All posts by Jon Doble

Changes to Divisions, Wild Card coming

Major League Baseball announced the approval of the sale of the Houston Astros to Jim Crane this morning along with division and wild card changes for the future.

According to the Associated Press, the MLB’s decision to move the Houston Astros to the American League beginning in 2013 saved Crane’s ownership group roughly $65 million. The move of the Astros from the NL Central to the AL West is designed to balance out the league’s divisions to give them 2 leagues with 3 divisions with 5 teams in division.

What that means for baseball is that beginning in 2013 you are looking at a scheduling model that includes interleague play from beginning to end as that is the only way to balance the schedule with an odd number of teams in each league.

The plan is to maintain the DH for use when American League teams are playing at home and allowing the pitcher to hit when National League teams are playing at home. Which really makes the idea of having a guy like Allen Craig coming off your bench all that more important for a National League club. However, many feel that this is simply a precursor to the Designated Hitter being standardized throughout Major League Baseball and I hate that idea with all of my being. (Can you tell I’m not a fan of the DH?)

Major League Baseball also announced that they would be adding a second wild card in each league beginning at least by the 2013 season, though there is some speculation they will try to plug it in for next year.

Many remember this season how the final day of the season was quite possibly the most dramatic day in MLB history. All that drama wouldn’t have happened with two wild card spots. The final week of the MLB season would have looked and felt completely different. Instead of a dramatic rise to the playoffs, it would have been flat.

While many leagues have looked at changing their playoff format, I’m not a fan of letting more teams into the playoffs. The more teams you let into the playoffs, the more you devalue the regular season. At 162 games, the MLB season is nearly two times longer than the NBA and NHL seasons and over ten times longer than the NFL season. The NBA and NHL let 16 of their 32 teams into the playoffs, the NFL 12 of their 32. The MLB had been the toughest league to earn a playoff spot in, only letting 8 of their 30 teams achieve of a postseason berth.

If you’re going to let everyone in, why play a regular season? Let’s just start with a huge tournament with best of 7 series’ from April to October. Why not? I think if you’re going to expand the postseason, you have to shorten the regular season, but that’s not something they are willing to do.

The speculation by many writers today, while MLB Commissioner Bud Selig says there are many things to be determined about how to implement it, is that the league will have a one-game playoff between the two Wild Card teams to get into the playoffs. I am not a fan of that idea.

First and foremost, it will need time before and after the game to make it happen. Teams will want to play their #1 pitcher in the game, which essentially burns them in the first round of the playoffs making it even more difficult for a team to overcome in the first round. During this time, the other teams are sitting on their couches and losing their edge.

Secondly, I’m a proponent of the idea that it should be hard to get into the playoffs. I think the MLB’s playoff system has been very well executed. I like it better than I like any other league’s playoff format. It’s difficult to get into, but it also allows that team that is still really good but gets stuck behind a juggernaut of a team to get a chance.

As always, we’re going to see how it works out, but for the most part, allowing two wild cards in each league to advance to the playoffs is going to simply shorten the season for a lot of teams. As with the NFL talking about going 18 games while complaining that teams rest players after they clinch a playoff spot, you are essentially making it easier for team’s to clinch and therefore rest players and prepare for the playoffs. Meanwhile, you eliminate some of that drama down the stretch.

Much like NASCAR’s decision to create their own playoff format, this is a gimmick. A gimmick that eliminates real drama and is meant to simply generate it’s own. I hate that.

Color this baseball fan disappointed with this news.

Cardinals set coaching staff

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch is reporting the Cardinals’ 2012 coaching staff has been set.

Just two days after introducing Mike Matheny as the organization’s newest manager after the retirement of Tony LaRussa, who had held the role for the last 16 seasons, the Cardinals have revealed their coaching staff.

The big news is that Dave Duncan and Mark McGwire will return to their positions as the team’s pitching and hitting coaches, respectively. Duncan will be entering his 17th season as the Cardinals’ pitching coach and the final year of his contract. McGwire will be entering his 3rd season as the Cardinals hitting coach. Under McGwire, the Cardinals led the National League in several offensive categories.

Derek Lilliquist will also be back in the bullpen as the team’s bullpen coach. No truth to the rumor that hearing aids were a requirement of his new contract.

