"It profits me but little that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life."

--Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Life After Pujols

In the aftermath of Albert Pujols' signing with the Angels, Cardinals fans seem alternatively angry (if they're stupid and take baseball way too seriously) or relieved (if they're smart and take baseball way too seriously).   I fall into the relieved category -- I think the contract the Angels signed is going to be a rock dragging them down for ten years.   There is literally no plausible baseball scenario where the WAR (wins against replacement) Pujols generates over the next 10 years will be worth $254 million.   (He would have to generate something on the order of 6-7 WAR a year, which means he would have to maintain an all-time superstar performance during his decline phase... not going to happen.)

But what do the Cardinals do over the next few years to replace the 4-6 WAR he's likely to give the Angels, and would have been likely to give the Cardinals (albeit while being overpaid)?   Lots of people are saying we should rush out and sign Jimmy Rollins at shortstop.   No.   At 33, he's more over the hill than Pujols, at a position where losing a step means everything.   He won't hit for power anymore, and his fielding will decline.   Others are saying we should trade for Hanley Ramirez to play shortstop.   Better, but Ramirez has a reputation as a head case.   Maybe that's undeserved, and maybe he'd change if he were in a place like St. Louis.    Still others are saying we should resign Rafael Furcal, who helped solidify our middle infield last year when he came over in a deadline deal in late July.   But Furcal is 34 too, and I wouldn't want him for more than one year.  

Here's what I would do:   nothing.   Tyler Greene can be the shortstop:  he'll steal bases and hit for some power.   Alan Craig will replace most of Pujols' WAR by taking over in right field.   And Daniel Descalso can take over second base for a couple of years until minor league phenom Kolten Wong is ready.   In addition to Wong the Cardinals have minor leaguers Zack Cox, Matt Carpenter, Matt Adams, Oscar Taveras, and Ryan Jackson who look to be major league ready in a year or two.   Plug them in around a nucleus of Holliday, Freese, Craig and Molina, and you'll compete every year.   Meanwhile, spend money to lock up Wainwright after this year, and within a couple of years you'll have a rotation of home-grown studs like Shelby Miller, Carlos Martinez and Tyrell Jenkins.    Meanwhile, for next year, you're defending world champs and, even without Pujols, you'll be better next year, because you'll have full years (hopefully) of Freese, Craig, Wainwright, and the rebuilt bullpen of Motte, Lynn, Salas, Sanchez, etc.  

Everyone wants the Cardinals to run out and spend $25 million on free agents... but there aren't any who are worth it.   Better to wait and have flexibility to add people at mid-season if we're in the hunt (which we will be).   At most, I'd add a righthanded outfielder at $6-8 million for a year.   Can you say "Carlos Beltran"?  

This is probably the most excited I've been waiting for spring training in years.   After Pujols is looking like a very interesting era in Cardinals history.

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