Tag Archives: Albert Pujols

Notebook: November 28, 2011

The second edition of the offseason notebook comes to you with three stories. I hope everyone enjoyed their Thanksgiving break. I know mine was quite swamped trying to accomplish things, seeing family, and a couple of my good friends getting married.

Cardinals offer arbitration to Pujols and Jackson

The Cardinals announced on Wednesday that they had offered arbitration to Albert Pujols and Edwin Jackson while declining to offer the same to Rafael Furcal and Arthur Rhodes.

Both Pujols and Jackson are expected to decline arbitration. Pujols is expected to sign an extension with the Cardinals in the coming weeks. Jackson is likely looking for the opportunity to be in someone’s rotation next season after being the second-best Cardinals pitcher down the stretch. The interesting wrinkle is that the Cardinals continue to be linked to rumors of guys like Mark Buehrle and Roy Oswalt who are starting pitchers, despite the fact that the Cardinals have five starting pitchers already signed for next season and the two most likely to be dealt have no-trade clauses.

Declining to offer arbitration to Furcal and Rhodes is interesting, but expected. The Cardinals have been interested in Furcal, but GM John Mozeliak has said that he’s okay letting Tyler Greene get an extended look going into next season. Furcal is also said to be looking for a 2-3 year contract, which he’s unlikely to get from the Cardinals. The longer this goes on, the more I expect that Furcal is not in the Cardinals’ plans or are a part of their Plan B if they do not bring back Albert Pujols.

The fifth Cardinals player eligible for arbitration, Octavio Dotel, won’t be offered arbitration either. However, because Dotel was one of the players changed from a Type A to Type B free agent as a result of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, the Cardinals will get guaranteed compensation for him if he signs with another team that isn’t dependent on the arbitration offer.

Spring Training Schedule announced

The Cardinals announced their Spring Training schedule on Wednesday now. They will once again be in Jupiter, Florida, sharing the Roger Dean Stadium complex with the Miami Marlins, with whom the Cardinals will debut the Marlins’ new stadium with on April 4th.

The important date is February 18th, 2012, when the Pitchers & Catchers are scheduled to report. Then on February 23rd position players are due to report. Their 30 game schedule will begin on March 5th against the Miami Marlins.

Cardinals increase ticket prices for 2012

Following a winning year, teams increase ticket prices. Following a losing year, teams increase beer prices. Or so the saying goes.

The Cardinals revealed that they have slightly increased ticket prices an average of 3 percent per ticket. At $31.17 per ticket, the Cardinals had the 8th highest average ticket price in the major leagues, according to ticketnews.com.

The Cardinals had an attendance of nearly 3.1 million people this season. With an average price of $31.17 per ticket and an average of a 3% increase, that means an extra 94 cents per ticket. If they match their 2011 attendance figures that works out to be roughly an extra $2.9 million in revenue for the Cardinals. Many fans have expressed a willingness to pay more for a ticket if it meant bringing back Albert Pujols.

Notebook: November 21, 2011

Something I’m going to try to do every Monday morning through the offseason is come through and just recap what I think the top Cardinals stories, rumors, and notes of the previous week were and a quick take on them. There were some interesting things said in the last week that I’ve been itching to address but they aren’t juicy enough to give a full fledged take on them. And with that we will get going.

Pujols to re-sign with Cardinals on Friday?

Well, Friday came and went and the tweet by St. Louis radio personality J.C. Corcoran was proven to be false. But this is a guy that has inside connections and called the LaRussa retirement from his sources. I have also heard that things are really close to happening. Corcoran speculated Saturday that he will likely sign soon after returning from his two week vacation in Hawaii.

The day it came out, Wednesday, I’d just said that I doubted by previous assessment of Pujols re-signing with the Cardinals sometime after New Years. With the lack of a market developing for his services, delay was only going to frustrate Cardinals fans more. Miami made a lackluster offer that proved to be a simple PR move, leaving the Cardinals as the only viable offer on the table. I felt with this new information, Albert would make a quick decision to get it out of the way. The first week of December makes a lot of sense. I certainly think it will be well before Christmas now.

The advantage for the Cardinals is that they are the only franchise for whom it makes sense to offer a long-term contract to a player who will be 32 when the season starts. I can’t be the only team to have run the statistical analyses that I have to determine that an All Star caliber player usually peaks at age 30 before beginning to decline. With Pujols already looking like he’s trending downward, that’s a concern for teams who don’t want to be on the hook for 9 years of him. That keeps many teams away.

Mozeliak envisions Descalso, Greene starting in middle infield

Talking about 2012, John Mozeliak said that he envisions Daniel Descalso starting at second base for the Cardinals and “would have no problem” with Tyler Greene starting at short stop.

Descalso made 343 of his 425 minor league appearances at second base, so you know he can handle the position. However, he’s played just 18 games there in the major leagues under Tony LaRussa. He ended the season hitting .264/.334/.353 which is very good on average. However, as a left handed hitter, he has a huge split as he hits just .190 against left handed pitchers and .280 against right handed pitchers. So the team might be looking to pick up a right handed second baseman to spell Descalso until he proves himself against left handed pitching.

Tyler Greene might break out underneath someone other than Tony LaRussa. But I have to think that this will be his final opportunity with the Cardinals. His 3 option years are up, meaning he’d be exposed to waivers if he doesn’t make the roster. In his major league career he has struggled to find his stroke, hitting .218/.307/.313 in 150 games over the last 3 years. Despite playing in just 58 games this season, he did lead the Cardinals with 11 stolen bases, making up 20% of the team’s total.

