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Slumping slugger Pujols cut by Angels, still wants to play

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Albert Pujols was cut by the Los Angeles Angels on Thursday, abruptly ending the 41-year-old superstar slugger’s decade with his second major league team.

The Angels surprisingly announced the move to designate Pujols for assignment one day after he wasn’t in the lineup for the slumping club’s fourth consecutive loss. The decision was made after Pujols, dissatisfied with irregular playing time, had a late-night meeting with general manager Perry Minasian and team president John Carpino.

Pujols, who is batting .198 this season, is determined to play first base regularly for another team after he clears waivers, Angels manager Joe Maddon said. Pujols is fifth in major league history with 667 career homers and 13th with 3,253 hits.

“He wants to play, and he wants to be in the field,” Maddon said. “Hopefully he’s going to get that opportunity somewhere else, and believe me, we’re all going to be rooting for him.”

The three-time NL MVP for St. Louis was in the final season of a 10-year, $240 million contract with Los Angeles, but Pujols’ determination was incompatible with the Angels’ desire to make everyday players out of first baseman Jared Walsh and designated hitter Shohei Ohtani, who have both significantly outperformed Pujols as two of the American League’s top hitters.

“Albert is not a bench player,” said Minasian, the club’s first-year GM. “Him being on the bench would not do him any good, and would not do the team any good. He’s as motivated as he’s ever been. If the situation was different and there were at-bats for him to play here, it would be different.”

A 10-time All-Star and the oldest active player in the majors, Pujols had five homers and 12 RBIs this year while playing in 24 of the Angels’ 29 games. After a decent start to the season, Pujols had been in a 7-for-43 slump since April 20, hitting three homers in that stretch.

Minasian said the decision to cut ties with Pujols was “really difficult. These are never easy, especially with a guy like this who loves the game as much as anybody I’ve ever met, who works as hard as anybody I’ve ever met. But since I’ve taken this job, to me it’s about what’s best for the organization moving forward. It really weighed on me. I think it weighed on all of us.”

Pujols joined the Angels after 11 successful seasons with the Cardinals during which he won three league MVP awards, earned two World Series rings, received nine All-Star selections, won an NL batting title and hit 445 homers while establishing himself as one of the greatest sluggers of his generation.

Angels owner Arte Moreno persuaded Pujols to leave for the West Coast with a lavish contract, but the Angels have not won a playoff game during the concurrent tenures of Pujols and three-time AL MVP Mike Trout at the heart of their lineup.

And though Pujols has crossed several statistical milestones with the Angels, the contrast in the two halves of his career is stark.

He batted .328 with a 1.037 OPS in St. Louis, but hit .256 with a .758 OPS in Anaheim along with 222 homers — just under half his total for the Cards. Pujols also earned just one All-Star selection with the Halos, back in 2015.

The Angels made only one postseason appearance in Pujols’ nine full seasons, winning the AL West title and promptly getting swept by Kansas City in 2014. The club is on skids of five straight losing seasons and six straight non-playoff campaigns since then.

Pujols’ achievements with Los Angeles have been mostly numerical, including the 500th and 600th homers and the 3,000th hit of his career. Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Alex Rodriguez and Pujols are the only players in major league history with 3,000 hits and 600 homers.

“He’s had a ton of historic milestones here as an Angel over the last 10 seasons, many that our fans really cherish,” said Carpino, who hopes the franchise will be able to honor Pujols with a more appropriate farewell in the future. “All we have from Albert is positive memories from his time here.”

But Pujols has been a below-average statistical player for the past half-decade, during which he is batting .240 with minus-2 wins above replacement. His career average even dipped under .300 last season for the first time in his two decades in the majors.

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