It isn’t every day that the best player in Major League Baseball changes his address. So when Albert Pujols signed a 10-year, $250 million free agent contract with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim earlier today, it struck the baseball world like a thunderclap.
While this is obviously a major blow to the St. Louis Cardinals franchise and its incredibly loyal fans, the news will also be felt all around the American League, as organizations — especially the Angels’ AL West rival, the Texas Rangers — come to realize that the balance of power in the league has shifted to the West Coast.
Making the signing doubly potent, the Angels have also apparently come to terms with free agent pitcher C.J. Wilson, formerly the pitching ace of the Texas Rangers. After finishing last season 10 games behind Texas in the AL West and five games out of the Wild Card spot, it’s safe to say that the Angels are now a postseason favorite.
For the past several years, Angels owner Arte Moreno has gone out of his way to grab a share of the Los Angeles media market for his team at the expense of the incumbent Dodgers. Publicly slapping the city of Anaheim in the face in 2005 by changing the team’s name from the Anaheim Angels to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim was only the first step in that process. The signing of Pujols is another.
Having Pujols as the team’s star attraction for a decade will not only help at the gate — though the Angels are already in the top five in attendance in the Majors — it will increase Moreno’s leverage with Fox Sports West, his cable television partner. Currently, the Angels and Fox are in the midst of a 10-year, $500 million deal, one that’s ripe to be modified with Pujols in the Angels lineup. Who knows, if Moreno is really ambitious, he might find a way to buy out the remaining years of his deal and use Pujols as the centerpiece of a regional sports cable network he can own himself, like the Yankees own YES in New York.
Overall, the signing is a masterstroke for Moreno, as he’s brought the best player in baseball to the nation’s second largest media market. With Pujols in the lineup, the Angels are set to be contenders for most of the next decade, and I imagine the Angels will recoup every single dollar they invest in Pujols and many, many more.
The only free agent signing I can compare this to is George Steinbrenner’s wooing of Reggie Jackson to the New York Yankees in time for the start of the 1977 season. The Yankees were already the reigning American League champs, and the addition of Jackson helped them win two World Series and three American League pennants in the next five seasons. If anything, Pujols is all the player that Jackson was and a whole lot more. One wonders what the Yankees and the Red Sox might try to do next to keep up.
Eric McErlain blogs at Off Wing Opinion, a Forbes “Best of the Web” winner. In 2006 he wrote a “bloggers bill of rights” to help integrate bloggers into the Washington Capitals’ press box. Eric has also written for Deadspin, NBC Sports and the Sporting News, and covers sports television for The TV News. Follow Eric on Twitter.