Source: Justin Bour agrees to 1-year deal with Angels, could split time with Albert Pujols

ByAlden Gonzalez ESPN logo
Thursday, December 13, 2018

LAS VEGAS -- The Los Angeles Angels, in need of protection for the recovering Albert Pujols and Shohei Ohtani, agreed to terms on a one-year contract with left-handed-hitting first baseman Justin Bour on Wednesday, a source confirmed to ESPN. The deal is worth $2.5 million, according to the New York Post. Yahoo Sports first reported the agreement.

Bour is a career .260/.344/.466 hitter with 84 home runs and 277 RBIs in 507 games, most of them with the Miami Marlins, from 2014 to 2018. The 30-year-old has a lifetime OPS of .853 against righties -- 214 points higher than his OPS against lefties -- but has never graded out as a strong defensive player.

On the surface, the Bour addition seems to mean that the right-handed-hitting Albert Pujols, owed $87 million over the final three years of his contract, will essentially become a platoon player. But there probably will be several instances when Pujols and Bour occupy the same lineup because the Angels will be extra cautious with Ohtani, who underwent Tommy John surgery over the offseason.

"We really want to protect [Ohtani's] elbow so he can pitch in 2020 and beyond," Angels manager Brad Ausmus, speaking hours before the Bour signing, said during his media session from the winter meetings. "He's such a dominant pitcher, you want to make sure you preserve that. So, we're going to probably rely on the medical team a little more and be a little bit more cautious. Obviously, we want him back because we want his bat in the lineup. But the priority is to make sure when he's back we're not risking him as a pitcher."

The Angels also need to be cautious with Pujols, who underwent another knee surgery in August and then an elbow procedure in September.

In a vacuum, the Angels would prefer to maximize plate appearances for Ohtani, who showed he could produce against both righties and lefties as a rookie, sporting a .925 OPS and 22 home runs in 367 plate appearances. But Ohtani's playing time will come exclusively as a designated hitter, which means that on most nights Pujols' best chance to crack the starting lineup will come at first base.

Pujols started only 34 games at first base from 2016 to 2017, but he increased that number to 70 in 2018, finishing the season with a .700 OPS and 19 home runs in 498 plate appearances. Toward the end of the season, Pujols said he would "try to play as many games at first base next year as I can."

"My first hope is that Albert is OK," Ausmus said. "He's had the knee surgery, and I've spoken to him a couple times. He says he feels great. But we're still going to have to take it slowly in spring training. And then it's just going to be a matter of how he feels and how he's performing.

"In my mind, he's one of the top-five best hitters ever in the game of baseball. I saw him up close and personal when I was in Houston and they were in the National League Central [with Pujols' St. Louis Cardinals]. The guy is a phenomenal talent. But going forward, it's just going to be his health and performance. It's a performance-based game."

Bour, acquired by the Marlins in the Rule 5 draft, was limited to 90 games because of an ankle injury in 2016, then bounced back with his best season in 2017, batting .289 with 25 home runs in 108 games. He was acquired by the playoff-hopeful Philadelphia Phillies in August, but he reached base less than 30 percent of the time and was ultimately non-tendered.

Pujols has been cleared for all upper-body work and lighter-impact lower-body work, Angels general manager Billy Eppler told reporters on Tuesday. Ohtani, Eppler said, is displaying "great range of motion" and "full flexion" in Japan and will check in with an L.A.-based doctor at some point in January.

It's still too early to tell how much each will contribute.

Ausmus spent last season as a special assistant to Eppler in the front office. He compared Ohtani's power, particularly to the opposite field, with that of Miguel Cabrera, who Ausmus managed during his time with the Detroit Tigers. And he compared Ohtani's speed to that of an NFL wide receiver.

Ausmus' toughest task might be juggling Ohtani's DH time with that of Pujols.

"There's going to be a balance," Ausmus said. "We don't expect Ohtani to be ready when the season [starts]. There will be DH at-bats earlier in the season more available to [Pujols], and hopefully he gets off to a hot start. But for me, the bigger and more delicate balance is how often can [Pujols] go to first [base]? That's really the most important thing based on the health of his knees."