Poor Albert Pujols.
Well, no, he's not poor. He's rich. Very, very rich. At least, financially speaking.
But what Pujols has in money after signing that massive 10-year, $254 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels two offseasons ago, he lacks in satisfaction on the actual diamond at the moment.
It's been a year-and-a-half since Pujols bolted the St. Louis Cardinals, the team that drafted and developed him. The team that helped him transform into a three-time Most Valuable Player. The team with which he won two World Series.
And even with that much time having passed, Pujols, it seems, still has some lingering issues over how things went down and why he decided to leave, as he tells Jon Morosi of FoxSports.com:
I think the only thing I'm bitter about is the way the front office handled it a little bit. I think they should have handled it a little better. I'm bitter about that. They tried to make me look like I was a bad guy. But that's OK. I'm a big boy. Besides that, I also understand there's nothing I can do. Even if I could take it back, I'm happy where I am right now. My goal is to focus and concentrate on what I need to do to help this ballclub win.
Spoken like a guy who is trying to talk himself into being satisfied with his decision.
And let's be clear here, regardless of what the Cardinals' front office did—and Pujols refused to provide details or clarify on that front—it was still Pujols' decision to leave the city that had so much respect and love for him.
As for Pujols' goal of helping his current team win? Well, that hasn't gone so well since he hit the L.A. scene.
The Angels have been extremely slow out of the gates last year and this, going 8-15 and then 9-17 each of the past two Aprils.
That led to a playoff-less campaign in 2012, and considering the Angels are still under .500 and 7.5 games out of a wild card spot entering play Thursday, survey says 2013 is likely to wind up the same way.
This despite the fact that the Angels are a star-studded team, even aside from Pujols.
There's wonderboy Mike Trout, the 21-year-old outfielder who's arguably the best all-around player in the game.
And ace Jered Weaver, who's only finished in the top five in American League Cy Young voting the past three years.
And let's not leave out outfielder Josh Hamilton and left-hander C.J. Wilson, two more of owner Arte Moreno's big purchases over the past two winters.
Problem is, outside of Trout, all of the above are struggling mightily. Even Pujols.
It's no secret that Pujols, now 33, is on the decline. His production and performance has dropped off for four straight seasons now, following his third MVP campaign—and second straight—in 2009.
The Angels' struggles overall, as well as Pujols' own—he's hitting just .256/.328/.442 and is battling ongoing plantar fasciitis in his left foot that has prevented him from playing first base regularly—have to be getting to him.
In some ways, it's understandable that he would be frustrated with the way things have gone since he left St. Louis.
Even more so when you realize what's been going on there in the same time.
Sure, the Cards won it all with Pujols in 2011, which wound up being his final season in St. Louis, but the franchise is in much better shape now than the Angels are.
St. Louis, after all, made the postseason last year and owns the best record in baseball this year.
Plus, the Angels' farm system is widely considered to be among the worst in the sport, meaning not much in-house help will be on the way.
The Cardinals' system, meanwhile, was the best in baseball heading into this season, which we've seen play out thanks to contributions from rookies like pitchers Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal and Michael Wacha, as well as first-year hitters like Matt Adams, who happens to back up the guy who replaced Pujols.
That would be Allen Craig, who has hit .312/.356/.503 with 30 homers and 154 RBI since the start of 2012.
Pujols' numbers in that time? .275/.338/.491 with 43 and 153.
As fellow Bleacher Report MLB Lead Writer Joe Giglio recently pointed out in his take on why the Cardinals are baseball's best franchise-building team, letting go of Pujols at just the right time was a tricky yet prudent call:
St. Louis was not going to break its back for an aging, declining icon named Albert Pujols to sell jerseys and seats or warm the hearts of Midwesterners yearning for the days of the superstar that would only suit up for one franchise.
For this organization, Pujols was worth a lucrative dollar figure, but not one that would make him the highest paid player per year or cripple the Cardinals' ability to re-sign other major pieces on their roster.
When Pujols took his services and future Hall of Fame bat to Los Angeles, the Cardinals remained steadfast, replaced him with younger options that weren't less productive and still won baseball games.
In other words, St. Louis and the Cardinals have moved on.
All of this is relevant now, of course, because next Tuesday in Anaheim, Pujols will face his old team for the first time.
There's bound to be plenty of questions and commentary about how everything has played out in the 18 months since Pujols has moved on, about how the franchise he joined has gone in one direction while the franchise he left behind has gone in another.
Pujols still has warm memories of St. Louis as a city and the Cardinals as a franchise, telling Morosi:
St. Louis is still a special place for me. I still have my home there. I live there in the offseason. I enjoyed playing in front of 40,000 people every day. I tried to do my best to help the organization win. I had success there. We won two World Series. We went to three. That’s something you can't take from me. I had great teammates and great memories. Those are things you’re always going to take with you.
Spoken like a guy who is trying to talk himself into moving on. But can't.
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