An Alternative to Pujols in St.Louis

While I’m sure they are still celebrating in St. Louis, reality is going to set in quick, as the Cardinals have a busy off-season ahead of them. Not only do they have to replace their hall-of-fame manager, but they have to decide what to do with the only first baseman the city has known for the better part of a decade: Albert Pujols.

There are numerous factors that are going to affect whether Pujols returns — and many of them difficult to quantify. Letting Pujols walk would be a public-relations nightmare, and it would certainly hurt the Cardinals at the gate – but I’m not going to pretend that I know what that magic number would be. There’s also the question of Pujols’ declining ability as he ages, and whether he will live up to what will inevitably be a contract worth hundreds of millions of dollars. While I’m sure we’ll cover that topic in depth here at FanGraphs, that’s not what I want to cover today.

What I would like to suggest might sound blasphemous, but given the construction of their current roster — and downplaying the previously mentioned factors — it might not be the worst thing in the world for the Cardinals if Pujols walks away.

With Pujols on the roster, the Cardinals essentially have three positions for four players — Lance Berkman, Allen Craig, Matt Holliday and Pujols. In fact, given his increasing inability to play the outfield, as demonstrated by the eye test and his -10.2 UZR/150 last season, describing Berkman as an outfielder is pretty generous.

You might also be surprised to hear that, among these four players, Pujols had the lowest wOBA last season. Yes, Craig’s number was inflated by a .344 BABIP in a limited number of at-bats and doesn’t reflect his likely production going forward, but the point remains that St. Louis already has a quality first baseman in right field and would have a quality right fielder without a permanent place to play if Pujols returns.

If the Cardinals had unlimited resources and no holes on their roster to fill, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation; but that isn’t the case. There are a few areas that could be improved significantly with the so-called “Pujols money”, and the Cardinals should at least consider whether their roster would be stronger going forward by using those funds to fill the needs at other positions.

Shortstop

The Cardinals declined their $12 million option on Rafael Furcal, a smart move for a player who — albeit talented — has suited up for 370 games during the past four seasons. In the event Pujols re-signs, the Cardinals may not have the money to retain Furcal or to bring in a capable alternative, and Cards fans would probably be looking at a lot of Ryan Theriot (+0.6 WAR over the last two seasons) or a low-cost free agent at short.

As luck would have it, there’s a marquee short stop available this off-season in Jose Reyes. While Reyes has had trouble staying healthy in the past — and his injuries are to the part of his body where he derives most of his value — he has produced four seasons above 5.8 WAR during his career, and when healthy, has regularly been an elite player. Depending on how seriously you take Pujols’ statistical decline last season, Reyes could offer comparable future production for a smaller price tag, all while upgrading one of the Cardinals’ weakest positions. When I mention a smaller price tag, it isn’t an insignificant amount either. According to our crowdsourcing, FanGraphs readership expects the AAV on Pujols’ contract to be almost $8 million higher than Reyes’ – anything up to $10 million is probably a reasonable assumption.

Second Base

During his past 929 at bats, covering two seasons, Skip Schumaker has been worth just +0.4 WAR due to some poor UZR numbers (-17.5 fielding runs) and well-below-average power (.071 ISO). While the second base market is thin, Kelly Johnson would add some pop to a Cardinals’ roster spot that hasn’t seen it in a long time. Last season, Johnson posted 2.2 WAR despite a BABIP .034 points below his career average — and he would be a huge upgrade over Schumaker. Obviously, you’re not going to need to spend Pujols’ money to get a guy like Johnson, but he could likely be had for the difference between the salaries needed to sign Pujols or Reyes. In other words, you could probably have Reyes and Johnson for about the same AAV as Pujols.

Starting Rotation 

Next season, the Cards have their top four set with Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia, Kyle Lohse and Jake Westbrook — while Adam Wainwright continues to recover from Tommy John surgery. Rotation depth is key for any team, and $8 million to $10 million could go a long way toward locking up a guy like Mark Buehrle — who is often linked to the Cardinals — or to bringing back Edwin Jackson. Other than Shelby Miller and Carlos Martinez, who are still a ways away with only Miller having a realistic shot at pitching some MLB innings in 2012, the Cardinals don’t have much in terms of starting pitching prospects in the pipeline. That leaves the free-agent market as their best bet to shore up the back end of the rotation. If they are confident with their top five, they could also add a lower-tier player like Paul Maholm, Aaron Harang or Bruce Chen as insurance. It’s not an area of glaring need, but contenders can never have too much pitching depth.

