Not long after the Los Angeles Dodgers' signing of legendary slugger Albert Pujols was made official, Pujols was introduced as a member of his new team in a Monday afternoon press conference. Prior to his introduction as a Dodger, Pujols proclaimed a willingness to accept the role that the Dodgers have carved out for him.
Given his age, 41, and the fact that he's in deep decline at the plate mean that the role figures to be quite limited. As well, the Dodgers as a National League team have no DH role available to him, save for in interleague road games. Here's part of what Pujols tweeted out earlier on Monday:
"The role that Andrew Friedman and Dave Roberts have presented to me is one that I embrace. I am excited to be part of the Dodger family and want to thank Andrew, Dave and the rest of the Dodger organization for this opportunity. My goal is the same as it's always been -- help the ballclub win a championship in 2021. I've seen up close just how talented this team is and I look forward to contributing."
At his press conference, Pujols said he won't talk about the possibility of retirement until after the season is over and gave no indication he's leaning toward it.
"We think there is still life to the bat. We felt like it was a good fit with where we're at. It's better than it has been in the past. He talked about how healthy he feels right now," Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman told reporters during a Zoom call Monday afternoon. "... We'll see [how his role develops]. We don't know exactly what things are going to look like a week from now, two weeks from now, a month from now."
Pujols will make his Dodgers debut during Monday night's series opener against the Diamondbacks (GameTracker). He is starting at first base and batting cleanup, and wearing No. 55 (his longtime number, No. 5, is currently worn by Corey Seager).
Earlier in May, the Angels designated Pujols for assignment despite owing him the balance of a $30 million salary for 2021 -- the final season of the 10-year, $240 million free agent contract he signed with the Angels. They made the decision after Pujols batted .198/.250/.372 through his first 24 games of the season. During his Monday remarks, Pujols multiple times said he has "no hard feelings" toward the Angels for their decision, and he also pushed back against reports that said his exit from the team was acrimonious.
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The Dodgers are noted for their roster depth, but right now they have five key position players -- Seager, Cody Bellinger, A.J. Pollock, Zach McKinstry, and Edwin Rios -- on the injured list. That run of injuries has helped create a spot for Pujols, at least in the near-term, at first base and as a right-handed pinch-hitter. If Max Muncy gets some time at second base while the middle infield is thinned out by injury, then Pujols may get a bit more playing time than anticipated. Pujols also expressed a willingness to play a mentor role for the Dodgers' younger hitters, which is no doubt part of his appeal to the organization, and said more broadly that he's prepared to do "whatever they want."
The tone was one of acceptance of what's sure to be a limited role. That plus the communication between Pujols, Friedman, and Roberts beforehand suggest that he's fully aware of the path ahead and willing to embrace it.
Here's Pujols' introductory press conference in full:
The Dodgers are surely hoping that Pujols' solid batted-ball metrics portend a bounceback at the plate, and they'll likely improve his chances of producing at an adequate level by limiting Pujols to platoon-advantaged situations whenever possible. Speaking of which, the Dodgers thus far in 2021 rank just 13th in the NL with a .659 OPS against left-handed pitching.
Regardless of the outcome of his Dodgers tenure, Pujols stands as one of the greatest hitters in MLB history and a lock to make the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. He brings to the Dodgers 3,253 career hits; 667 home runs; 669 doubles; 5,955 total bases; 2,112 RBI; 1,852 runs scored; and a WAR of 99.5.