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Monday, November 18, 2019

Albert Pujols will not rule out retiring before contract expires

Albert Pujols still has three years remaining on his contract beyond the current season, and the Los Angeles Angels would probably like nothing more than to be free of the roughly $87 million they still owe him through 2021. If the 38-year-old’s performance continues on its downward trend, he may not stick around to collect the final paycheck on his deal.

Pujols, who has seen his career batting average fall from .328 to .303 in his six-plus seasons with the Angels, spoke with ESPN’s Alden Gonzalez about when he might retire. While he intends to play out the entirety of his contract, he’s not ruling out an early exit.

“When that time comes, it’s not even going to wait until the offseason,” Pujols said. “If I feel it during the season, I’m gone, dude. The day that I feel like I can’t compete in this game anymore, it doesn’t matter how much money I’m going to leave on the table. I’m done, bro. I’ve been blessed.

“One thing is to be out there and just stick around for the money. But to embarrass yourself, and not be able to compete — dude, that’s not me. I have accomplished so many things in this game that I could never even imagine. That drive of playing every day is still with me. I think it’s always going to be with me. What’s going to be tough, obviously, is your health.”

Pujols mentioned a conversation he had with David Ortiz, who retired from the Boston Red Sox following a season in which he hit .315 with 38 home runs and 127 RBI. As someone who has battled foot, elbow and other injuries over the past several seasons, Pujols understands there could come a time where his body simply won’t respond to allow him to play at the level he wants to play at.

Of course, the defensive shift hasn’t helped. Pujols, who is hitting .254 this year and hit a career-low .241 in 2017, says he would be in favor of eliminating the shift so baseball can “see a lot of offense back again like it was before.” He’s faced the shift in 38 percent of his at-bats since 2016 and is hitting .219 when teams deploy it against him.

While Pujols understands it is his responsibility to figure out ways to hit through the shift, he thinks he’d be batting closer to .300 without it.

“Between .290 and .300, for sure,” he said. “Look at the balls that I’m hitting up the middle, especially this year. Out of those 30 or 40 or 50 balls, give me 25 hits. Add those 25 hits to my .250 batting average, I’d be hitting like .290.”

That’s probably an exaggeration, but there’s no question Pujols would be better off without an infielder playing in shallow left against him. And at this point in his career, there’s very little chance of him changing his approach at the plate.

It was quite obvious that the final years of Pujols’ contract were going to be ugly when he signed the deal, but he had a negative WAR in 2017. No one really saw that coming. It should be noted that Pujols has played more games at first base this season than in the past two years combined, so his approach last winter appears to have paid off. Still, there’s little debating the Angels would be better off without his contract on the books.



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