With baseball players changing teams and falling in and out of slumps, there have been very few constants regarding a player’s spot in the batting order the last several years. Matter of fact, only two come to mind: Ichiro leading off for the Mariners and Albert Pujols batting third for the Cardinals. The order to the St. Louis Cardinals universe as we know it was shifted on Monday night when Pujols slid to the cleanup spot for the first time since 2003 — a span of 1,043 straight games. The move was made to help jump start Matt Holliday who was batting .170 with runners on. When you hit behind Albert Pujols in the lineup, most of the time you’ll be batting with men on, so it makes sense to see what Holliday can do in the three spot. The crazy part of this story — aside from Pujols being moved for the first time in a bazillion games — is that Post-Dispatch writer Bernie Miklasz suggested the move on Monday, as I found out through Hardball Talk:
You already know how I feel about Albert Pujols’ hitting abilities and all-around talent. Apparently my admiration for the St. Louis slugger can’t hold a candle to the way long-time Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox feels about him. When asked what Pujols’ next contract should be worth — after being asked to comment on the new extension Ryan Howard received from the Phillies — Cox had the following to say:
$50 million a year – at least. I’m sure the Cardinals will do everything they possibly can. He’s the best ballplayer in all of baseball. He does everything, too. He’s great defensively, he runs the bases great, he’s smart, and he’s the best hitter there is. I don’t know how you [put a price tag on it, compared to other players]. He’s the best, let’s put it that way.”
It’s safe to say Pujols won’t be getting $50 million a season from the Cardinals or any other team, but when a four-time manager of the year who has been managing the same team for twenty years gives you a compliment like that, it’s significant. Albert should absolutely be the highest paid player in baseball when his new deal is up, which will be at the end of next season (assuming the Cardinals pick up his $16 million option). There’s no other player in baseball right now who is a better all-around player — and it’s really not even close. Sorry, A-Rod.
Albert Pujols is at it again. The one hitter in the MLB who seems unaffected by the Steroid Era year after year already had five home runs in his first seven games and is hitting .400 through the first nine. Actually, Pujols just broke a Major League record for the most home runs by a hitter through his first 10 seasons in the league when he belted his 371st career homer. Not bad for a guy who has 153 games remaining in his 10th season to shatter that record. That’s not to say Pujols has not had his fair share of naysayers and accusers – he’s had plenty. That goes with the territory, and if you read Sports Illustrated’s cover story before last season kicked off, you’d get a sense that Albert understands that. Pujols’ career numbers are absolutely mind-boggling. He’s yet to finish a season hitting under .314, with less than 32 homers, or under 103 RBI. Yes, that includes his rookie year, when he batted a modest .329 with 130 RBIs. Even Derek Jeter, one of the most pure hitters in the history of Major League Baseball, failed to reach an average of .300 four times in his astonishing career.
At a time in the game where it seems most stats have been enhanced by steroids, the closest link for Pujols to PEDs came with the release of the Mitchell Report, when an erroneous report said Albert was on the list. Shortly thereafter, Pujols’ name was cleared from the smoke. The unfortunate reality for Pujols is that playing in this era of baseball means he’s guilty by association and it leaves us open to question his accomplishments. For instance, MLB’s current drug testing system does not detect human growth hormone, which would certainly help a hitter reach the levels that Pujols has already ascended to at the age of 30. As for the argument that he’s never tested positive for steroids, that’s questionable because there are plenty of ways around those so “tests” they issue professional athletes. People are entitled to their opinions, and if you want to take the cynical view in analyzing Pujols’ career, that’s certainly your prerogative, but it’s not how I choose to view things.
I was discussing this yesterday with my Dad as he was playing consultant to a friend who wisely drafted Albert Pujols with the first pick in a fantasy baseball draft. No, I’m not bringing this up for the purpose of a fantasy discussion.Â Instead, I would like to have a real-life discussion. When will Albert Pujols — the man who’s enjoyed a finer start to a career than any other hitter in history — get it going?
My Dad seemed to think he was hurt, possibly headed for the DL. I’m not so sure about that. I think Albert’s just in a month long slump — which is long for him — but considering he’s still OPSing a respectable .755, it’s not too bad. Albert showed some signs of himself going 2 for 5 against the Dodgers on Tuesday night, with a double and two RBIs. But damn, it’s May 16th already, and John Buck has more home runs than Prince Albert. I think a hot streak is coming soon for Pujols, and a winning streak is nearing for the Cardinals.
Moreover, anyone else notice the preponderance of slumping first baseman in baseball? Prince Fielder, Adrian Gonzalez, Justin Morneau, Todd Helton, and Derek Lee are like the only ones swinging it. Studs like Berkman, Teixeira, Howard, Delgado, Konerko, and Sexson are all hitting like chumps. In fact, none of those guys are batting higher than .279, and none of them have more than six home runs. Pathetic.