Posted July 29, 2013

Possible season-ending injury for Albert Pujols points to a fresh start for 2014

Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Albert Pujols could miss the rest of the season because of a ligament tear in his foot. (Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

Albert Pujols could miss the rest of the season because of a ligament tear in his foot. (Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

Albert Pujols had been a shell of his former self on the field this season, battling soreness in his surgically repaired right knee and plantar fasciitis in his left foot and hitting a mere .258/.330/.437, all career lows, largely as a result. Friday night, his plantar fascia, which has been nagging him since 2004 but had been especially painful this season, finally tore. Pujols is seeing a specialist on Monday to determine if he will need surgery on his foot, but with a minimum six-week recovery time, chances are he’s done for the season. If so, it could be a blessing in disguise for the Angels.

With three days left before Wednesday’s non-waiver trading deadline, the Angels enter Monday’s action seven games below .500, 13 games out in the American League West and 8 1/2 games out of the second wild card spot. If they had any remaining hope of contending this season, the Pujols injury likely crushed it, and may have prevented the team from making an inadvisable trade as a result.

Last year, when the Angels traded a package headed by shortstop Jean Segura for Zack Greinke on July 27, the Angels were ten games over .500, four games out of first place in the West and leading the AL wild-card race. They still failed to make the playoffs, slipping behind the surging A’s and Orioles in the wild card race. This year, Segura has emerged as a star in Milwaukee while the Angels’ largely barren farm system was ranked dead last among the 30 teams by Baseball Prospectus entering the year. Any further deal to trade young talent for a long-shot at contention this season would have done more harm than good.

Meanwhile, the Angels owe Pujols $212 million over the next eight years. Given the steady decline in his production and health over the last few seasons, their best hope of getting a solid return on that investment was to get Pujols healthy, and given his determination to play through his injuries, his being forced to the disabled list at just the right moment for that DL stay to bleed into the offseason may have been exactly what the doctor ordered.

Prior to his current stay, Pujols had hit the disabled list just three times in his career and never remained there for more than 18 days. When he broke his wrist in 2011, he missed just 14 games. He has been playing through plantar fascia pain in his left foot since 2004, but he had never so much as missed a game as a result of it according to Baseball Prospectus’s injury data. This season, despite the nagging injuries in his knee and foot, Pujols had missed just two games three weeks apart and started every one of the Angels’ other 99 games before suffering his potential season-ending injury on Friday night.

This gets to a personal pet peeve of mine. Sports culture in general lauds players who play through injuries, but for every Kerri Strug, who executed a gold-medal-winning vault on a sprained ankle in the 1996 Olympics, there’s an Eric Gagné, whose attempt to pitch through a knee injury in spring training 2005 resulted in altered mechanics which triggered a series of arm injuries that ultimately ended his career just three years later. Pujols in his prime could play through the pain in his foot and elsewhere, but as his performance on the field over the past several seasons has shown, doing so results in diminishing returns.

Year Age PA BA OBP SLG OPS+
2009 29 700 .327 .443 .658 189
2010 30 700 .312 .414 .596 173
2011 31 651 .299 .366 .541 148
2012 32 670 .285 .343 .516 138
2013 33 443 .258 .330 .437 116

I don’t doubt that favoring his left foot for eight seasons put enough additional strain on his right knee to prompt last October’s surgery on that joint, or that, for the same reason, the increased pain in his left foot this season made it all the more difficult for that right knee to return to full health.

Hopefully with this latest injury, Pujols will be forced to allow his body to heal as fully as it can heading into his age-34 season. The result may not look anything like that eye-popping 2009 season above, but if he can turn the clock back even just to 2011 he’d earn his keep in Anaheim and give the Angels a far better chance of returning to contention next year than they would have had with a hobbled Pujols in the lineup for the remainder of this season and possibly the remainder of his contract.

JAFFE: Which batters are on the trading block?