In somewhat of a surprise, Jose Oquendo will return to the staff at his typical spot at third base. Oquendo was widely considered to be the manager-in-waiting in St. Louis and was the final interview for the manager’s seat. He was passed over for Matheny. My only concern is whether Oquendo buys in to Matheny as manager, which I’m assuming the organization would have checked on before announcing his return.

Mike Aldrete, who served as assistant hitting coach since 2008, will get a uniformed position as he takes over the role as bench coach from Joe Pettini. Aldrete was expected to be the leading candidate to take over the hitting coach position with the Oakland Athletics, but has apparently turned it down to return to the Cardinals.

Finally, Memphis Redbirds’ manager Chris Maloney will move up to the big league club to take over as the first base coach from Dave McKay. Maloney also interviewed for the Cardinals’ managing position. He has been involved with the Cardinals organization 20 seasons as a minor league manager. This is his first major league posting. Ron “Pop” Warner, who managed the Double-A Springfield Cardinals is expected to take over Maloney’s old position in Memphis.

According to the P-D, Pettini and McKay will be reassigned elsewhere in the organization.

Matheny named manager

After an interview process that lasted roughly a week, Mike Matheny stood in front of the cameras and was announced as the next manager of the St. Louis Cardinals.

It was a field of six candidates. Jose Oquendo, Chris Maloney, Ryne Sandberg, Joe McEwing, Terry Francona, and Matheny. According to the team, after each interview they ranked their board of potential candidates. After his interview, Matheny went to #1 and stayed there, despite his lack of experience.

Matheny, 41, has long been predicted by those around the game to make a good manager. He has recently served as an assistant to General Manager John Mozeliak and has been an instructor at spring training for the team as well. Since he retired at the end of the 2006 season due to concussion related problems, Matheny has been involved with the Cardinals organization, leading many to believe that he would one day be destined for the big chair. However, going into the interviews, he was likely the dark horse candidate that nobody gave a real shot to.

He will now be the youngest manager in the major leagues.

Matheny played five of his 13 year career with the Cardinals. He hit just .245 with a .304 OBP, but took home three of his four Gold Gloves while playing for the Cardinals. He was the catcher who tutored a young Yadier Molina before handing the starting job off to him in 2005. Molina has received four Gold Gloves of his own in the years since.

The management decision was rumored to have come down between Matheny and former Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona. In my opinion, Francona was only going to be a manager for a few years before we had to find someone else. Both in Philadelphia and Boston his end came when he could no longer reach and motivate his players. Matheny has the potential to be a much more longterm manager than Francona would.

Ultimately, I think the move will be good for the Cardinals.

First and foremost, he is already familiar with the team and has the respect of the players in the locker room. The Cardinals players who are on Twitter, like Jon Jay, David Freese, and Daniel Descalso made sure to applaud their new manager and let us know they were excited to play for him because they like and respect him. Two important keys for a manager.

Secondly, Matheny has worked with John Mozeliak on the front office side. He likely buys into the same philosophy that Mozeliak does as far as building the roster. I felt that since Mozeliak took over as the team’s General Manager that he and Tony LaRussa were oft times at odds about how they wanted to build the roster and what they wanted out of it. Now Mozeliak has his guy in the manager’s seat and those conflicts will likely be limited. But now Mozeliak can’t blame shortcomings on that relationship (not that he did, at least, not publicly).

Thirdly, even though he is inexperienced at this particular job, he is likely to be surrounded by experienced coaches and has a sharp baseball mind. Dave Duncan is under contract for 2012 and is expected to return to the organization as pitching coach. He and Matheny would have worked closely together over the five seasons Matheny spent as the Cardinals’ starting catcher. He also has a good relationship with hitting coach Mark McGwire.

Something Matheny will hopefully remember is that this is a championship team and while you do want to make your mark and make it your coaching staff, some consistency will be good for the team. No need to reinvent the wheel. But I see the desire for him to make it his coaching staff rather than LaRussa’s coaching staff.

At the same time, he needs to be his own manager. Don’t try to emulate someone else’s managerial style, be yourself.

The big question will be how we judge his success. He is being handed a World Series Champion. Is anything less a disappointment?

We as fans need to be careful how high we set that bar for him. It is his first year and he’ll be learning on the job. At the end of the year, I want a team that was in contention until late September and I want to see how Matheny handles games. Does he under manager or over manage? My biggest complaint about his predecessor was that I felt LaRussa could over-manage a game like nobody else and as a result managed us out of some games. There is a fine line to walk and I understand it could take him some time to find the right touch.

