Tag Archives: Albert Pujols

2012 Preview: First Base

As I said in the Catcher preview last week, there are only three players expected to start Opening Day at the same place they started it last year. Lance Berkman is the other player who stays in the lineup but will find himself a new home at first base.

Originally signed before last season to a value rebuilding 1 year, $8 million contract with the Cardinals to play the outfield, Berkman re-signed with the Cards in September to the tune of $12 million. He quickly became their insurance policy against the potential of Albert Pujols vacating the position. Pujols took a $240 million offer from the Angels and didn’t look back. That leaves Berkman, affectionately referred to as “Big Puma,” with some mightly large cleats to fill.

Berkman, who will be 36 on Friday, had a phenomenal year in 2011. According to OPS+ it was his best year as he scored a 166 last year, beating out 2006’s 163 OPS+ campaign. Overall he had a line of .301/.412/.547 as he led the Cardinals in both on base percentage and slugging. He also added 31 home runs and 94 RBI for the Cardinals in a big rebound year.
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2012 Preview: Catcher

From Opening Day 2011 to Opening Day 2012, there are only two positions that we know will be the same, Yadier Molina at catcher and Matt Holliday in left field. Of course, saying that I’ve probably doomed them both to disastrous spring training injuries. (knock on wood)

For the 29-year-old Molina, 2011 was a big year. He led the Cardinals in batting average with his .305. For all intents, he had a career year. He set career highs in batting average (.305), slugging percentage (.465), runs (55), hits (145), doubles (32), home runs (14), and RBI (65) among others. He won his fourth consecutive Gold Glove and made his third consecutive All Star Game appearance. Picking up his $7 million option for 2012 was a no brainer for Cardinals management.

In my mind, Molina might be one of the most interesting players to watch this season. He is coming off a career year where he hit nearly double the home runs of his previous career high. Not only did he have home run power, he had gap power, notching 32 doubles as well, up from the 19 doubles he hit in 2010. For a man who is considered as slow as he is, that’s a high number, second on the Cardinals only to the other steady starter, Matt Holliday. That shows some potential that 2011 may end up being more than just a statistical fluke.

Another reason that I find Molina’s 2012 to be interesting is that his best friend on the team, Albert Pujols, has skipped town on his way to Anaheim to play for the Angels to the tune of $240 million over 10 years. How will he react after spending the previous 8 years of his career in Pujols’ shadow, will he step into the waiting spotlight or will he shy away from it?

You also have his impending contract situation, which I’ll address a little later.

Because of Molina’s defensive prowess and game calling reputation, any offense you get from the catcher position while he’s playing is a definite plus. It also means he logs a lot of innings behind the plate, 1150 innings in total last year across 137 games. Despite the fact that he logged 12 more innings in 2 more games than he did in 2010, he was used quite less than he had in previous years this season. If you remember, he was shut down for the final couple weeks of the season with knee issues at the end of 2010.

Despite those problems, Molina has been steady as a rock behind the plate for the Cardinals, notching over 1,000 innings behind the plate in 5 of the last 6 seasons. If the Cardinals are playing baseball, over the last 7 years the odds were pretty good that he was behind the plate as he’s proven himself exceptionally durable thus far.

For the Cardinals in 2012, there is no doubt that Yadier Molina goes in as the incumbent starter. The game is on, however, for the backup catcher role in 2012. Once held down by Jason LaRue and last year by Gerald Laird, the Cardinals under new manager Mike Matheny (to whom Molina was once a backup to) will be having an open competition for the roster spot. The guys who will be matched up in that battle will be Tony Cruz, Bryan Anderson, and free agent signee Koyie Hill.

Tony Cruz, 25, broke out when he got a chance to be the Cardinals backup catcher when Laird went down with a broken finger in May. While Laird was on the disabled list from May 23rd to July 5th, Cruz hit .278 with a .333 OBP over 18 games, 6 of which were starts behind the plate. His versatility was also used by the Cardinals as he made appearances during that time at third base and first base. Until 2009, Cruz had played primarily third base through the minor leagues, notching 130 games there before transitioning to catcher.

Bryan Anderson, 25, has toiled away in the Cardinals minor leagues since being drafted out of Arkansas in the 4th round of the 2005 draft. Since that time he’s played 593 games in the minor leagues and just 15 in St. Louis in 2010. Anderson has been the question mark since he was drafted. Before the 2008 season he was rated the #85 prospect in baseball by Baseball America, and that was after a fairly lackluster year in double-A Springfield. The power that many scouts talked about never developed in the minor leagues and he got off to an ice cold start in Memphis in 2011 while splitting time with Tony Cruz. However, once Cruz made the trip to St. Louis, Anderson regained his stroke and finished up the year with a hitting line of .281/.357/.409.

