What does Albert Pujols returning to the Cardinals mean for the Cubs?

(Photo by Brian D. Kersey/Getty Images)
(Photo by Brian D. Kersey/Getty Images) /

In what seems likely to be the closing chapter of a Hall of Fame career, Albert Pujols is returning to the NL Central rival St. Louis Cardinals on a one-year, $2.5 million deal. A shell of his former self, to be sure, this move seems likely be little more than a heartwarming narrative for the 42-year-old slugger – one that aligns with what’s expected to be the final go-round for both Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright, as well.

Despite the fact he hasn’t been even a league average offensive threat in years, make no mistake: Chicago Cubs fans aren’t likely to look forward to seeing Pujols return to the NL Central, a division he haunted for the first 11 years of his career.

From 2001 to 2011, Pujols put up a staggering 170 OPS+ for the Cards, cementing his place in Cooperstown before he played a single out with the Angels. He brought home the NL Rookie of the Year honors right out of the gate, followed by three National League MVP trophies and six Silver Sluggers, to boot.

A three-time MVP and 10-time All-Star, Pujols has obliterated Cubs pitching in his lengthy career – to the tune of a 1.002 OPS, his seventh-best mark against any opponent. The fact that he carries a 1.004 OPS at Wrigley Field across 404 plate appearances isn’t exactly a pleasant thought, either. Again, we’re taking all that with a grain of salt here. He’s not the same guy he was when he packed his bags for California back in 2012.

Still, this will undoubtedly add another layer to the Cardinals’ narrative in 2022, especially in a division that seems probable to come down to just two teams: St. Louis and Milwaukee. Can the Redbirds make one last improbable run to close out the careers of three franchise icons? That’ll be the question on everybody’s mind when the regular season begins.

Cubs: Will Albert Pujols join the illustrious 700-homer club in his final season?

There’s also the matter of Pujols’ individual chase: at 679 home runs, he needs just 21 to become only the fourth member of the 700-homer club, which features the likes of Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth. He hasn’t that many long-balls in a single season since back in 2019, but you can bet the Cardinals would be more than happy to have him hit that mark wearing their uniform at Busch Stadium come late summer.

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This move does little to make the Cardinals a better team. But it could prove to be a driving factor in the clubhouse, adding some further motivation in the clubhouse. Although he’s not what he was, I have no difficulty envisioning a scenario where Pujols ruins a matinee affair at Wrigley at some point this summer by popping a couple homers just to remind us all how lethal he was during his first stint with St. Louis.