In the end, it’s a positive move for the Cardinals to begin the post-LaRussa era.

Oh, and for fun, Arthur Rhodes, who pitched last season for the Cardinals is 333 days older than Matheny.

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The search begins in Miami

For Cardinals fans and Albert Pujols, the ball has begun to roll. While there are reports that the Cardinals were unwilling to boost their pre-season offer to Pujols, he has already scheduled his first tour and meeting of the offseason.

The Miami Marlins are looking like they are considering making big moves this offseason. They’ve already talked to Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle, two of the top free agents at their positions, and now they have added Albert Pujols to the mix. Pujols will receive a tour of their new ballpark today before meeting with their administration tomorrow.

2012 is all about new for the Miami Marlins. Yes, the Miami Marlins. As part of their deal to build a new ballpark closer to Miami in an effort to draw in more fans, the Marlins will be changing from the Florida Marlins to the Miami Marlins. With that comes new uniforms and logo, which were to be announced today.

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim’s new General Manager Jerry Dipoto has apparently also expressed their interest in both Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols. You can bet that at some point Pujols will be making a trip to Anaheim to take a look at their facilities and meet with them.

Meanwhile Nolan Ryan said that he’d be surprised if the Rangers were big players in either Fielder or Pujols while giving a vote of confidence to their current first baseman Mitch Moreland. Moreland, 26, hit .259 for the Rangers last season with 16 homers and 51 RBI. But Moreland isn’t and will likely never be a true impact player in the league. But he doesn’t have to be because the Rangers have guys like Josh Hamilton and Adrian Beltre.

As a Cardinals fan I’m torn by this news, but know that it’s the way it has to be. Pujols has to do his due diligence and check out the other interested teams, if just to confirm to himself that he is in the best place.

I don’t think the Marlins will play a critical role in the Pujols negotiations simply because they already have a pretty capable first baseman as it is. They would have to make room for him and if they do it before, they risk Pujols not signing. If they do it after, they risk not getting any return on him. It would be a difficult place to be in.

I think the move is more to generate media mentions about the Marlins. Get the new name out in public and let everyone know that these will be the new look Marlins, not the one that trades away all their good players. They hope to have increased payroll next year, but I think for them to go and triple that payroll is expecting a bit too much. However, they need to compete with the Miami Heat (which is easy right now because there is no NBA right now) and they need star players. Pujols and Reyes can both fit that mold. The two of them? Well that’s almost on the same level as the Heat.

The Marlins actually have a pretty prime opportunity. They already have the basis of a solid team. However, contending in the NL East right now, with Philadelphia and Atlanta having the rosters that they do, is going to be difficult. They could basically add in a few guys who could completely turn the face of the franchise around because their existing payroll is so low.

They have the flexibility that the Cardinals would have going into 2013 if Pujols doesn’t return.

Until contract numbers start flying around, don’t get too excited about Pujols visiting other teams. It’s something he has to do to prepare for the decision he has to make. I think we still have a long way to go until that decision is made. Like, somewhere closer to two months.

But it should be very interesting to see who is in and who is out. And will a mystery team come in and make waves at the last minute, much like the Phillies did with Cliff Lee last year?

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Be the GM: My offseason strategy

We all know that question #1 for the Cardinals is whether or not Albert Pujols comes back, and that will be keeping John Mozeliak’s attention for most of the next two months.

I expect it will be a long negotiation while he waits for the market to completely develop. I see Prince Fielder signing first, probably something around 5 year, $115 million (in my opinion in Texas or with the Cubs). Then Pujols will likely return to the Cardinals with about an 8 year, $190 million deal. Yes, I do expect that Pujols will return to the Cardinals next season, and I think it’s just a matter of time.

If I’m the Cardinals, I have Allen Craig penciled in at first and Lance Berkman penciled in in right field should Albert Pujols not sign. My backup plan is in place and all I need to really do now is solidify the holes on the team.

So what do I do if I’m the Cardinals GM and I’m busy twiddling my fingers waiting for Pujols to finally sign on the dotted line?

Solidify the Middle Infield Situation

The first thing I’m thinking about is finding a way to solidify the middle infield. Obviously last season’s decision to trade defense for offense was a bust. The Cardinals were at their best when we were getting good defensive play up the middle in center field, short stop, and second base. The trade for Rafael Furcal really strengthened the defense at short stop. Unfortunately it didn’t help the offense.