Despite having gained the approval of new manager Mike Matheny in previous years, which might gain him some favor in the battle for backup catcher, there are still pitchers on the Cardinals’ roster, namely Chris Carpenter and I’ve recently heard Kyle Lohse, who don’t like the way he handles things when he’s behind the plate. That could have a huge impact on the battle if you have two starters in your rotation who don’t like pitching to a particular catcher. However, you could jump him around the rotation to avoid him. He’s worked with Jaime Garcia before when they both played in the minor leagues together and because of his time there, he has caught most of the guys in the bullpen.

Regardless of what happens, Anderson might be happier that this could be his final season with the Cardinals’ organization. Despite solid performances, Anderson has topped out in Memphis the last four years and his trade value is virtually nil. But he now has 6 years of minor league service time, which means he’s a free agent after one more. The Cardinals do still hold one more option on him, so he can be sent back to Memphis without risk of losing him.

The Cardinals also surprised fans by bringing in veteran catcher Koyie Hill, seemingly against their previous statements of letting Anderson and Cruz fight it out for the spot. Hill has spent the last five years with the Cubs and hit .194/.268/.276 with 2 home runs last year in 46 games for the Cubs. He’s never been exceptionally notable at the plate, nor even behind it with a career -0.7 defensive WAR. The move doesn’t really make sense except as a veteran catching option should Molina go down with injury. He would be an exceptionally long shot, but you never know what might happen.

So who do I think will win the backup catcher job in St. Louis. Honestly, I feel it should be Bryan Anderson and just not because I’ve been very high on Anderson the last few years and hate that he hasn’t gotten an opportunity somewhere. The Cardinals will need to figure out where they are going with the catcher’s position beyond this year. Molina is in the option year of his contract and is very likely to command a near $10 million salary in this next deal.

Between the catchers that the Cardinals currently have in the organization, I see Tony Cruz with more of a long-term future with the team than Anderson does. Therefore, I think it’d be better for Cruz’s development to be playing everyday in Memphis than playing once a week in St. Louis. Anderson might get the role simply because Cruz has more of a future with the organization. It wouldn’t be the first time the Cardinals have done something like this. And if Carpenter and Lohse don’t like throwing to Anderson, you have three other starting pitchers who you can pair him with. Or tell them to suck it up.

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UCB Project: Top Stories of 2011

This month’s United Cardinal Bloggers project is to break down what we thought the top-5 Cardinals Stories of 2011 were. Albert Pujols‘ departure and the Cardinals winning the World Series will be two very big stories that my fellow bloggers will likely be hitting on today. But those are easy. That’s the low hanging fruit. What really contributed to the Cardinals being there in October and getting their chance to come through and why? That’s what I’m going for.

#5. Adam Wainwright out for the season after Tommy John

Those dreaded words crossed my Twitter feed in February, just three months after I embarked on my Cardinals’ blogging mission. The names “Tommy John” and “Adam Wainwright” were mentioned in the same tweet. And to top everything off, Cardinals’ GM John Mozeliak was not feeling optimistic when he talked about Wainwright’s injury. And so we waited with baited breaths wondering how Wainwright’s doctor’s appointment in St. Louis would turn out. Would we lose our ace?

Many looked back to 2007 and 2008. Those were two seasons where we lost Chris Carpenter, then our clear #1 pitcher, for the majority of the season. He made 1 start in 2007 and 4 starts in 2008. The Cardinals finished 3rd in 2007 and 4th in 2008 in the NL Central. Was our season over before it began?

Many fans packed it in and it would have been easy for the Cardinals to dwell on the loss of Wainwright. But they moved on without the ace of their pitching staff determined to compete without him. That determination would come in handy throughout the season. Little did we know it would set the tone for the season. Whether it was Matt Holliday‘s appendix, a moth looking for a new home, Allen Craig‘s knee cap, or Albert Pujols’ wrist, the team was determined to give everything when it would have been very easy to mail it in without their key players. It would have been a good excuse that everyone would have bought. The Cardinals were a team ravaged by injuries all year.

The determination to get over the injury of Wainwright and move forward served the team well. From day one they were being prepared for a difficult season.

