The Cardinals are World Champs! Now what?

Posted on October 29, 2011

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By Geoff Ratliff

Much has been made about Albert Pujols’ pending free agency, and now that the 2011 MLB season is finally in the books, you will hear plenty more about this in the coming weeks. You’d be hard pressed to find one person with any knowledge of Major League Baseball that would tell you that the Cardinals shouldn’t show Pujols the money, and I am certainly among the majority here.

Pujols is a Derek Jeter like icon in the game; a guy with not only Hall of Fame numbers and a championship pedigree, but a player who stays scandal free and plays the game the right way. There’s no question that playing his entire career with the same team – the most successful in National League history I might add – in a baseball crazy town would add to his legacy. It seems like a no-brainer for both the Cardinals and Pujols, but let me give you a couple of very logical reasons why parting ways wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world for either party.

St. Louis is not what you would call a star-driven baseball city. The Cardinals have had their fair share of larger than life figures during the franchise’s illustrious history, but the fans of Cardinals Nation support the name on the front of the jersey above all else, and you’d be foolish not to think that St. Louis executives are fully aware of this. If Pujols is not back in a Cardinals’ jersey next season, you will not see fans all of a sudden stop showing up at the games. The Cardinals are fresh off their second World Series title in the past six years, and third appearance in the last eight; and while Pujols has been at the center of all of those, that type of sustained success doesn’t drive fans away because of the loss of one player, no matter who he is. They could also capitalize on the popularity of hometown hero and emerging star third baseman David Freese, coming fresh off his World Series MVP performance.

The free agent options at first base are horrific after Pujols and Prince Fielder – make no mistake that the Cardinals will NOT fail to resign Pujols and bring Fielder in as his replacement – but the 2012 team will be competitive, and the Cardinals can get creative about filling the potential void. They have already locked up Lance Berkman for another year, and it wouldn’t be crazy to see them shift him to first base permanently and spend a fraction of the money saved on Pujols on an outfielder; someone like say, Jason Kubel of the Twins, and resign Yadier Molina at catcher. The Cardinals could also use some of that money to shore up the rotation behind Carpenter and a healthy Adam Wainwright, shifting the focus to pitching rather than offense. There are a number of possibilities, and Jon Mozeliak deserves credit for building a team around Pujols that could get it done this past season. That same savviness is what leads me to believe that he will make the necessary moves to keep this team a title contender in 2012 with or without Pujols on the roster.

As far as Pujols is concerned, there are also a number of intriguing possibilities for him, a few of which could actually add to his legend. As mentioned in this ESPN.com piece by Gene Wojciechowski, imagine the numbers Pujols could put up hitting in the middle of that Texas lineup for the foreseeable future, and how beloved he’d be in Texas if he healed the Rangers’ broken hearts by bringing them a title? How famous does he become if he leads Theo Epstein’s Cubs out of baseball purgatory? How nicely would he fit in as the final piece to the Washington Nationals’ puzzle, mentoring a young Bryce Harper on his way to Pujols-like stardom? Each one of these storylines has to be intriguing to Pujols purely for baseball reasons, and there’s little question that all three of these teams would make it financially worth his while to take the “risk”.

I want to be very clear that as a St. Louis native and diehard baseball fan, I do not want to see Pujols go. He represents everything that is right about the game and the Cardinals have proven to him that they will consistently do what it takes to give him a shot at winning championships as long as he is there. With that said, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least to see Pujols go, and I wouldn’t begrudge he or the Cardinals one bit if it happened, especially if, by some miracle of all miracles, he ends up joining my boys Clayton Kershaw and Matt Kemp out in Los Angeles!

Follow Geoff on Twitter @snglemarriedguy

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