Albert Pujols could have been a wealthy Cardinal for life, planning for the day his statue would be erected outside Busch Stadium next to those of Stan Musial, Bob Gibson and the other St. Louis greats.
DALLAS — Albert Pujols could have been a wealthy Cardinal for life, planning for the day his statue would be erected outside Busch Stadium next to those of Stan Musial, Bob Gibson and the other St. Louis greats.
Instead, exactly six weeks after leading the Cardinals to a second title in one of the most thrilling World Series ever, he decided to accept the second-highest contract in baseball history for a new future in southern California with the Los Angeles Angels.
The three-time NL MVP agreed Thursday to a $254 million, 10-year contract with the Angels, leaving behind a heartbroken fan base by jilting one of the sport’s traditional teams for a club with only one championship in its half-century.
For baseball, it was a virtually unprecedented move.
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Many top stars have changed teams in their careers, from Babe Ruth to Willie Mays to Barry Bonds. But this is perhaps the best player in the game over the past decade, exiting shortly after one of the great postseason power shows.
A big and burly offensive force with a shaved head, the nine-time All-Star has a room full of honors, winning the 2001 NL Rookie of the Year award, NL MVPs in 2005, 2008 and 2009, a batting title in 2003 and two Gold Gloves at first base. Who would have predicted that when the Cardinals selected him in the 13th round of the 1999 amateur draft with the 402nd overall selection?
As his deal fell into place on the final day of the winter meetings, the Angels struck another big agreement, a $77.5 million, five-year contract with left-hander C.J. Wilson, the ace whose Texas Rangers lost to the Cardinals in the seven-game World Series.
“This is obviously the moment where we have thrown our hat in the ring,” new Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto said.
Had he stayed in St. Louis before packed, adoring crowds, Pujols would’ve established a Cal Ripken-like legacy of loyalty, a rare modern star who remained with a franchise from first at-bat to final swing.
Instead, some of his former fans will see him as a sellout.
Pujols rejected a multiyear extension last offseason that was said to include a small percentage of the franchise and cut off negotiations a day before he arrived at spring training. St. Louis also offered the slugger a 10-year deal that chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. said was in excess of $200 million.
“I would like our fans to know that we tried our best to make Albert a lifetime Cardinal,” he said in a statement, adding later in an interview: “They were substantially higher than our bid.”
Pujols’ contract, which like Wilson’s is subject to a physical, is only the third to break the $200 million barrier, after Alex Rodriguez’s $252 million, 10-year deal with Texas before the 2001 season and A-Rod’s $275 million, 10-year deal with the Yankees before the 2008 season.
“This is a monumental day for Angel fans and I could not be more excited,” said owner Arte Moreno, who bought the team for $184 million from The Walt Disney Co. in 2003, a year after its only World Series title.
Despite a top-four payroll this year, the Angels languished to a second-place finish behind Texas in the AL West. They spent $331.5 million on just two players, capping an unusual winter meetings in which the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox watched while the Angels and Miami Marlins spent as if they were the sport’s financial elite.
Moving into a new ballpark next season, the Marlins failed to reel in Pujols but acquired All-Star closer Heath Bell, All-Star shortstop Jose Reyes and left-hander Mark Buehrle for $191 million, meaning the two clubs committed $522.5 million to just five free agents.
“I think baseball needs to have a steroid-testing policy for owners,” said Andrew Zimbalist, a sports economics professor at Smith College.
Pujols became the first player to hit 30 home runs in his first 11 seasons and the second after Al Simmons (1924 to 1934) to reach 100 runs batted in in his first 10. Pujols has a .338 average with 445 home runs and 1,329 RBI to become a franchise icon second only to Musial, and is fourth in career slugging percentage at .617, trailing only Hall of Famers Ruth (.690), Ted Williams (.634) and Lou Gehrig (.632).
But Pujols’ numbers in nearly every major offensive category are on a three-year decline. He had his poorest season in 2011 with a .299 average, 37 homers and 99 RBI. He batted just .240 in the Series but had a night for the ages in Game 3, joining Ruth and Reggie Jackson as only the third player to hit three home runs in a Series game.
• A judge in Wilmington, Del., said he would overrule an objection by Fox Sports and approve a process for the Los Angeles Dodgers to sell the media rights to future games as part of the team’s plan to exit bankruptcy.
• Pitcher Aaron Harang agreed to a $12 million, two-year contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers, filling out their projected starting rotation for next season.
• Authorities in Los Angeles are awaiting the results of a blood test on Dodgers first baseman James Loney, who was arrested last month on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol.
• The Chicago Cubs acquired third baseman Ian Stewart and right-handed reliever Casey Weathers from the Colorado Rockies for outfielder Tyler Colvin and infielder D.J. LeMahieu.
• The Philadelphia Phillies signed outfielder Laynce Nix to a two-year contract.
• Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish, 25, ended months of speculation by saying he intends to make a move to Major League Baseball. The 25-year-old right-hander is considered the best pitcher in the Japanese professional leagues.
• Miami Marlins reliever Leo Nunez was arrested in his native Dominican Republic but then quickly released, with authorities saying he will not face charges stemming from an investigation into his use of false documents to sign a professional baseball contract.