#4. The Search for a Closer

For a few years the Cardinals had been relying on Ryan Franklin to be the team’s closer. And I’ve been saying for just as long that Ryan Franklin isn’t a very good closer and we needed some insurance for him because it was simply a matter of time. However, I think the Cardinals were attempting to ride it out at least one more year with Franklin taking the ball in the 9th inning.

But when the season started and Ryan Franklin was ineffective, it threw the entire Cardinals’ bullpen into chaos. First it was Mitchell Boggs who got the 9th inning opportunities. Then he blew one and Eduardo Sanchez got a chance. Then Sanchez struggled to throw his slider for strikes when batters realized they could just take the pitch and Fernando Salas finally got the opportunity.

Salas, the only pitcher near ready to pitch for the St. Louis Cardinals who had closing experience. Going into 2011 he was a perfect 44-for-44 in save opportunities between Springfield in 2008 and Memphis is 2010. Why he didn’t get the first opportunity is quite a bit of conjecture, but when the Cardinals needed a stabilizing influence in the 9th inning, they found it in Salas. He got his first save opportunity on April 28th. It was a little exciting with a hit and a walk, but he got the job done. He would save 10 games before blowing his first on June 1st. Over the summer he became a little homer happy, opening the door for Jason Motte who was having a dominant summer.

Jason Motte went from June 26th to September 6th, a span of 34 appearances and 26 1/3 innings, without allowing an earned run. It was enough to get Tony LaRussa to say he wanted to get Motte some time in the 9th inning role, but stopping short of naming Motte the team’s closer. On August 28th he got his first save as the team’s 9th inning man and racked up a total of 9 as the season went on.

#3. Wheeling and Dealing at the Deadline

Colby Rasmus was the future of the franchise. Or so we all thought going into 2011. He had a really good start to the season as well, with many, including myself, thinking that he had finally turned the corner and unlocked that potential. However, it wasn’t long before Rasmus was mired once again in a huge slump at the plate and was making big mistakes in center field. By July, most Cardinals fans were debating the merits of making Jon Jay the team’s starting center fielder. Apparently, so was Tony LaRussa as Jay started getting more and more playing time in center field.

John Mozeliak, the Cardinals’ GM, had apparently been working on an extension with Rasmus that would have bought out his arbitration years. The team still viewed him as a major part of their future. They denied wanting to trade him, but everyone recognized that Rasmus would be the organization’s largest trading piece.

Despite the rumors of teams like Tampa Bay offering a very good starting pitcher for Rasmus, Mozeliak decided to take an offer that was viewed as lesser of the deals, but it did two very important things for the Cardinals. It filled holes in the rotation and the bullpen, something the other deals didn’t. Mozeliak knew Rasmus was his biggest (and likely only) bullet, he needed to it fix as many problems as possible. It also brought the Cardinals back draft picks for Edwin Jackson and Octavio Dotel who left for free agency. They also got to keep Marc Rzepczynski, a talented left handed pitcher, something the Cardinals have been unable to produce on their own in recent years.

He wasn’t done. The Cardinals needed to improve the defense at short stop. Their plan to forego offense for defense during the offseason had come around to bite them when Ryan Theriot struggled to field his position as he had in the past. Mozeliak found a partner in the Dodgers who were willing to send them Rafael Furcal. All the Dodgers wanted was Alex Castellanos, and considering the Cardinals were facing a little bit of an outfielder squeeze at the top of their minor league depth charts, he was expendable.

When all was said and done, for the price of Colby Rasmus and Double-A outfielder Alex Castellanos, John Mozeliak filled every hole on the 2011 Cardinals. It was a move that earned him Executive of the Year awards, but the Cardinals still needed help to get to the playoffs.

#2. September and the Hunt for a Cardinal Red October

Despite the additions, the team went just 15-13 in August and fell from half a game back of Milwaukee when the trades were made to 8.5 games back when August drew to a close. But that was mainly because Milwaukee was really good in August, going 21-7. It’s hard to keep up with a team who is that hot.

But the Cardinals would put together an 18-8 September, finishing as one of the hottest teams in baseball as they slipped into the playoffs on the final day of the season, courtesy of the Philadelphia Phillies beating the Atlanta Braves. Many would say that the Braves choked up the playoff spot, but when you look at the fact they lost their #1 pitcher for the final two months of the season and their #2 pitcher for the final month, I have a hard time saying that. Where would the Cardinals have been this year if they’d lost Chris Carpenter as well? Nowhere pretty.

It was just what the Cardinals needed to get into the playoffs. As Daniel of C70 at the Bat said Wednesday night on the UCB Radio Hour, if the Braves win two more games anywhere in the season, they go to the playoffs and we don’t have this discussion and the trade of Rasmus seems like a huge mistake. What a kill joy.

