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Albert Pujols' Signing Keeps Angels As L.A.'s Top Draw

James Santelli |
December 8, 2011 | 1:09 p.m. PST

Senior Sports Editor

Pujols takes his legendary swing to SoCal. (Dave Herholz)
Pujols takes his legendary swing to SoCal. (Dave Herholz)
While Los Angeles was sleeping, the baseball landscape of the region shifted.

The news came down before 7 a.m. Pacific Time on Thursday: Albert Pujols is heading to Anaheim. The nine-time All-Star will be hitting for the Angels through 2021, and all it took was a cool $254 million.

Let's get this out of the way: there's little chance that Pujols will be worth $25 million when he is 40 or 41 years old. That's the realm of Barry Bonds, and we all know the special circumstances surrounding him playing like an MVP into his 40s. But that is true of pretty much all long-term contracts. Alex Rodriguez is not going to be a $20-million in 2017, but could still be well worth his $275 million contract over the length of the deal.

Now for the reasons multiple teams offered Pujols at least $200 million. Over the last 11 seasons, he has made himself into one of the best right-handed hitters of all-time. In that category of righties, his 1.037 career OPS is behind only Jimmie Foxx in the history of baseball. He won three National League MVP awards, and was the runner-up in three other seasons. And yes, he does have two World Series rings.

Plus, he has been the picture of consistent hitting: the nickname "The Machine" is quite fitting. Pujols averages 155 games per year, and has hit at least 32 homers in each season of his career. Even concerns about past injuries pale in comparison to those of Marlins shortstop Jose Reyes, the only other position player to sign for nine digits this offseason. It certainly helps that Pujols is moving to the American League, where his bat can stay in the lineup even if he needs an off-day in the field, or when his fielding prowess leaves him altogether.

Pujols will anchor the Angels' lineup for the next several years, an offense that certainly needs such a power hitter after finishing 10th out of 14 AL teams in runs scored last season.

Manny Ramirez and Albert Pujols (shgmom56/Creative Commons)
Manny Ramirez and Albert Pujols (shgmom56/Creative Commons)
Beyond the numbers, the team has a bona fide baseball superstar capable of drawing fans to Angel Stadium and eyeballs to the TV broadcasts. Quick: name the best Angels hitter of the last 25 years. Tim Salmon? Troy Glaus? Maybe Vladimir Guerrero? While the Dodgers have had Fernandomania and Mannywood, when is the last time the Halos started a phenomenon that captured the imagination of a Southern California population that so adores the big stars?

Even in 2003, the year after the Angels won the franchise's first World Series, they were still outdrawn by the Dodgers to the tune of 1,000 more fans per game.

But now the tide is turning. Last season, the Angels had more fans at their games than the Dodgers for the first time ever. The Los Angeles Angels used their name change to their advantage. Last season, they capitalized on anger towards former Dodgers owner Frank McCourt's mismanagement of the team, and apathy over the Boys in Blue never getting closer than nine games out of the division lead from July on.

Anaheim may not be Los Angeles, but it is still centrally located to draw on a large market. More than 12 million people live within 35 miles of Angel Stadium, including about 5 million Hispanic people. If anyone in baseball today can draw Latino fans, it's Pujols. He's Dominican, he's pretty much without scandal, and even non-baseball fans know the name. Hell, the team has already sold 1,000 season-ticket packages in less than 48 hours after the contract was announced.

Albert Pujols has been off to a slow start this season. (Creative Commons/Dominick27)
Albert Pujols has been off to a slow start this season. (Creative Commons/Dominick27)

It's impossible to know how long the Albert honeymoon will last in SoCal. Hell, he got moved down the pecking order even before the 5 o'clock news on Thursday by the Chris Paul yes-he's-coming-no-he's-not saga. But there's little doubt that Angel Stadium will be packed by jerseys with "Pujols" stitched on the back when April rolls around.

(Let's take a moment to tear apart this junk of a column by Kevin Baxter at the L.A. Times. He interviewed two people who were excited about the Pujols' signing, then decides to go on a worthless tangent. Baxter decides that Pujols won't draw Latino crowds like Manny Ramirez did for the Dodgers, since there are less than 6,000 Dominicans in the region. That would be all well and good, except Ramirez is Dominican too. And if you can find one Angels fan that agrees with the crux of Baxter's argument, that Pujols will be seen as a mercenary and has damaged his reputation for Southern Californians, the Brooklyn Bridge is theirs to keep.)

But to Baxter's credit, he did some reporting on Thursday and pinpointed the reasons that getting Pujols was worth it -- 150 million reasons, to be exact. That's the average annual value of the Angels' reported television deal with Fox Sports, triple the amount that owner Arte Moreno was getting under the previous contract. Under a 20-year deal worth $3 billion, Pujols provides marketable star power for the Halos and Fox Sports that will take up half the length of the contract. Angels' TV ratings were down 5.8 percent last season, a trend that Pujols will reverse.

Once the gleam wears off from Moreno's shiny new slugger, there's still the matter of baseball games to be won. After all, it's the only way to keep an audience once Pujols draws them in. The first baseman should add about five wins to the club in 2012 over the guy he's replacing, Mark Trumbo. And new pitcher C.J. Wilson should stand to be worth about three wins more than your average No. 3 pitcher.

Angel Stadium (Jon Hurd/Creative Commons)
Angel Stadium (Jon Hurd/Creative Commons)
I've written over 800 words before finally getting to Wilson, who also inked a deal with the Angels on Thursday. He's going to earn $77.5 million over the next five seasons in returning to his home of Orange County. That's actually pretty good value on a starter who was often dominant this season, and shouldn't be overlooked amid the hubbub over Pujols. But then again, prety much my whole article is overlooking Wilson for the hubbub over Pujols. I'll just pretend I can have it both ways and move on.

These two major additions set the stage for a great season-long battle between Los Angeles and the Texas Rangers (they of the two straight World Series appearances) in the A.L. West. The fact that the Angels "poached" Wilson from the Rangers adds to the intrigue. Can any other A.L. team match the 1-2-3 starting pitching punch of Jered Weaver, Dan Haren and Wilson?

Anaheim fans are going to enjoy a great team, but as Jonah Keri points out in a fine article at Grantland, no two players are guaranteed to put them over the top. It will certainly help that a fifth playoff spot could be added as early as next season, because the American League looks to be a killer for the next couple of seasons.

There has been far more excitement over Pujols coming to town than the Dodgers' Matt Kemp sticking around, and reasons abound. Even with Kemp, the next couple of years look to be mediocre in Chavez Ravine, playing in a stadium that is overdue for a renovation.

The draw is in Anaheim now, and Southern California will be watching. Be it from the stands of Angel Stadium that Moreno is trying to fill to the gills, or in front of the warming glow of Fox Sports, there will be plenty of money flowing into the Angels' franchise with Pujols aboard. There's plenty of risk in the contract. At $254 million, how can there not be. But Pujols is already paying dividends. And something tells me he will still be pretty good at hitting baseballs for a while to come.

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Reach James by email or follow him on Twitter, @JamesSantelli.

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Comments

Anonymous (not verified) on December 10, 2011 2:17 AM

Great article, James!

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