Albert Pujols plans to retire after 2022 season

Albert Pujol is back with the Cardinals, and he will end his career where it began. Speaking to journalists (including Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch) in a press conference announcing his return to St. Louis, Pujols confirmed that he plans to retire after the upcoming season. “That’s all for me. This is my last race“, he told the group.

Pujols is heading into the 22nd season of a Hall of Fame career. He spent just over half that on Cardinal red, breaking into the big leagues with a 2001 Rookie of the Year winning campaign. The scathing first baseman finished fourth in NL MVP voting in his first season, and he would remain in the top five in that voting for all but one season in St. Louis (a 2007 campaign in which he finished ninth).

During this run, Pujols won the MVP award three times. He led MLB in OPS+ in four of five seasons between 2006 and 2010, winning the Silver Slugger Award in each of the past three years. Pujols went to the Midsummer Classic in nine of his first 11 seasons with the Cards and helped the club win two World Series championships. During his time in St. Louis, he posted an incredible .328/.420/.617 slash, averaging over 40 home runs per season.

Of course, the second half of Pujols’ career was nowhere near the otherworldly heights he had reached at that time. Pujols posted above-average offensive numbers in each of his first five seasons in Orange County after signing a ten-year pact with the Angels in the 2011-12 offseason. He only had great numbers in his first season with the Halos (.285/.343/.516 with 30 home runs) as his batting average and base numbers dropped sharply, although Pujols has twice eclipsed 30 long balls in Anaheim.

As his production continued to decline towards the end of that deal, the Angels released Pujols last May. He landed with the Dodgers and served as a squad/right bench batter before returning to the open market this winter. In a looping moment, the 42-year-old agreed to return to St. Louis for one last run last night.

Pujols has already accumulated a long list of professional achievements. His name is on all-time charts in most major categories. He’s 12th with 3,301 hits, and he’s only 18 hits away from edging Paul Molitor in the top ten. Barring injury, he’s sure to get there this year. It will be more difficult – but not impossible – for Pujols to establish another pair of accomplishments in the home run department. Already 5th all-time with 679 big flies, he needs 18 more to pass Alex Rodriguez for fourth place and 21 home runs to reach the 700-point plateau. Pujols is 64 RBI from Baby Ruth for second place in this category, and he has a chance to skip both Willie Mays (at 38) and Stan Musial (92 away) in total goals.

Clearly, Pujols won’t take on the kind of workload he faced at the start of his career. Paul Goldschmidt is the regular first baseman with the cards, leaving the designated hitter role as the cleanest path to bat for Pujols. In recent seasons, he hasn’t hit well enough for a winning St. Louis team to commit to playing him every day in that capacity, but he thinks he’ll get some pinch work and starts against the left-handed throw. Cardinals fans will have the opportunity to watch Pujols pursue these various milestones for the past six months, and he will step out alongside the other two most synonymous players of Cardinal baseball’s past two decades.

Yadier Molina has already announced his intention to retire after this year. Adam Wainwright, who turns 41 in August, returned for a 17th season on a one-year contract in the offseason. There has been a lot of speculation over the past few seasons that Wainwright may be stepping down soon, although he has yet to commit one way or another. The three-time All-Star starter took issue with his future again this afternoon, telling reporters he was “do not cross this bridge” right now (via John Denton of MLB.com).

To Wainwright’s credit, he remained highly productive well into his thirties, showing even less of a performance slump than either of his legendary teammates. All three players have been iconic members of the organization, and they are now officially reunited for one final run. Whether Wainwright will join Molina and Pujols as outgoing stars remains to be seen, but the trio will be together this year in hopes of bringing a third World Series to St. Louis.

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