#1. The Emergence of David Freese and Allen Craig

My top story of the season has nothing to do with the big names Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday, and Lance Berkman (though Berkman did have an excellent 2011 season, way better than I expected). I attribute a lot of the Cardinals winning this World Series to the unsung heroes of this team. The Cardinals run into the playoffs and to the World Series Championship was a total team effort. There was no singular player’s performance, at least from a player you could expect.

Allen Craig, the subject of my largest sports man-crush right now, only had about 220 plate appearances for the Cardinals this season, but they were MVP quality appearances. His 2.9 WAR over those plate appearances projects out to 8.6 if he gets 650 plate appearances at the same rate. That’s better than some guy named Ryan Braun, who walked home with the National League MVP trophy. He also had RBI in 5 of the 7 games in the World Series. He had the game-winning RBI in game 1. He had a go-ahead RBI in game 2. His first inning home run in game 3 set the tone for the Cardinals. His 8th inning home run in game 6 was crucial to set up David Freese‘s opportunity. And in Game 7, his third inning home run put the Cardinals on top for good. He was definitely a worthy candidate as World Series MVP in my opinion. Well, were it not for this next guy.

It was a situation that all kids dream about. You play with the bat in the backyard and you call out the situation to yourself, “Bottom of the 9th. Game on the Line. Two out. Down to your last strike. You lose the World Series if you don’t get this hit. In comes the pitch…” It’s a triple off the wall to tie up the game! Even more incredible when you come up to bat 2 innings later and hit your first home run of the World Series to win the game in walk-off style to send it to Game 7. Then he goes and gets the game tying runs in the bottom of the 1st just two nights later in Game 7. Yeah, that’s David Freese.

It was the emergence David Freese and Allen Craig that really propelled this team. Your superstars can only do so much. Teams attempt to minimize the impact your superstars have on the game. Having players behind them who will make them pay too, that just makes things sweeter. And that’s what makes a team a winner.

Those are my top-5 stories. What are yours?

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UCB Roundtable

I asked my question earlier this week and should have posted it Tuesday, but I was busy trying to wrap up the necessary work I needed to do in order to make sure I can walk in graduation on Sunday. It’s been a long 8 and a half years trying to cram four years of school work into it. Finally almost ready to call it complete.

If you’re wondering what the UCB Roundtable is, it’s when us UCB writers kick around a question via our Google Group for a day. Each day a different writer poses the question and the rest of us answer and discuss it. It’s been going on for quite some time, if you want to see the cumulative post on the UCB site, here it is.

Anyway, my question for the day was: If you are the Cardinals’ GM, considering where we’re at financially and strategically, what free agent would you pursue to add to the team and why?

Here’s how it went.

Daniel Shoptaw, C70 at the Bat:

The more I read about it, the more Carlos Beltran just makes sense, at least on a limited contract. Not sure if he’d do a one-year deal or not, but that’d be ideal. Beltran can (at least in theory) play center and also right, covers us while Allen Craig is out plus gives us some insurance in case Jon Jay slumps. His bat was stronger in the second half than in the first last year as he continued to get healthy. Switch-hitting helps the flexibility and it makes for fewer decisions for Mike Matheny. All in all, it seems like a perfect fit to me.

Daniel Solzman, Redbird Rants:

At the current moment, I would go after Carlos Beltran but not for a long term deal. At his age, I would ask if he would even be willing to play right field even if he would prefer CF. At the same time, I would want to figure out a way to keep Allen Craig’s bat in the lineup once he fully recovers.

I’m assuming Skip Schumaker comes back and likely plays almost every day at second base.

I know Rob Rains brought up the idea of Derrick Lee to play first but that makes no sense as we would be platooning someone in the OF, which I thought was the reason as to why Rasmus was traded (along with his attitude).

Don’t get me wrong though… I’d love to see Rick Ankiel or Ryan Ludwick back but at the right price.

Ray DeRousse, Stlcardinalbaseball.com:

If I’m the GM, the only big thing we pursue is a lefthanded reliever, which we’d obtain through a trade given the dearth of lefties on the market.

The only other deal I’d like to make is nabbing Ryan Ludwick on the cheap to shore up our outfield depth and platoon with Jon Jay.

Mark Tomasik, Retrosimba.com:

I’ve pursue the best available left-handed reliever and best available starting pitcher. Cardinals need a proven left-handed reliever who is effective against left-handed batters in late-inning situations. I believe Cardinals need more starting pitching in case of an injury to one of the five in the rotation or in case a Kyle Lohse or Jake Westbrook is ineffective.

