Position previews: First base

Signing Albert Pujols to a 10-year, $240 million contract may not have been a reaction to losing Mark Teixeira to the New York Yankees three years earlier, but it might finally answer the question: What have the Angels been missing?

Since Teixeira left after 2008, the Angels have struggled to squeeze sufficient offense out of the game's most offensively potent position.

Last year, even with Mark Trumbo's Rookie of the Year runner-up season, Angels first basemen finished sixth in the American League with a .778 OPS. Much of that is a reflection of Trumbo's aggressive hitting style. He hit 29 home runs, but also had a poor .291 on-base percentage.

In 2010, with a carousel of players wearing a first baseman's mitt (remember Paul McAnulty), Angels at that position finished eighth in OPS (.755). The year before, when Kendrys Morales broke onto the scene (as opposed to broke his leg on the scene), they still ranked sixth (.881).

Unless history is no indicator at all, that's all about to change.

Pujols has finished in the top five of MVP voting 10 times. Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams and Stan Musial did it nine times. Only Barry Bonds (12) did it more. They don't call Pujols The Machine for nothing.

Analyst Bill James projects a big bounceback season from Pujols, who last year had career lows in virtually every offensive category. James has Pujols batting .316/.414/.591, with 41 home runs, 115 runs scored and 120 RBIs.

Pujols, a two-time Gold Glove winner, should also stabilize the Angels' defense on the right side. Even at 31 last year, he had an Ultimate Zone Rating of 2.4, a big drop-off from his pre-2009 form but an improvement over 2010. Pujols may not supplant Teixeira or Adrian Gonzalez for the AL Gold Glove, but he could be an improvement over Trumbo, whose defensive struggles figure to be exacerbated at third base.

The big question, of course, is age. Was last season the beginning of Pujols' decline or a temporary blip? The option of using Pujols at designated hitter should help him get through the long season and reach his usual 590-or-so at-bats. Barring a trade, the Angels have plenty of backups -- Trumbo, Morales and Howie Kendrick -- if Pujols needs a day off his feet.

Even if Pujols doesn't do what he used to do in Machine-like fashion, he should help erase the memory of Teixeira in an Angels uniform. He'll certainly make everyone forget McAnulty.