What were you thinking, Cardinals?

st_louis_cardinals_logo175Cardinals GM John Mozeliak woke up yesterday with a huge hole in his lineup but with his pockets unexpectedly full. Or was it unexpected? Some people are speculating that the Cardinals never intended to keep Pujols, knowing that the long term contract he wanted would devastate the team in the long run. That’s why they did not offer Albert what he wanted last year, that’s why they didn’t try to extend Albert before resigning Matt Holliday. And that’s why they came to Albert with a smaller contract this year than they offered him last year (before eventually raising their offer incrementally until it reached a reported 10 years, $210-220 million. So why would the Cardinals let Albert go? Why wouldn’t they give the best player in baseball (and someone they underpaid for 11 years) everything he wanted? We’ll probably never know. But here are some thoughts:

Four Reasons the Cardinals made a huge mistake.

1. He’s the best player in baseball. As I mentioned yesterday, some people think Albert is already showing signs of slipping. I am not one of them. And even if he is, he is still the best player in the game right now and probably will be for at least five years or so. Already he is listed among greats like Musial, Ruth, Williams, Gehrig and others. By the time he is done, he could be in the recordbooks as one of the top 5 players of all time.

2. They need his bat. Albert has been the most consistent hitter of this generation, if not of any generation. The Cardinals have some good hitters – Holliday and Berkman notably. Allen Craig and David Freese both had great years last year but it remains to be seen if they can produce on a regular basis. Berkman is older than Albert and probably only has a couple good years left. Without Albert, the Cardinals are basically in the same place they were in 2010 – left with two hitters to carry the load. Only this time the best hitter in the league isn’t one of them.

3. Albert is the face of the franchise. He means more to the Cardinals than to any other team because of what he has done for the franchise and for the city. While the contract Albert wanted was not a good baseball contract for the Cardinals, it would probably have been a good franchise contract (if that makes sense). Having Albert as a Cardinal while he’s breaking records makes the franchise look good.

4. Albert sells tickets. Plain and simple. People come to the stadiums to watch Albert play. Wherever the Cardinals go, people show up to watch Albert. Sure there are Cardinal fans everywhere. But you have to imagine that some of them were Pujols fans. Just as some people who weren’t Angels fans last week are today.

Four Reasons the Cardinals made the right decision.

1. He’s old. He’ll be 32 years old next month. He has had an amazing, unprecedented first 11 years. But a ten year contract (which is what Albert wanted) likely far exceeds his production. Albert is a freak of nature, so maybe he will be the exception. But the greater possibility is that after about five or six years Albert’s production will drop significantly. As an NL team the Cardinals would have only two choices – roll him out there and let him suck the life out of the team, or bench him and suck the heart out of the fans.

2. They can’t afford him. The Cardinals have never been a free spending team. They simply do not have the money that some of the other teams (Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies, Angels) can throw around. So in order to sign Albert to a contract nearing what the Angels offered him, they would have to commit more than 20% of the total team payroll to one player. That dramatically limits the front office’s ability to sign other high caliber players which could severely limit the team’s ability to compete in coming years. And see point 1, after five years or so Albert would no longer be able to carry a mediocre team.

3. They can fill multiple holes with that money. Extending point number 2 a bit, the Cardinals can now feel secure about their ability to re-sign Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina when they become free agents. They can also spend some money on a shortstop, a second baseman and a fourth outfielder, all without exceeding the total payroll they would have had with Albert’s contract.

4. Albert was the face of the franchise, but he is not the franchise. The Cardinals are one of the premier franchises in baseball. They have a long and storied history. They have won 11 World Championships, second only to the Yankees. They won before Albert came, and they will compete after Albert. And fans will come. Maybe not as many in other cities, but Busch Stadium in St. Louis will still be full for Cardinals home games because St. Louis fans are about the team, not just one player, no matter how transcendent he might be.

December 9, 2011  Tags: , ,   Posted in: Sports, St. Louis Cardinals

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