Bill Ivie, I-70 Baseball:

We’ve been discussing a bit on Twitter this morning and i will say, four names jump out at me:

Nate McLouth
Ryan Ludwick
Rick Ankiel
Carlos Beltran

I believe this team would be best served by adding a sure outfielder on a short term deal while the younguns are learning a bit. Ankiel and Ludwick are more “bench bats” and extra outfielder types at this point. McLouth is an interesting “does he really have much to offer” and Beltran jumps off the page at me.

Beltran has a good chance to be 2012′s Lance Berkman. A short term, one or two year deal, that is not financially crippling but allows the team to grab some upside while he proves he is healthy and sets himself up for one more decent payday.

An Opening Day outfield of Holliday/Jay/Beltran that eventually becomes Holliday/Beltran/Craig would be a satisfying lineup to me. Install Daniel Descalso at 2nd and off we go.

Chris Mallonee, Birds on the Bat:

I like all the names Bill threw out except for Ankiel. Maybe that’s just a personal bias, but I feel like he had one great September and has been replacement level or just above since. But I think the Cardinals need to be smart and not try to make a “big splash” post Albert. Get a decent/good bat to absorb some AB’s and provide bench help until Craig gets back.

I think the Cardinals need to keep the flexibility they just gained from Pujols and wait for the big bat via trade or 2013 free agency. Inevitably there will be a spring training or early season injury or non-performing player (see 2011) and the team will need to have flexibility to meet needs that pop up early in the year.

Tom Knuppel, CardinalsGM:

McLouth signed with the Pirates already.

I like Ludwick as a cheap replacement if at all possible. No on Ankiel and I would take Beltran for no more than 2 years.

JE Powell, STL: Fear the Red:

I have to agree with the rest of my fellow bloggers on this one. I think Carlos Beltran is probably the best choice as long as it’s short term. If he can bat .280/20-25/80-85 I think he would be a good bat to have in the line-up. A near-full season of Allen Craig (assuming he can come back from the knee surgery with no lingering effects) and Beltran in the line-up would be a good outfield and I think would be a good replacement bat-wise for He Who Shall Not Be Named (and I don’t mean that snake guy from Harry Potter).

Malcom Pierce, The Redbird Menace:

I won’t break any new ground with my reply. Beltran’s the best option available. He can take over in RF and provide another quality bat to help fill the Pujols-sized hole in the lineup. And it wouldn’t be a terrible idea to see how well he can still handle CF, either.

Anything more than two years is a risk for a guy with his injury history and age, but I wouldn’t mind overpaying in a short-term contract. I’m not sure what else we can do with the money in the current market.

As an aside, I nearly hit my head on the keyboard today when Bernie Miklasz suggested that the Cardinals wouldn’t necessarily promise Beltran a starting job in the OF because of Craig and Jay. Carlos Beltran had a higher OPS than Albert Pujols last year. 219 somewhat overachieving plate appearances from Allen Craig shouldn’t even be a consideration when signing Beltran who, when healthy, is still one of the best hitters in the game.

Matt Philip, Fungoes:

Certainly Beltran makes sense, even if he is currently polling at Fungoes as the Cardinals’ #1 late-season public enemy!

Even playing only 142 games last year, Beltran gained 4.7 WAR (Albert Pujols has 5.1). Fangraphs’ fans project him to be worth at least three wins next year, and that’s estimated at a mere 124 games (that’s more than Jon Jay earned in just about as many plate appearances). He would not be an option to play centerfield, given that he’s only slightly better than Lance Berkman in right field. But he would indeed be the answer to what to do in Craig’s absense and may afford another second-base experiment by Craig when he returns.

If you’re looking for a cheaper option, Michael Cuddyer and Josh Willingham would be better fits. The Cardinals should avoid at all costs Ludwick and Ankiel, both of whom may give some fans some warm feelings, but neither of whom projects to be much more than a replacement-level player (Ludwick had 0.3 WAR last year, Ankiel 1.4)

Bill Ivie, I-70 Baseball:

If I may (and this is not aimed at Pip, just in general), why do we insist that players do not deserve a look based on their stats LAST year?

In 2010, Lance Berkman had a -0.2 WAR, in 2011 for the Cardinals (who took a chance on the guy based on past performance) Berkman posted a 5.2 WAR (that’s 0.2 less than the second coming that just went to Hollywood last season). Albert posted a 5.4 last season, by far the worst of his career, but got a very lucrative contract.

