ST. LOUIS — Miguel Cabrera might be the best hitter in baseball, but the Angels might have someone just as good in their lineup next season.
And, no, Tony La Russa was not talking about Mike Trout.
For the first 11 years of his career, Albert Pujols played for La Russa and the St. Louis Cardinals. The two men remain close; La Russa said he spoke with Pujols last week and said the first baseman is in good health and good spirits.
“All he has to do is be healthy,” La Russa said Sunday, before Game 4 of the World Series.
“If he’s healthy, there will be no better hitter in either league. He didn’t do this accidentally for 11 years.”
In the first two years of his $240-million contract with the Angels, Pujols has had the worst two seasons of his career. The three-time National League MVP played a career-low 99 games last year, hobbled by plantar fasciitis in his left foot. The inflamed tissue eventually tore, and Pujols and the Angels believe that should resolve the issue.
Pujols will be 34 when next season opens. In 2009, the last of his MVP seasons, he batted .327 with 47 home runs, 135 runs batted in, and a 1.101 OPS. In 2011, his only full season with the Angels, he batted .285 with 30 homers, 105 RBI and an .859 OPS.
His batting average, home run total and OPS have declined in each of the past four years.
In Pujols’ first two years with the Angels, Trout has established himself as the best hitter on the team, and one of the best hitters in the league.
“Trout can be tied with Albert for best player,” La Russa said. “Nothing wrong with being that good.”