02/15/12 11:00 AM EST
Pujols era with Angels set to begin
Dipoto: 'When he walks in that door, the other guys feel it'
By Alden Gonzalez / MLB.com
And when it begins, it surely won't be quiet.
"When he walks in that door, the other guys in the room feel it," Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto said. "The other guys in the room feel it when a guy with that presence walks in."
Pujols, along with several other position players, plans to arrive at the Angels' Spring Training complex in Tempe, Ariz., about a week earlier than he's required to, which would probably have him there by Sunday or early next week.
His first press conference hasn't been scheduled, but Pujols won't be allowed to work out with the team -- he can only train on his own in the back fields -- until the official position-player report date of Feb. 26.
Soon after, the burning questions that come with a 10-year, $240 million contract can start getting answered.
Was the seismic financial risk worth it?
More pressing at this moment, will his presence greatly improve an Angels offense that has ranked no higher than ninth in the American League in runs each of the past two years -- seasons that ended with no postseason appearances?
Numbers alone support the latter, because while Pujols' ungodly statistics have dipped over the last few years -- his OPS has steadily declined, from 1.114 in 2008 to .906 in '11 -- he's still widely considered the best hitter in baseball.
Even in an absolute worst-case scenario, where Mark Trumbo is relegated to designated-hitter duties and Kendrys Morales doesn't revert to form, the Angels would -- in theory -- be replacing the production of Bobby Abreu with Pujols.
If you replaced Abreu's 2011 numbers (.253/.353/.365, eight homers, 60 RBIs, 54 runs) with Pujols (.299/.366/.541, 37 homers, 99 RBIs, 105 runs), the Angels would have gone from 10th to fifth in the AL in runs, eighth to sixth in homers and seventh to sixth in batting average.
(And don't forget the Angels also improved their offense at catcher with Chris Iannetta.)
But then there are the things statistics don't really measure -- like what Pujols' presence can do for those hitting around him.
Suddenly, guys like Trumbo and Morales could have more opportunities with men in scoring position, Vernon Wells and Torii Hunter can stay within themselves in more comfortable spots lower in the order and Erick Aybar and Howie Kendrick can see more good pitches while batting in front of Pujols.
"You probably will see more fastballs," said Kendrick, who spent most of last season as the No. 2 hitter. "I'm a guy who believes that if you're hitting in front of certain guys, you're going to get challenged more, and it wouldn't be bad hitting in front of him. I'd love to hit in front of him."
Historically, the immediate impact of sluggers brought in via nine-figure deals is hit-and-miss. The 2001 Rangers and 2004 Yankees each significantly increased their run totals in the first year Alex Rodriguez came on board; same goes for the '02 Yankees with Jason Giambi, '05 Mets with Carlos Beltran, '07 Cubs with Alfonso Soriano, '09 Yankees with Mark Teixeira and '11 Red Sox with Adrian Gonzalez.
But the additions of Ken Griffey Jr. ('00 Reds), Manny Ramirez ('01 Red Sox) and Miguel Cabrera ('08 Tigers) actually led to a decline in runs in Year 1.
One common theme in all the big-money long-term deals is the diminished returns on the back end.
The Yankees are already starting to feel queasy as A-Rod steadily declines with six years and $143 million still left on his contract. Previously, Griffey averaged just 92 games per season for the Reds from Years 2-7 of his nine-year deal; Giambi's batting average was just .243 in the final two years of a seven-year agreement; and Beltran was a shell of his former self by the time his seven-year deal came to an end this offseason.
But perhaps -- as the first 11 years of his Hall of Fame career have shown -- Pujols is just different.
Perhaps his unmatched work ethic, dedication and natural abilities, coupled with the presence of the DH and favorable weather in Anaheim, will prolong the prime of the game's greatest slugger, to the point where the Angels won't feel too bad about paying him $114 million between ages 38 and 41.
"I don't want to say, because you never know what's going to happen 10 years from now, but I feel like the way I take care of my body and I prepare, I feel I can play probably until [age] 45," said Pujols, who comes to the Angels with 2,073 hits and 445 homers at age 32. "Who knows? Maybe time will tell. Right now, I'm concentrating on getting myself ready for Spring Training and excited for Opening Day here in Anaheim, and just take it one year at a time, one day at a time."
Day 1 is almost here.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.