Stats are nie, they tell us how a player performed in the past. Why do we assume they can tell us how a player will perform in the future. If that was the case, we could never say anything about a “chance of scenery.”

Matt Philip, Fungoes:

That’s a good and fair point bill. To give a better shake to Ankiel and Ludwick, both of whom I wrote off using the small-sample size of last year’s stats. I’ll apply a 3-2-1 assessment (weighting last year at 3, two years ago double and three years ago as one).

Beltran: 3.1 average
Ludwick: 1.2
Ankiel: 1.0

Bill Ivie, I-70 Baseball:

Which, if I’m doing the math correctly, Jon Jay and Ludwick are fairly even? Might not be a bad, low cost pickup for a bench bat.

Matt Philip, Fungoes:

I’d put Jay well above Ludwick. Jay has had WARs of 1.4 (in a half season), 2.8 and projects for 2.6 next year.

Malcolm Pierce, The Redbird Menace:

You’re totally right about that Bill. “Last season” stats are sometimes given way too much weight. See especially: the contract Seattle gave Chone Figgins. I only compared Pujols and Beltran last year to ridicule the thought that Beltran should be a part time player anywhere. He’s not a better hitter than Pujols but I think he’s a starter on any team in the majors. Cards fans should be thrilled to see him replace Jay or Craig in the projected lineup as long as the contract is reasonable.

Bob Netherton, On the Outside Corner:

I take the contrarian side of this discussion, not because of the first part of what you said (I do agree with that), but the reasonableness of his contract. Isn’t Scott Boras his agent?

I don’t want to see Beltran for 3 or 4 years in St. Louis and I don’t think he’s worth Lance Berkman money. We’ve already overpaid for Furcal (which I’m OK with), just don’t want to see us force a “name” on the roster. I don’t see him as an upgrade over Craig offensively, and defensively, I don’t think he’s an upgrade over Jay.

Save the money that the Beltran contract will require and pick up somebody of impact at the trade deadline, when more is known.

Pass on Beltran, find another lefty for the bullpen and then let’s get ready for Spring Training.

Bill Ivie, I-70 Baseball:

For what it’s worth, Beltran is represented by Lozano…let that one simmer for a few minutes.

Bob Netherton, On the Outside Corner:

Oh, goodness. That’s right, he switched agents heading into this free agency season. Wow, that would be… awkward.

And what is my take?

First off, I think Carlos Beltran is the absolute wrong fit for the Cardinals. He can’t play center field every day anymore. How do I know this? There doesn’t seem to be a single team that is pursuing him to be a center fielder. Everyone wants him on a corner and he’s even simply average there now.

Second, My choice would be Ryan Ludwick. Ludwick’s best years came in St. Louis and he’s had a couple really bad ones in San Diego. His numbers perked up after his trade to Pittsburgh a little bit. I think he’d make an excellent choice when you’re looking for someone to play for a month and then take a spot on the bench. He’s right handed (which immediately makes him a better choice than a guy like Ankiel) and he can play all three outfield positions. And he’s far cheaper and might be looking for a good year to reclaim some value.

Third, If you were bring Carlos Beltran in to start over Craig in right field, you find yourself blocking Craig for someone whose bat is just as good, but for probably more than 25 times the money. He’s not going to come in here cheap for one year to prove his health. That’s pretty much what he did last year when he established he was still a capable player. Berkman was coming off a horrendous year .248/.368/.413. Beltran is not, .300/.385/.525.

And if you block Craig, you simply find yourself once again in the location of not knowing what he can do. You can’t ask for more out of a player than what he did last year. His 219 plate appearances, if he’d gotten 650 plate appearances at those levels were MVP caliber and he is on par with the best hitters in the National League. He has earned his opportunity to start. I think you can justify bringing Pujols back and sitting Craig behind Pujols and Berkman, but I don’t see how you can justify to Allen Craig bringing in a guy like Beltran on a multi-year deal. If you do that, Craig needs to be dealt and he’s a guy I’d much rather have on my team.

Pujols to Anaheim. Now what?

I just got back from finishing up my Christmas shopping when I sat down at my desk to see a tweet talking about Pujols and the Angels. It piqued my curiosity and I decided to scroll backwards and see what the root of the talk was. Then I spotted it, Pujols accepting a deal valued in the $240-250 million over 10 year range with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. My jaw slightly dropped.