If it were up to me, Furcal would not be my first choice to play short stop. His injury history scares me off and his offensive performance leaves me wanting.

I would contact the agent for Clint Barmes. In Houston last year as their starting short stop, Barmes hit .244 with 12 HRs and 39 RBI. He was a +14 runs saved on defense at short stop, compared to Furcal’s +2. Barmes provides just as much pop, just as much bat, but a far better defender who is also two years younger and without the injury history. He made $3.93 million last year and will likely command a raise on top of that. I think something like 3 years, $15 million would get the job done to bring him in and surely he’d rather play for a World Series contender than Houston.

With his ability to play both second and short stop plus defensively, he also provides you some great flexibility if you decide that Ryan Jackson is deserving of an opportunity to play short stop in a couple years.

Next, I’m looking for a second baseman. Somewhere in all of this mess you have to find someone who can legitimately be considered a leadoff hitter for you. While Jon Jay might be able to fit that bill in center field, you want to have someone who can jump into that spot during his slumps. That brings me to my choice at second base, Jamey Carroll.

Carroll,at 37, has basically been a utility guy for most of his career. As a free agent the opportunity to play for a playoff contender could be interesting to him. Last season he hit .290 with a .359 OBP over his 146 games for the Dodgers. He was also a +2 runs saved at second base in 81 games there. Certainly a player that could be capable of leading off when you consider in 33 games as the Dodgers’ leadoff man, Carroll hit .315 with a .389 OBP. He hit .304 with a .388 OBP in 30 games in the second spot in their lineup. Something like 2 years, $4.5 million should get the job done.

That gives you two plus defenders up the middle who aren’t slouches with the bat. Offense and defense should trump the other by itself.

Find a LHP to compliment Rzepczynski in the bullpen

This is the hard one. The list of quality left handed relievers is very thin. Last fall I said the Cardinals should pursue a premier left handed reliever because our organization has been unable to develop one from within yet. You also had 4-5 of them on the market. Unfortunately, the Cardinals went and got Brian Tallet.

While I wouldn’t completely complain if the Cardinals chose to bring back Arthur Rhodes for this role, I’d like to see them invest outside of that option.

The two best that I see on the market are Mike Gonzalez and Darren Oliver, both coming off their seasons from Texas. Gonzalez held left handed relievers to just a .214 batting average while Oliver kept them at just .227. However, both will be pricey options that are liable to cost nearly $4 million a season.

If the team wants to save some money and perhaps have another Dave Duncan reclamation project, you could consider Damaso Marte, who missed the 2011 season after having shoulder surgery in late 2010. Before the surgery in 2010, he held left handed hitters to hitting just .146 with a .200 OBP. He could be a cheaper option as a guy who is trying to prove his health. You might be able to get him for closer to $2 million on a 1 year deal after the Yankees declined his $4 million option.

Find a right handed hitter who can play all 3 outfield positions

Okay, this one might be harder, but it isn’t as expensive. Unless the Cardinals believe that Allen Craig can play center field in roughly 10-15 games this year, I think they need to consider bringing in another outfield for the bench. All the internal options, Jon Jay, Skip Schumaker, Adron Chambers, who are major league ready are left handed hitters. That hurts in a matchup against a tough left handed pitcher.

There was really nobody that I wanted to go after on the market as a good fit. However someone on the CardsClubhouse forum brought up Andruw Jones.

Jones has played just the corner outfield spots the last few years, but he is right handed and showed some bat last year. He hit .247 with a .356 OBP, 13 HR and 33 RBI in 77 games for the Yankees last year while making $2 million.

Jones picked up 222 plate appearances last year for the Yankees. With the Cardinals and Allen Craig likely getting the opportunity to play first and the corners ahead of him, Jones would likely end up with roughly 20 starts and maybe 50 pinch hitting appearances. That’s 130 plate appearances, assuming that everyone stays healthy (which is always a question in itself). Would Jones be happy with that or does he want more playing time?

Beyond those three things, the Cardinals can fill from within pretty well. Daniel Descalso can be the utility infielder with the potential of bringing a guy like Nick Punto back or giving guys like Tyler Greene or Pete Kozma a chance to earn that spot. Tony Cruz can be more than satisfactory as the backup catcher.