This provides me some hope that Rafael Furcal isn’t going to be returning to the Cardinals. Furcal has 8 teams in on him, 4 of them as a second baseman. He also wants a multi-year deal, so with that many potential suitors he is likely to find it. Furcal is an injury risk and hit very poorly down the stretch. I’d wager that if Greene was given a full year he could outperform Furcal’s .255/.316/.418 numbers next season. (Still, I’d like Clint Barmes, but he’s close to a deal with Pittsburgh)

Three players added to Cardinals’ 40 man roster

With the Rule 5 Draft approaching, the Cardinals protected three additional players and brought the total number of players on their 40 man roster to 36. On Saturday the Cardinals revealed that they had added Sam Freeman, Chuck Fick, and Adam Ottavino to the roster.

Freeman, 24, posted a 3.16 ERA over 68 1/3 relief innings between Palm Beach and Springfield this season and was a mid-season Texas League All Star, posting a 3.03 ERA in 59 innings in Springfield. Freeman missed the 2010 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. He is playing this winter in the Venezuelan Winter League and has posted a 0.82 ERA over 11 relief innings there. He has been a reliever all the way through the minor leagues and depending on what the Cardinals do with the bullpen, could be considered for the opportunity to be the big league club’s second left handed reliever.

Fick, 26, posted a 2.30 ERA over 70 1/3 relief innings for Memphis last season. I don’t know much about Fick, but from what I’ve read he’s supposed to be a better version of Brad Thompson, a name familiar to Cardinals fans over the last few years.

Ottavino, who will be 26 tomorrow, was a first round pick for the Cardinals in 2006. He was 7-8 with a 4.85 ERA for Memphis this season as a starter. He made his MLB debut last year for the Cardinals making 3 starts and 2 relief appearances and posting an 8.46 ERA. As a first round draft pick, Ottavino will be protected and should be given at least one more opportunity in St. Louis. However, will guys like Shelby Miller and Carlos Martinez behind him and Lance Lynn ahead of him, his window of opportunity to claim a spot with the Cardinals is closing.

That leaves the team’s roster at 36 as they still need to sign Albert Pujols. They have left room to sign players or make a claim in December 8th’s Rule 5 draft if they need to. If they do claim a player in the major league portion of the draft, they will need to keep him on the team’s major league roster all season.

Happy Birthday, Stan Musial

And finally, a happy 91st birthday to Stan Musial.

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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Happy Trails, Tony La Russa

What a way to go out. For Tony LaRussa, it was probably the best managing job he’s ever done. Over 10 games out in August, rallying to make the playoffs on the final day of the season, beating Philadelphia in 5 games, beating Milwaukee in 6, and then playing what is very likely the best World Series game in history, before clinching his third World Series Championship in Game 7 against the Texas Rangers.

To top it all off, the Monday morning after celebrating the World Series Championship, he decided to call it a career.

33 years

2,728 career wins

3 American League Championships

3 National League Championships

3 World Series Championships

Oh, and 7 NL Central Championships in the last 16 years as the Cardinals’ manager. It’s safe to say that it has been the most successful run in franchise history where the Cardinals were never far from the front.

I wasn’t quick to write this post because I really wanted to take a different angle on it, but I had no idea what I wanted to write. Sure, anyone can reiterate statistics of what the man has done. This year will go down as his greatest managerial performance ever. Perhaps he deserves some credit for it, but I think his desire to retire changed his perspective and I think that had a great impact on exactly how the team developed this season.

In previous seasons it was a complaint of mine and many others that the team played tight. This year, it was the Rangers that looked tight when crunch time came. The Cardinals on the other hand, they were having a good time and enjoying themselves. It was accompanied by performance on the field.

It was an attitude that we saw in the Cardinals down the stretch. And to Tony’s credit, he embraced it.

This team was different than any other team and performed unlike many other teams would have.

In Spring Training the Cardinals lost their ace. Rather than working out away from the team, Adam Wainwright was a fixture on the Cardinals’ bench during home games. He traveled with the team in the playoffs. He became the team’s cheerleader. His job was easy, keep the guys up on the rail cheering their teammates on. Certainly a difference from other teams who failed down the stretch who had allegations of guys hanging out in the clubhouse rather than cheering their teams on.

Injuries slowed the team. The team that ranked near the bottom of minor league farm systems found themselves in great need of it. Guys like Allen Craig, Jon Jay, and Fernando Salas, who Cardinals fans knew of, stepped up big when given their opportunity to play. Then there were new guys like Daniel Descalso, Tony Cruz, Lance Lynn, and Eduardo Sanchez who played big roles.

The team had weaknesses. By the end of April, the Cardinals had no closer and no left handed relievers capable of getting reliable outs. By the end of May, we began to wonder if we needed a better defensive short stop and another starting pitcher. At the trade deadline, John Mozeliak went and got them everything they needed.

The team’s persona changed. The addition of Lance Berkman was the big move, in my opinion. He gave the Cardinals a veteran with clout who is the type of leader people think of when they think about a good leader. It was a figure this team had really been missing since Jim Edmonds was traded. When you watched games, he talked it up on the bench with veterans and rookies alike. While Albert Pujols keeps mostly to himself and only a few, Berkman did what was was needed, making some of the younger players feel accepted and relaxed.

If this season doesn’t illustrate that it’s a total organizational effort to create a winning team, I don’t know what does.

To me, the move to retire wasn’t a surprise. He changed through the course of the year. It’s funny how your perspective changes when there’s an end date in mind. And I saw his wife on the post-game coverage on the MLB Network. I can’t remember ever seeing his wife before. He seemed relaxed and enjoying the moment.

LaRussa embraced the change in the team persona and because of that the team excelled. That’s reason enough to give him the credit for it.

I’m not the biggest Tony LaRussa fan, but I sure hope he enjoys retirement. That elephant keeper job sounded like fun.