For one, I didn’t think any team was going to step up and offer that sort of money. Pujols has been amazing his last 11 years with the St. Louis Cardinals, but over the last three years his numbers have slipped. Many defended his slump this year saying that he was trying to prove himself worthy of a big contract with Alex Rodriguez-type money. But what’s he going to do this next year as he tries to prove himself worth of the contract he got.

Joe Strauss is now reporting that the Angels’ offer is more likely closer to $255 million over 10 years and was comparable with the Marlins’ offer.

The Cardinals’ best offer bounced around quite a bit in the rumor mill. Their initial offer was reportedly the same as the $198 million over 9 year offer that they offered him back in January. Then they reportedly jumped to $220 million over 10 years after the Marlins went to 10 years. But it was later reported that they never officially went to 10 years.

Ultimately, only a few people know what happened in the negotiating room. And we are likely never to find out. But what does this mean to all involved.

For Albert, he turned down legend status in St. Louis for a payday.

I know baseball is a business and players today are always going to chase the money. Except over the last few years Albert convinced the people of St. Louis that he was a man of faith and of integrity. He said winning was more important to him and was willing to put a little bit of money where his mouth was on that if the need came. He consistently put off extension negotiation talks because he was under contract and the team had other priorities. He said that people who think he’s all about the money don’t know him very well. And how does it all add up?

He’ll be wearing an Angels uniform next season because they offered him more money.

It’s not because the Angels are a winning club. I still think the Rangers are a better team with more potential in the AL West. The Athletics could be contenders with the right pieces behind that pitching staff. And the Astros under new GM Jeff Luhnow will join the fray in 2013.

Meanwhile, you walked away from a team that is coming off of a World Series, with all it’s major parts returning, and adding a Cy Young contender to it’s rotation. Obviously it’s not about winning because you have a situation any player would kill for in St. Louis.

Only time will tell what this decision will do to his legacy in St. Louis. He’s still likely to go into the Hall of Fame as a Cardinal, but not only a Cardinal. Will he get the statue at the ballpark? Will he get trotted out in front of the crowds on Opening Days? One thing is for sure, his name won’t be mentioned in the same breath as Stan Musial and Bob Gibson.

He may not regret this decision today, but I think he will at some point wish that he’d never left St. Louis. It’s a better baseball town. It’s a town that would have let him decline without anger out of perspective of what he’s done the last 11 years. It’s a town that would have vehemently defended him against all opposers. It’s a town that would have celebrated his legacy for the rest of his life.

How much is that worth? $30 million?

For the Cardinals, they are a team that is in excellent position to deal with the loss of Albert Pujols. They have Lance Berkman signed for 2012. Once Allen Craig returns from his knee surgery, he will be more than capable in the outfield. They also have the young Matt Adams who has hit up a storm the last two years in the minor leagues who will get a Spring Training invite and probably end up in Memphis, but his chances of making the big league club exponentially increased.

Right now the Cardinals are in position for a team makeover. It’s probably a situation that John Mozeliak has quietly drooled over since he became the Cardinals GM. A chance to make the Cardinals his team, instead of holding onto the successful members of the past. Matt Holliday is the only offensive player signed beyond this season. Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright have two more years left. Jaime Garcia is the only pitcher than goes beyond 2013.

The build from within philosophy is now completely dedicated to now that Pujols has left.

Pujols’ departure also opens up some serious payroll room. I am a fan of bringing back Skip Schumaker to play second base. He’s one of the better hitters on the team and made huge strides defensively last year, but it seems if he does come back he will be relegated to a utility role.

They will need to spend on one or two players, but who will it be. Most of your players who are considered top-tier candidates are on the decline of their careers, have been plagued by injury, or both. The best value players have already made their departure from the market.

The team will need to look at a corner outfielder or first baseman and will also need to look at a shortstop. Jimmy Rollins has appeared to be a favorite of the Cardinals’ according to the rumor mill, but I’m still on the fence about him (though I do like him more than Furcal or many of the other options). And a name I heard floated as a potential outfield bat was Ryan Ludwick.

It also frees up some cash for the impending free agency of Adam Wainwright. If I had to choose between Wainwright and Pujols, I’d take Wainwright every day of the week. It’s harder to find an elite pitcher than it is to find an elite hitter, and elite pitchers cost more too.

For me, I’d often thought that it was in the Cardinals’ best interests to let Albert walk if he was going to cost much more than $22 million a year. It seems that Bill DeWitt Jr. and John Mozeliak agreed with me.

I’ll be sad that Albert is gone. I wanted to see him finish his career with the Cardinals. To be the legend that I can turn to my kids and say, “I watched him play his entire career with the Cardinals and he was amazing.” However, I’m a Cardinals fan whether Albert Pujols plays for them or not.

