- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Pujols's back knee is collapsed in the loaded position, like a broken leg on a tripod. In his normal stance Pujols keeps a strong base with 60% of his weight on his back leg and 40% on the front. But with the collapsed back knee, the weight distribution is reversed. With a flat bat and weakened back leg, Pujols's hips and head drift forward as the bat comes through. The drifting makes him roll over on pitches, causing an inordinate number of ground balls. With the help of video and Rojas—with whom he talks to two or three times a week—Pujols began to identify the problems and make adjustments, though he says, "Even in the World Series my bat was a little flat."
The 2011 season cast Pujols as a player in decline, with his batting average and OPS dropping for a third straight year, albeit marginally and from spectacular heights. But after May 5, Pujols hit .321 with 35 homers and 96 RBIs in 134 games through the postseason, which is fairly typical of a Pujols year.
On the day St. Louis won the World Series, Moreno hired Jerry Dipoto as the Angels' general manager. He instructed Dipoto to meet almost immediately with Danny Lozano, Pujols's agent. Moreno explicitly stipulated that no one else was to know that the Angels were pursuing Pujols. "If we didn't get him signed," Moreno says, "nobody was going to know."
Moreno wanted to be respectful of Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt and the team's long association with such an iconic player. But privately Moreno had been thinking about signing Pujols for months. He viewed Pujols not just as a great hitter for a team that needed offense but also as a once-in-a-generation player. Pujols was too good, Moreno decided, not to pursue. The economics did not scare him, Moreno says, because his club carried no debt, had drawn three million fans for nine consecutive seasons, had no players signed past 2015 other than ace Jered Weaver and had backloaded its local TV deal to run between $10 million and $20 million above its $50 million annual average. Also, unbeknownst to almost everyone, for nearly a year Moreno had known he had a handshake agreement with Fox Sports that would triple his TV haul, to $150 million a year, beginning in 2014. "In a perfect world," Moreno says of his plans to sign Pujols, "it was going to be eight 25s [$25 million per year for eight years]. In a perfect world. I don't think you sign him in a perfect world."
Meanwhile, Pujols's negotiations with St. Louis took a defining turn. After the World Series the Cardinals improved their offer to an average annual value of $26 million. But to increase the yearly money, they cut the length of the offer: five years, $130 million. It puzzled Pujols that the Cardinals wanted him for fewer years than the Angels and the Marlins, who had offered 10 years and $201 million.
"You stay in the game, stay in the game, stay in the game and hope you get to the point where you really have an opportunity," Moreno says. For the Angels, the five-year offer by St. Louis was such an opportunity. On Dec. 6, Moreno, in Tempe, arranged through Lozano to call Pujols at nearly 10 p.m. in St. Louis. "I told my wife, 'We're going to find out if I know how to sell,'" Moreno says.
Says Pujols, "It was a get-to-know-you call."
The next day Moreno and his wife had just sat down for a matinee showing of the movie Melancholia when Lozano called. Moreno sensed the opening. He walked outside. "I want to talk to the player directly," Moreno said.
"Sure. I'll get back to you," the agent said.
"No," Moreno said. "I'll hold while you put the player on this line right now."