11 comments
TheDistrict
TheDistrict

This is what happens when you stop using PEDs. Age actually catches up with you. 

jackgorfin
jackgorfin

One of the worse contracts in baseball history, Arods was bad, but the Yankees at least got something out of him, the angels have received minimal production from Pujols and the future looks even worse, no way to trade him, they are stuck with him for the next 8 years.

rusoviet
rusoviet

This is a 20:20 hindsight at its most glaring obvious - the Cards nearly matched what Pujols wanted sae for the years and right to move him. I do think it is obvious watching Albert swing that he is chopping down on too many pitches in his zone instead of lifting them = he also is late on his swing which compounds his inability to properly make good contact. 

 The comment about Oakland is telling - they will never get the attention they deserve playing there and i doubt a move to San Jose will make much difference. Sports columnists are lazy which is what prompted sandy Alderson to storm into the Chronicle/Examiner news rooms some 17 years ago. 

Oakland is never going to really change because they can't generate revenue - they'd be better served moving to: San Antonio, Las Vegas, Charlotte or Indianapolis.

joeymatta
joeymatta

Josh Hamilton will get blown out soon too and the Angels will get to pay out $300 million for nothing. St Louis, Oakland A's, etc. keep proving over and over that big, expensive, long term contracts are a disaster. Why some teams keep putting themselves in that position is a mystery.

JoeDoyle
JoeDoyle

All I can say is John Mozeliak (sp) (cards Gm) looks like a genius now! Letting Pujols go also allowed Allen Craig a full time spot which everyone knows what he has done this year! I feel bad for Pujols because he was great in St. Louis and could have ended his career in St. Louis as the greatest Cardinal next to Musial. He unfortunately opted for the money. For his sake,I hope he can pick it up next year. He is still one of the greatest offensive players of all time.

BryanCustard
BryanCustard

@jackgorfin Cause .300 with 30 hrs, and 100 rbis is MINIMAL production. Would love some MINIMAL production on my Braves. He's not hitting .330 45 hrs and 150 rbis, which is what everyone seems to expect from the guy, but come on man. A-Rod's initial contract (signed with the Rangers, traded to the Yankees) resulted in a championship and MVP season (insert steroid reference here), however after opting out and signing a new 10 yr, $300 million contract the Yankees have gotten nothing out of him, and still owe him another $110 million, so honestly I would take the guy who at least cares enough to play hurt (Pujols) and will always give effort and not be a tool bag in the clubhouse. 

BryanCustard
BryanCustard

@rusoviet The move to San Jose may get them some more corporate sponsorship dollars out of the Simi Valley region, which will generate new revenue, but the question is do the people not go see the A's because they don't like baseball/the team or is it because they have to go to that stadium to watch the game

SonoraDick
SonoraDick

@BryanCustard @jackgorfin  A couple of corrections for BryanCustard...

1) Pujols wasn't close to .300 last year... .285. Compared to his previous seasons, yes, the Angels considered his production pretty poor last year. Still, no more than a minor error on your part.

2) You're totally wrong with this remark about Rodriguez..."after opting out and signing a new 10 yr, $300 million contract the Yankees have gotten nothing out of him". That contract was signed in December, 2007, when he had already played four "productive" seasons with the Yankees (as opposed to NONE for Pujols when he signed with LA), and after that, he was a big factor in the 2009 WS championship season. Or, is winning the World Series "nothing"? 

riley8
riley8

@BryanCustard @jackgorfin Aroid is owed $110 MIL but Pujols is owed double that. The history of baseball suggests once a batter loses it he is done. Pujols at the very least is on a very steep decline. BTW the last I checked the Braves were in 1st.  I am guessing you aren't complaining.

chasindreams
chasindreams

@SonoraDick  and 3) The fact that Pujols insisted on playing hurt has led to his downfall. Perhaps if he had allowed himself time to heal, things would be different. I would rather have a player miss one season and return to form then decline over three seasons and end up missing the bulk of a season anyway with a potentially more serious injury and a question mark in the future.