I believe this is a mistake for Albert. I also believe that the Cardinals will be more successful over the next 5 years than the Angels will be.

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Cubs to pursue Pujols

Despite the rumors otherwise over the last month, FOX Sports is reporting that the Cubs will pursue Albert Pujols after all. During the meetings in Milwaukee before Thanksgiving it seemed like the Cubs were interested in bringing back their existing first baseman, Carlos Pena. That seems to be in doubt with the recent news.

With the announcement of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement and the way that compensation will be divvied up to teams losing Type A free agents, the big winners are probably Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder. Previously, if their teams offered them arbitration (which the Cardinals have offered to Albert) and they went to sign with another team, the team that signed them gave up an early round draft pick. Now, the team that is losing the Type A free agents gets a pick sandwiched in before the signing team’s pick. This immediately made Pujols, Fielder, and other Type A free agents much more attractive to teams who are trying to building from within.

Just a few weeks ago I went over each team and what their potential interest in Pujols was likely to be. I still feel that while the Cubs fans would love to steal Pujols away from their arch-rivals, it doesn’t make much sense for the Cubs other than making a big splash. The team’s problems are much deeper than one 32-year-old former best player in baseball can fix. Plus, would Pujols be willing to throw away his 11 years in St. Louis for a payday?

For the Cubs, they have to consider what is actually best for the franchise. What got the previous management team in trouble in Chicago is spending big money on declining players. Albert’s last three years have been a systematic decline, plus I can’t be the only one who realizes that a player’s true prime is ages 29-31, not 32-35 as has been suggested by many in the big media.

The “cheap” option for them is to bring back Carlos Pena. Pena, 33, hit .225/.357/.462 for the Cubs last year with 28 home runs and 80 RBI. He was on a 1 year, $10 million contract trying to regain his value after a rough final year in Tampa. Given his closest free agency comparisons are likely Lance Berkman, who signed a 1 year, $12 million deal with St. Louis with far better numbers, and Adam Dunn, who will make $14 million next year in his second year of a four year deal with the White Sox. Pena is probably in the $11-13 million range to bring him back. That could be half of what it would cost to bring in a guy like Fielder or Pujols.

Pujols, who will turn 32 in February, is coming off of the worst season of his career. He hit .299/.366/.541 last year with 37 home runs and 99 RBI in what could be his final year in St. Louis. The rumored top offer stands with the Cardinals at 9 years, $198 million, which is a $22 million average annual value.

The man I think that makes far more sense to every team out there, except the Cardinals, is Price Fielder. Fielder, 27, hit .299/.415/.566 last season with 38 home runs and 120 RBI. Right now he’s put up better numbers that Pujols in their most recent season. He’s also younger and about to hit his prime years. Overall, the money commitment required to land Fielder will be less as he will likely be roughly the same AAV, but fewer years. If I was a team needing a slugging first baseman who had no existing attachment to any of the three, Fielder is my first choice.

There have been conflicting reports over the last week. Some media writers saying teams would prefer to take an overweight player like Fielder rather than an older player like Pujols. However, in his article announcing the Cubs are in on the Pujols negotiations, Ken Rosenthal claims that the Cubs are interested in Pujols because of his conditioning and concerned about Fielder’s. He also mentions their defense.

But let’s be honest here. It’s first base. It’s not a position where defense is considered a premium. No team will give up offense at first base to improve their defense there, well no team that expects to win, that is.

I think you also have to take note of their injury histories. Fielder has not yet missed time due to an injury. Pujols has been plagued by several over the years and has existing nagging injuries that many (including myself) feel have reduced his production as he plays through them.

When I lay everything out, I still think that Albert returns to the Cardinals. I just don’t see how the Cubs even think he makes sense for their organization.

There is only one team that can give Pujols everything he wants. He wants a winning team, and St. Louis is coming off a World Series championship. He wants a long-term contract, and while the latest rumor is that Albert’s contract is for significantly less than 10 years, I don’t see it getting any less than 8. It only makes sense for one team to lock him up into his forties. He wants money, and the Cardinals’ principal owner has said that they will overstep their $110 million payroll budget for this season for Albert.

And last but not least, he wants a legend. He sees all the great Cardinals of the past get received by Cardinals fans and you have to know that he wants that for himself. Spending several years in a Cubs uniform, in light of everything he’s said he’s looking for in a team, will destroy that legend in the eyes of Cardinals fans.