02/14/12 2:59 PM EST
Angels about to feel power of Pujols
Slugger will show up to camp early for first season in AL
By Lyle Spencer / MLB.com
Everything he is and everything he has done suggests that King Albert is ready, willing and able to take on the responsibility.
"People are excited," Pujols said, his arrival date in Tempe, Ariz., drawing near. "I can imagine in Spring Training how it's going to be."
A circus without a tent.
Pujols' 10-year, $246,841,811 free-agent contract -- plus incentives -- has attracted its share of critics. History is loaded with nine-figure, long-term deals gone awry. But few people question the immediate value in landing the most feared offensive weapon in the sport at age 32.
What matters most at the moment in the intensely competitive Southern California market is that Pujols and new companion C.J. Wilson have made the Angels relevant again after two seasons spent in futile pursuit of the Rangers in the American League West.
Angels owner Arte Moreno was seeing red after a second consecutive finish without an AL West title in 2011, with Texas reaching the World Series again. Backed by a $2 billion regional television deal on the horizon, he didn't mind spending some long green to put smiles -- and bright, new red replica jerseys -- on his fans.
The focus will be on dollars for a while, which, of course, makes sense. Finances are on everyone's minds these days.
Pujols and Wilson certainly have cashed in, Wilson accepting $77,584,772 plus incentives across five seasons.
There have been those who, in similar situations, have taken the money and run -- to the refrigerator, to the couch, to the club.
From all indications, Pujols and Wilson are running to work, dedicated professionals committed to repaying their employer for the trust invested along with all those dollars.
Pujols is so determined to show he's all in that he's arriving early, with the pitchers and catchers. He wants to make himself as comfortable as possible with the new environment and all the new people in his life.
This sends the right message to the people who matter most: his new teammates.
"I always wondered what it would be like to play with Barry Bonds," Torii Hunter said. "Now I'll know. Albert is the Barry of this era."
As dominant as Bonds was, he never led a team to a World Series title. He came achingly close in 2002 with his Giants, but the Angels and their third-year manager, Mike Scioscia, had other ideas.
Pujols has experienced the thrill of two World Series titles, including the improbable saga of last October with the Cardinals. Moving on without him, the Redbirds can testify to his impact on every conceivable level.
Pujols will lead with his actions, but not with his voice. That will continue to be the primary role of Hunter, the clubhouse magnet for the media. That will suit Pujols just fine. He'll love Torii for taking it on.
By all accounts, Pujols immerses himself in the task at hand on a daily basis. Like Tony Gwynn, one of the greats of the previous era, Pujols spends considerable time watching video before games, evaluating opposing pitchers and making sure his swing is just right. You don't go from unheralded 13th-round Draft pick to superstar, as Pujols did, without being a little compulsive about your work.
Scioscia has managed quiet leaders before, from Tim Salmon and Garret Anderson to Vladimir Guerrero and Bobby Abreu. They all do it their own way.
Hunter is raw energy, fire and brimstone. Pujols is ice. It runs through that powerful machinery and is most evident when it matters most.
Among his many gifts, Pujols brings intimidation. He has produced repeatedly in big moments and likely will be pitched around in late innings. This will put the onus on Hunter, Vernon Wells and others in the lineup to deliver.
"If you're an athlete," Hunter said, "that's what you live for -- the chance to come through under pressure."
Wilson experienced firsthand the Pujols influence, watching the Cardinals rally around their leader to forge one of the most improbable championships in the game's history. Pujols produced five homers, 16 RBIs and 24 hits in 18 postseason games in 2011, three of those bombs coming in his historic performance during Game 3 of the World Series.
"Albert has a tremendous effect on the whole lineup," Wilson said. "Pitching against the Cardinals in the World Series, I saw how he can change a game if he's pitched to. Look at the numbers. He's the best hitter in the past decade. It's not even close."
Pujols is a three-time National League MVP. He finished second four times, third once and fourth once. Nine seasons in the top four -- seven in the top two -- is the definition of consistent greatness.
Yet there are those who warn of an inevitable decline, having seen Pujols' power numbers dip in his final two seasons in St. Louis.
Hindered last season by a wrist injury, Pujols finished at .299, the lowest batting average of his career. His on-base (.366) and slugging (.541) marks also fell below his career norms of .420 and .617, respectively.
"Bad numbers for Albert are great numbers for anyone else," Hunter said. How true.
Bad numbers for Pujols, relatively speaking, could be bad news for AL pitching staffs. Great athletes are routinely driven by critical reviews, digging deep to turn negatives into positives. Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant stand as beacons of this trait in their world
Pujols has that kind of personality, that brand of impact.
The Angels and their fans can't wait to see it -- and feel it.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.