitching.
“The pitcher has a slight advantage because the batter hasn’t seen his release point, but a guy of Albert’s talent usually makes a quick study of those things, and he will,” Scioscia said after a loss to Tampa Bay on Tuesday. “Right now, we need a catalyst, and the obvious catalyst would be Albert swinging the bat like we know he can.”
Pujols is a career .328 hitter that has been extremely patient at the plate. Advanced metrics have pointed out that the first baseman has been chasing sliders and curveballs out of the zone, increasingly making the veteran more vulnerable to breaking balls from opposing pitchers — guys Pujols would normally mash.
Those facts alone show there’s no question that Pujols is probably trying too hard; but you can’t tell Angels fans that – fans who are becoming ever more impatient as the at-bats go by.
When asking some friends on Facebook, who happen to also be Angels fans, on their thoughts in regards to Pujols, I got some pretty entertaining responses.
“I was going to say it's only April and he typically gets off to a bad start, but then I saw that he holds the records for most homeruns in April set in 2006. So I've decided a succubus hatched from a giant pod and took over his identity,” said an old actor friend of mine.
Another friend response stated “Hard to be motivated with the contract he has…I'd probably stop caring about my job performance too.”
For the first time since 2010 Pujols went four consecutive games without a hit and during that stretch faced seven pitchers in which he only had a total of four regular-season at-bats against. Still, ‘Pooey’ isn’t making any excuses.
“I don’t like to look for excuses — I don’t want to blame my struggles on being in a new league,” Pujols said. “It’s the same game. Does it help if you’ve seen a guy before? Of course. But I still do the same preparation. To tell you the truth, I feel good. I’m not far away from breaking out of this.”
And if you’re ready Angels fans, I’ll give you the good news. If you’re ready?
I believe him.
Although Pujols wasn’t as slow out of the gate in 2011 as he is this year, he still came out with a less than stellar .257 batting average for the month of April, just one year ago. He finished last season with a line of .299/37/99. Probably the best ‘down year’ I have ever seen.
Just as I predicted Pujols would get off to a slow start, I also predicted that the future hall-of-famer would get comfortable later into the season and go on a mid-summer tear. Good ol’ Pooey is as confident in himself as I am in him.
"I'm not trying to go out there to try to do too much," Pujols said. "I've been in this situation before. It's part of the game. You can't let into your head. You just need to keep fighting and knowing it's a long season."
"I don't concentrate on individual numbers, I concentrate more as a team," Pujols said. "I think we've got a better ball club than what we've been showing. It seems like everybody in the lineup is struggling."
The Angels will go up against the Rays and super sophomore hurler Jeremy Hellickson on Wednesday night to conclude their series with a good Tampa team. However, their next two series’ they’ll go up against Cleveland and Minnesota, who both rank near the bottom in the league in team ERA and WHIP – giving the increasing chance we could see Pujols’ first home run as an Angel in a matter of hours.
So tell me Angels fans; is it time to panic yet or not?
Photo Credit: Mark LoMoglio/Icon SMI