Kyle McClellan could be used as trade bait over the offseason. He wants a chance to start and won’t find that in St. Louis. Plus, I think he’s well liked enough that if he went to Mozeliak and said, “Hey, I think I’m good enough to start and I know that won’t happen in St. Louis, I’d like you to explore trading me” that I don’t think it would become as publicized as Colby Rasmus‘ request. Plus, moving him could help the team fill one of the above spots. Beyond that, the bullpen is pretty with plenty of good young arms and more on their way through the system.

Key improvements are all that needs to be made for the Cardinals. They are defending World Series Champions and they have Adam Wainwright returning from Tommy John. Needless to say they should be more than capable of returning, with or without Pujols. If they make some moves like this, I think they could really solidify their position.

What are your priorities in the offseason if you were the GM?

Over the next month and a half, the members of the United Cardinal Bloggers are doing the UCB Round Table where one member a day poses a question to the rest of us and then it gets posted on the person’s blog. If you are interested in checking it out, you can find the schedule and links to the blogs located on the UCB’s website atunitedcardinalbloggers.com.

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Who are Pujols’ most likely suitors?

That is the question that I will endeavor to answer over the next little bit of your read along. Though Daniel over at C70 at the Bat tackled this topic in a post of his own on Wednesday, I’m going to take a team-by-team approach to it. I’ll analyze each team’s current position and whether or not they have the place and the means to be a player in the Albert Pujols negotiations.

To really answer this question we need to discuss what is important to Albert. There are two things that really stick out. First, his desire for a winning team. Second, his desire to be recognized for his performance over the last 11 seasons. In professional sports, there is usually one way to determine who the best players in the game are and that is by looking at their paychecks.

So I have three criteria that I’ve evaluated each organization with. First, the team will have to be a winning team or have a young core of highly talented players ready to play in the major leagues. Second, the team will need to be able to pay him well. Third, I’ve assumed that he’d rather play first base everyday rather than be a DH for an American League team.

What do the grades mean. F means no chance. D means an outside chance if they make moves to make some room. C means the team meets a couple of the requirements, but he doesn’t quite fit their plans. B means a team may have the means, but maybe not the motive. A means that they have the cash and meet the requirements and should be players.

With that said, let’s jump in.

Atlanta Braves (Grade: F)
The Braves will not be a player for Pujols. They have the young Freddie Freeman who hit .282 last season with 21 HRs and 76 RBI, and that was just his rookie season. Freeman is likely there in Atlanta for the long haul as a foundation player for their future. They don’t have a need to go spend the necessary cash to bring in Pujols.

Arizona Diamondbacks (Grade: B)
The Diamondbacks could be a team with an outside shot at Pujols. They have a young core of players like Ryan Roberts, Chris Young, and Justin Upton as well as a really solid pitching staff with Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson. They’ve dealt away a lot of their talent in return for pitching production. Their payroll was the second lowest it’s been in a decade and is nearly half of what they were spending in the Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling years. They could have some money there to sign a player like Pujols, and having a premiere player of Pujols’ caliber in their lineup would change the face of the division. Would they be willing to pony up to be automatically penciled in as the best team in the NL West for the next few seasons? I’d be doing the math if I was in charge.

Baltimore Orioles (Grade: D)
The Orioles have money to spend and are in need of a first baseman for their organization. Many believed that their 1 year deal with Derrek Lee last year was specifically so they could chase Pujols in free agency. Except the big problem is that they aren’t a winning team nor are they expected to really be one any time soon. Plus, the team is currently searching for someone to lead the team as General Manager (I am currently unemployed and would love to). If it comes down to a pure money offer the Orioles could have a chance, but given that I feel Pujols is going to balance winning and his payday, the Orioles certainly don’t offer what he wants.

Boston Red Sox (Grade: F)
Adrian Gonzalez is pretty much coming off a career year both offensively and defensively. If we assume that Pujols doesn’t want to DH, Boston is out of the running.

Chicago Cubs (Grade: B)
The Cubs fans would love to steal Albert Pujols away from their rival Cardinals and believe Theo Epstein is the GM to do it. While I expect the Cubs to be in the discussion, they lose points on the winning category. They have the opening at first base and the money coming off the books, but have other flaws that need to be fixed. I would hope that Pujols wouldn’t go to the Cubs. That’d be like Jeter going to the Red Sox. Cardinals fans would go stupid crazy in the event he signed with the Cubs and I’d certainly hate to be the owner of that new Pujols statue in St. Louis because I doubt it would remain untouched.

