Pujols, 41, expressed his excitement at joining the defending Dodgers World Series champion from Los Angeles and said he had “no hard feelings” towards the Angels. He reiterated his desire to continue playing, perhaps even beyond this season, and stressed his willingness to accept what appears to be a significantly limited role with the Dodgers.
“I told them I’m here to do anything – nip, first base, whatever they want,” Pujols said. “I’m just excited to have this opportunity to wear this uniform and happy to be here. “
When the Angels nominated Pujols for an assignment on May 6, they expressed a desire to make Jared Walsh the everyday first baseman and give Shohei Ohtani the majority of home base appearances on the designated hitter. A bench role wasn’t necessarily an option for Pujols because, as Angels president John Carpino said, “He wants to play on first base every day. “
Pujols’ comments contradicted this.
“My goal over the past two years – it was never to try to be a first baseman every day,” Pujols said. “I told you at the start of spring training – ‘whatever role they have for me, I’m going to go.’ I understand they made this decision, as an organization, a business decision, and without hard feelings. I understand that. They had a conversation with me, and that was it. Go forward. And I’m just happy to have another opportunity, to wear a different uniform. “
Pujols’ arrival comes as the Dodgers continue to suffer a long list of injuries, including shortstop Corey Seager, who could miss about two months with his fractured right hand he suffered on Saturday night. Dodgers daily first baseman Max Muncy can play second, which may be necessary with Gavin Lux becoming the regular shortstop in Seager’s absence.
That situation played out for Monday’s game against Arizona Diamondbacks left-hander Madison Bumgarner, with Muncy starting at second and Pujols playing at first as a clean-up hitter. At full strength, however, the team plan to use Pujols primarily as a late-game pinch hitter, especially against lefties, who have given the Dodgers trouble this season. Pujols has only had 41 career appearances as a pinch hitter, but he’s confident he can make the adjustment based on his dialogue with Andrew Friedman, president of baseball operations and manager Dave Roberts.
“Communication is huge with me,” Pujols said. “And that was part of Doc and Andrew’s communication with me. And I think I have a game plan of what my role is going to be in this clubhouse – that’s it. If that’s part of my role, then I’m going to listen, I’m going to be ready, and I told them that I would be ready, whether it’s a day that I don’t play, whether it’s a day that I feel like it’s is my time to go up there and try to help this ballclub to win. That’s all. I am really excited. And that’s something that I really embraced. I take the opportunity and will try to have fun. “
Pujols, who started his career with arguably the greatest 10-year run in baseball history for the St. Louis Cardinals, has been an below-average hitter by Park-adjusted OPS for the past five years. and was hitting .198 / .250 / .372 in 92 appearances on the plateau this season. But he holds an OPS of 0.889 in late and close-quarters situations and an OPS of 0.878 against lefties in 2021, and his expected slugging percentage of 0.513 suggests he might have had some bad luck. The Dodgers also believe his swing is more efficient than it has been in recent years.
“We have the utmost respect for what Albert has accomplished in his career, and we also believe he can have a real impact with our young players,” Friedman said. “And just as important is that we believe there is still life in the bat. “
Pujols has spent most of the past 11 days training in hopes of joining another team. The Dodgers contacted their agent, Dan Lozano, shortly after authorizing the waivers and were officially released on Thursday, prompting a virtual reunion with Friedman and Roberts. The goal of this conversation, Friedman said, was “for everyone to be open, honest and transparent, and also recognize that we don’t know exactly what things are going to look like in a week, two weeks from now, one month from now. “
Pujols was intrigued by the opportunity to stay in Southern California and the chance to win his third World Series ring, but he also said the Dodgers “had a good game plan for me.”
Roberts spoke to Pujols in the clubhouse pre-game and noticed a “glow” around him, a sign of his excitement.
“He’s a guy who decided to be all-in for what we do to win a championship,” said Roberts. “I don’t see any problem in the future. “
Seager wears # 5 for the Dodgers, so Pujols, who likes # 5 because it symbolizes God’s grace in the Christian Bible, will change to 55.
Pujols ranks fifth in career homers (667), second in the RBI since becoming an official statistic in 1920 (2,112) and 14th in hits (3,253). He’s won three National League MVP awards, two Gold Gloves and six Silver Sluggers and has been invited to 10 All-Star Games – and he doesn’t want to stop playing.
“I feel like I still have some gas left in my tank,” Pujols said. “I am really delighted with this opportunity. ”