Albert Pujols(notes), the heart and hammer of the St. Louis Cardinals for more than a decade, will leave St. Louis and sign with the Los Angeles Angels, a person with knowledge of the deal told Yahoo! Sports.
Latecomers to the Pujols derby, the Angels will pay him $254 million over 10 years, a devastating turn for the Cardinals and a departure from past organizational philosophies for Arte Moreno's Angels. Within minutes of reaching an agreement with Pujols, they did the same with free-agent left-hander C.J. Wilson(notes). They won him away from the hyper-aggressive Miami Marlins, reportedly paying him $77.5 million over five years.
After a month-long search for wealth and happiness, most notably in Miami, Pujols will not return to the only organization he’s known.
The contract value is the second or third highest in baseball history, behind the contract Alex Rodriguez(notes) signed with the New York Yankees in 2008 ($275 million) and perhaps higher than the one Rodriguez signed with the Texas Rangers in 2001 ($252 million).
"Art Moreno is as competitive an owner and as genuine a person as there is in the game," said Angels general manager Jerry DiPoto, who was hired a month ago. "This is in large part due to him. Arte has made it very clear he wants to win championships, he wants to win rings."
Clearly of the mind to change direction after failing to reach the playoffs in back-to-back seasons, the Angels will put Pujols in the middle of their lineup and Wilson in their rotation, steal more thunder from the limping Los Angeles Dodgers, and attempt to catch the prospering Texas Rangers in the AL West.
The Angels missed out on big-bat free agents the last two years, watching Mark Teixeira(notes) go to the Yankees in 2009, and Carl Crawford(notes) go to the Red Sox and Adrian Beltre(notes) to the Rangers last year. The Rangers won the division each of the last two years and GM Tony Reagan was fired and replaced by DiPoto.
"I can't say in my wildest dreams that I thought I'd be sitting here today," DiPoto said during a news conference to announce the Pujols and Wilson acquisitions.
It was, perhaps, with some regret that a new beginning in Southern California will mean for Pujols that he will not be a Cardinal.
Over 11 years in St. Louis, Pujols had become a generational figure, the kind of ballplayer who defines an era of baseball in a city that runs on baseball.
He arrived in 2001 as Rookie of the Year. By 2005, he was an MVP. By 2009, a three-time MVP. And, by 2011, the Cardinals were World Series champions twice with him in the middle of their order and at the heart of their clubhouse.
In the fall of what might have been his final season there, fans rose at Busch Stadium to beseech him to stay or, in the worst scenario, to bid him farewell. It happened again and again as the Cardinals’ season threatened to end, first in the regular season, then in each of three postseason rounds, and finally in the triumphant aftermath of Game 7 of the World Series.
Now he is gone, off to Anaheim.
To today’s St. Louis he was its Musial, its Gibson, its Hornsby.
Musial and Gibson never left, of course, and Pujols’ legacy as a Cardinal would be measured in part by that standard of loyalty – outdated as it may be.
Pujols and the Cardinals had begun the process of this contract – the one that could take Pujols to the end of his career – more than a year before. There were rumors Pujols wished to match Rodriguez’s $275 million standard. There were debates over the responsibilities of the midmarket franchise, either to its public or its bottom line, and how those might be married.
[Related: Henson: Buehrle added to Marlins' haul]
Cardinals fans feared Pujols would be gone the moment he and his bat hit the open market. Competitive from April to October, the Cardinals certainly would be overmatched when the larger markets showed up in November and December.
Up against a wildcat offer from the Miami Marlins, needs for the drawing power of a Pujols in downtrodden locales, and then potential interest from the annually desperate Cubs, the Cardinals were not able to manage it all.
Not with the Angels doing whatever it took to land him even though they had a rookie-of-the-year candidate in first baseman Mark Trumbo(notes), even though their first baseman of two years ago, Kendrys Morales(notes), is set to return from a devastating leg injury.
DiPoto said Trumbo could play third base or a corner outfield position. Morales could be the designated hitter if he's healthy.
"We are still unsure exactly the timetable for Kendrys Morales to return," DiPoto said. "If we have all three healthy and productive, we are going to be in a really good position."
[Related: Passan's ultimate free-agent tracker]
So Pujols will not be a Cardinal on the day they raise the World Series banner and get their rings, and he will not defend the championship with them. Presumably, he will go to the Hall of Fame based on 11 years of Cardinals seasons and the rest in suburban L.A., not at all in the manners of Musial and Gibson.
St. Louis goes on without its icon. The risks instead belong to Moreno and the Angels; that Pujols’ salary will be a burden to a franchise that lacks the revenues of the larger markets and that Pujols will grow old and mediocre before the contract expires.
In a single winter, St. Louis would have to say goodbye to manager Tony La Russa and then to Pujols, so large a part of their conscience and their game. And it might be awhile before the Cardinals look quite like the Cardinals again.
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