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With Pujols gone, what now for the Cardinals?

December 16, 2011

Roughly a week after Albert Pujols signed a monster contract with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, the dust is starting to settle a little bit. Pujols decided to take the $3 million more a year with the Angels rather than re-up with the St. Louis Cardinals, the team Pujols spent 11 Hall-of-Fame seasons with and where he won two World Series. Thanks Albert. It was fun.
The Angels signed Pujols for 10 years and $254 million. It was reported the Cardinals offered him 10 years and $220 million. Leading up to Pujols signing with the Angels, which left me stunned and angry for the next few days, I had mixed feelings on who I wanted to blame. Why blame anyone you ask? Because I’ve been a Cardinals fan for a long time and its my right to rant and rave about someone who has been the biggest icon in St. Louis since he made the opening day roster in 2001 when Bobby Bonilla started the season on the disabled list.
I wanted to blame the Cardinals for not signing Pujols before the season or before the season prior to that. Why did St. Louis let Albert Pujols get to free agency? That still kind of weighs on my mind. I wanted to blame Pujols for leaving the Cardinals for $3 million more per year when he’s been saying it has never been about the money.
Here are Pujols’ career numbers he won’t be adding to in St. Louis. In 1705 games, Pujols has a .328 average, 2,073 hits, 445 home runs, 1,291 runs and 1,329 RBIs.
According to Pujols’ wife, Dee Dee Pujols, the Cardinals offered Albert a 5-year, $130 million contract after the World Series season, but that the contract confused the Pujols’ family because the Cardinals had said they wanted Pujols to retire in St. Louis. Granted, Pujols will probably play more than five more years, but that is $26 million per year, but apparently a lot of the money was deferred. I wonder if Pujols and family would have been receptive to an 8-year, $200 million contract. That’s $25 million a year and Pujols would have retired a Cardinal, and along with that break Stan Musial’s all-time Cardinal records. Pujols was 31 home runs away from breaking the Cardinals’ all-time record – Musial had 475. Musial’s records are safe for now.
It actually does make more sense for Pujols to play in the American League. Once his legs give out, and it may be sooner rather than later when that happens, he will be a solid designated hitter for the last five years of his contract. I personally hate the DH because it takes away many of the intricacies of the best sport in the world, but it does provide more offense which is the reason Major League Baseball instituted it five years after the ‘year of the pitcher’ in 1968. But, that’s another story.
It really made little sense for the Cardinals to sign Pujols to a 10-year deal when he is on the other side of his prime. He will be 42-years-old when his contract is up. Yes, Pujols gave the Cardinals his best seasons because I seriously doubt Pujols will duplicate his season averages over his first 11 seasons. He’s already on the decline.
This past season, Pujols did not hit above .300 or knock in 100 RBIs for the first time in his career.
Those weren’t the only stats that he declined on. Not only did Pujols lead the majors grounding into 29 double plays, he hit a career-low 29 doubles and had career-lows of a .366 on-base percentage and .541 slugging percentage.
Now don’t get me wrong, he still put up really good numbers, but they were far from Pujolsesque.
Despite his decline and future decline, what Pujols has given Cardinal fans the past 11 years would not be forgotten. The fans would understand that the best player in St. Louis since ‘Stan the Man’ is getting older and that’s just what happens. I guess it’s just a little shocking and a little depressing that Pujols won’t be a Cardinal any more.
Well, enough of the past. Now to the future. With roughly the $22 million they’re saving in annual salary by not signing Pujols, the Cardinals have already signed shortstop Rafael Furcal to a two-year, $14-million contract. The Redbirds let defensively inept infielder Ryan Theriot go and got Skip Schumaker to come back for a two-year deal for $3 million. Much relied on relief pitcher Octavio Dotel is now a Detroit Tiger and utility infielder Nick Punto signed with the Boston Red Sox.
Outfielder Allen Craig will probably start the year on the disabled list because of his knee.
My thinking is that Schumaker will no longer be a second baseman and play right field until Craig returns. Unless of course the Cardinals sign an outfielder, which is a possibility.
Rumors swirling are that St. Louis may be interested in free-agent veteran outfielder Carlos Beltran.
This is the same Carlos Beltran that scorched the Cardinals for four home runs and a .417 average in the 2004 National League Championship Series as a member of the Houston Astros.
Beltran is a good player and he can still hit. In the new Busch Stadium, Beltran has a .340 average and an on-base-plus-slugging percentage of 1.088. I could handle that, especially with him coming off a .300 average season.
The Cardinals still have aces Chris Carpenter and will be getting co-ace Adam Wainwright back as well in 2012. I would like to see the Cardinals deal away starting pitchers Kyle Lohse, even though he did have a solid year, or Jake Westbrook, and sign younger starting pitcher Edwin Jackson, who has good velocity and went 5-2 with a 3.58 earned-run average for the Cardinals after being traded from the Chicago White Sox.
Lance Berkman will be taking over at first base, World Series MVP David Freese, barring injury, has a stranglehold on third base, Matt Holliday has left field under wraps and Jon Jay will see some time in center field. Catcher Yadier Molina had his best season offensively for the Cardinals and is the best defensive catcher in the majors.
Though it saddens me that Pujols is not longer a Cardinal, St. Louis is still going to contend in the Central Division and National League. And, the Redbirds still have moves to make, so don’t worry Cardinals Nation, all is not lost.

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