Chicago White Sox (Grade: D)
The White Sox have Paul Konerko signed for two more years to play first base and is coming off of a year where he hit .300 with 31 HRs and 105 RBI. While they might want him, they have no need of him. Especially with Adam Dunn signed through 2014 to DH. If they could deal off Dunn, maybe they could play in the Pujols sweepstakes, but I don’t see that happening where they don’t eat a large chunk of Dunn’s contract.

Cincinnati Reds (Grade: F)
The Reds might even have a backlog of talent at first base to deal with. Joey Votto is signed for two more years and their young prospect Yonder Alonso needs a position to play. They have no need, nor a desire, to go sign Pujols.

Cleveland Indians (Grade: D)
While they have some money coming off the books and a need for a first baseman, I don’t see the Indians being a major player for Pujols. Many of their younger players will hit arbitration for the first time and will likely absorb that extra money.

Colorado Rockies (Grade: F)
The Rockies will need to look at filling first base and replacing the 37 year old Todd Helton at some point, Helton still hits fairly well and is signed through 2013. The Rockies are also about at the top of their payroll over the last decade and they just signed Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez to longterm, expensive deals.

Detroit Tigers (Grade: F)
The team has Miguel Cabrera signed through 2015 and many consider him to be the most dangerous hitting first baseman in the American League. While he is a defensive question mark, the Tigers also have Victor Martinez signed through 2014 to DH for them.

Houston Astros (Grade: F)
The Astros have been shedding payroll as of late, have a new owner, aren’t in any shape to contend, and have a long road back to contention. No way.

Kansas City Royals (Grade: B)
The Royals are the team that I’ve expected to be a dark horse for Pujols. He spent his first years in the United States there. However, the emergence of Eric Hosmer, unless they decide to move Hosmer to DH, severely diminishes the chances of Pujols finding his way to the Royals.

Los Angeles Angels (Grade: C)
While on the surface the Angels may appear to be a great contender for Pujols, they are going to find themselves in a bit of a salary crisis. Especially when they are paying Vernon Wells over $25 million a year for the next three years. Rookie Mark Trumbo also emerged this season as a viable first baseman. I think the Angels aren’t as big a threat as many think they will be.

Los Angeles Dodgers (Grade: F)
With the financial troubles this team is undergoing and the potential auctioning off of the team, I don’t see the Dodgers making a play for Pujols at all. They are looking like they’ll try to lock in Matt Kemp, however, after his breakout season.

Miami Marlins (Grade: C)
This is another team that people think could be a sleeper. They are moving into a new ballpark and expect to make some more money from it being better located in the city, instead of a good drive out of town. They have Gaby Sanchez at first base, so they would likely have to trade him in order to make it work. Sanchez could have some serious value, seeing as he has only used up two years of eligibility, he is under team control for four more years. But the Marlins have yet to show that they want to spend money in free agency, so I doubt they’ll start now.

Milwaukee Brewers (Grade: F)
If the Brewers were going to sign an expensive first baseman out of free agency this season, they’d be going after Prince Fielder. With the extra money spent on the pitching staff last year, I think they went all in in Prince’s final year and now will scale back a bit. I’d be surprised if they made a big splash in free agency at all.

Minnesota Twins (Grade: F)
The Twins are all screwed up right now. Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer were both signed to big contracts and both spend most of last year injured. With those two on the roster, they don’t have a need to bring in another high priced player and I don’t know if they could afford one.

New York Mets (Grade: F)
The Mets have their own financial problems and are unlikely to make any big moves in free agency.

New York Yankees (Grade: F)
With Mark Teixeira at first and projecting Jesus Montero at DH for the future, they have no need to bring in Pujols. Besides, pitching is a far greater concern to the Yankees at the moment than bringing in another offensive threat.

Oakland Athletics (Grade: F)
While they have an opening at first base, they aren’t likely to spend much more on their team than they are right now. Plus, I don’t see Pujols being all too interested in playing for them.

Philadelphia Phillies (Grade: F)
The Phillies have $50 million invested in the trio of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels, not to mention another $20 million in Ryan Howard, their first baseman, I don’t see the Phillies even calling up Dan Lozano to kick the tires.

Pittsburgh Pirates (Grade: D)
The Pirates only have $6.6 million committed to 2012, and just about half of that is going to Kevin Correia. They do have 10 players due to hit arbitration and many more still under team control, so it’s not like they don’t have anyone to field a team next year, but they do have plenty of financial flexibility at this point to do what they think they need to. They don’t have anyone to play first base and have a young core of talent coming up. I doubt, though, that their ownership is ready to invest what would likely be nearly half their payroll into a single player.

San Diego Padres (Grade: F)
The Padres new ownership is still cutting payroll. Their highest paid player last season was Heath Bell, their closer, making $7.5 million. I doubt they will pick up for the phone to Lozano either. Pujols doesn’t fit with their organizational strategy.

San Francisco Giants (Grade: F)
The Giants are currently at their highest payroll of all time and broke $100 million for the first time this season. They have Aubrey Huff to play first base for at least one more year and young Brandon Belt who was expected to take the role. They’ll be spending their money to retain as much of their pitching staff as possible and they won’t be in the Pujols discussions.

Seattle Mariners (Grade: F)
While the Mariners are a team in dire need of a consistent offensive threat in their lineup, their payroll has remained pretty steady over the previous few seasons and they don’t have that much money coming off their books in 2012. Plus, they may be considering paying up to retain Felix Hernandez with an extension after his contract expires at the end of the year.

Tampa Bay Rays (Grade: F)
The Rays struggle to find money to pay their own talent. Their owner was in the press complaining that the lack of attendance makes it difficult for them to bring in and retain their talent because they need to run the business inside their budget to make a profit. And I feel for him. He’s provided them a playoff team in 3 of the last 4 years (only the Phillies have made it 4 times and the Yankees are the only other to make it 3) and still they struggle to bring fans to the stadium.

Texas Rangers (Grade: A)
The Rangers might be the biggest threat for the Cardinals through the negotiations. Mitch Moreland played the most first base for them and Pujols will definitely out perform him. You can also assume that since they didn’t spend the money they were chasing Cliff Lee with last season that they have some to spend. While I still see Prince Fielder as the better fit for the Rangers as he will ultimately cost less and be more willing to slide into the DH role as he ages, Pujols might enter their radar. While Fielder might command nearly the same money, he will likely get fewer years which lessens the investment required for a team.

Toronto Blue Jays (Grade: C)
Toronto has gone about building a young core of players over the last few seasons, so that is the #1 reason I can’t see them pursuing Pujols. While they might have a team capable of battling the likes of the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays with a couple of additions, I don’t see Pujols fitting in with their strategy. They potentially have the money to spend too.

Washington Nationals (Grade: D)
The Nationals could step in and make a play for Pujols with the thought of moving Michael Morse back into the outfield, but the young Morse is a defensive liability wherever he plays. That is an unlikely move, however, with Jayson Werth in right field and left field likely penciled for Bryce Harper. Morse enjoyed a breakout season, hitting over .300 with 31 home runs for the Nationals. They are deservedly high on him and he’s still under team control for two more years.

* * *

And with that we reach the end. So according to me, I expect the biggest competition to the Cardinals to be the Texas Rangers. Beyond them, the Chicago Cubs, Kansas City Royals, and Arizona Diamondbacks should all be in that next tier of players.

The big problem for Pujols is that there is a younger first baseman on the market who will put similar numbers up. Fielder will likely be the first one off the market. Once that happens, Pujols’ market will be more defined, but the problem is that beyond the Cardinals it really only makes sense to just a few teams to seriously consider signing him. I’m not even sure it makes sense for the Cubs beyond the “let’s screw the Cardinals” rhetoric.

It’ll certainly be the issue that will divide the fan base this offseason and be the source of much discussio and debate. Even more so than the managerial search. Do we spend the money and keep him, do we not and invest it in shoring up the team’s holes? It is potentially the single largest free agency decision that the Cardinals have had to make in my lifetime.

Whatever happens, given the right move this season to shore up the team for the playoffs… in Mo we trust.

Over the next month and a half, the members of the United Cardinal Bloggers are doing the UCB Round Table where one member a day poses a question to the rest of us and then it gets posted on the person’s blog. If you are interested in checking it out, you can find the schedule and links to the blogs located on the UCB’s website at unitedcardinalbloggers.com.

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