Catcher

The Cardinals are fine at catcher for 2012, as they have Yadier Molina locked up for one more season. Molina has the fifth highest WAR among catchers since 2009, and it’s tough to consider three of the guys above him – Joe Mauer, Mike Napoli and Victor Martinez – full-time catchers. It might not be a bad idea for GM John Mozeliak to pocket the Pujols savings for a season in order to reward his star catcher with a long-term extension. Molina has proven himself to be durable, accumulating at least 500 at bats in each of the past three seasons; and elite young catchers don’t tend to be available on the open market.

While the following are just ballpark numbers — as I’m here to provide a general game plan not provide in-depth projections on a dozen players — we can see that using the money ear-marked for Pujols, the Cardinals could possibly get similar (or perhaps even better) production by upgrading other parts of their already potent offense. Johnson and Reyes would likely provide more of a boost over the other alternatives than Pujols would over a plan that placed Berkman at first and installed Craig in right field.

While I’m sure there would be heartbreak in St. Louis if Pujols signs anywhere else, the Cardinals have viable alternatives with other options, and could potentially put a better product on the field next year by going another direction.

Obviously, there are other factors at play beyond just expected 2012 production when it comes to re-signing a franchise icon, so we’re not saying that the Cardinals should show Pujols the door. It’s just worth noting that, given the rest of the players on the roster and what’s available in free agency, the Cardinals should be able to survive no matter what their star first baseman decides to do.




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83 Responses to “An Alternative to Pujols in St.Louis”

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  1. test says:

    Great plan, I sure hope no other teams want to bid on free agent players like Reyes and Johnson. There are a lot of teams looking for a SS and 2B, making it extremely unlikely that any team would be able to sign both to reasonable contracts (but the highest bidders aren’t usually reasonable).

    Keeping Pujols is the best bet, because he’s simply more likely to sign with them than anyone else. To make up numbers, say Pujols has a 50/50 chance of resigning. So a 50% chance at scenario working out perfectly. But Johnson and Reyes both signing there without Pujols being there – that’s maybe a 25% chance if the team pursued them both strongly? This team just won the WS, they don’t need to reach for upside chances. The upside is Scenario 2, but the sensible planning in Scenario 1.

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    • Absolutely true. One could even argue that Reyes will have more suitors considering most of the big market teams are set at first base.

      Just arguing that sometimes in the bigger picture of winning baseball games, there are more efficient options than “we have to sign our best player”.

      Of course there are 29 other teams out there vying for those same players, so easier said than done!

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      • Barkey Walker says:

        As a Twins fan, I have to say, sometimes your mid-market team is WAY better of letting a star walk.

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      • Yes Barley, we would have contended for the playoffs if it weren’t for that damned Mauer.

        Let’s give it a few years before we declare that contract a disaster.

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      • Doctor_Teh says:

        Steven, I would say we would have had a good deal better record this year without him on our team… Would have kept Hardy, not wasted money on Nishioka, hopefully would have planned ahead and not trade away our best backup C and would have had many millions to spend on a SP/1B/2B to significantly upgrade our team.

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  2. Paul says:

    Ah, just bring Hattie out of retirement, turn Lynn in to a submariner, and hook Jeremy Giambi up to the juvenation machine. See how easy that was?

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  3. IvanGrushenko says:

    Unless they plan to re-incarnate Lou Gehrig, they better sign Pujols. I’d be amazed if Reyes is worth only 1 fewer WAR/yr than Pujols for the life of his contract. For one thing he’s a lot more injury-prone. They did perfectly fine with Nick Punto at 2B. If they want to deal with the superadequacy of Craig as 4th OF, they can trade him for a SS or CF, but they don’t even have to do that. You build a team from the best, most reliable, players down, not by trying to put a 3 WAR player at every position.

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    • Not arguing with your overall premise to build form best players down because there is a lot of merit to that, but 3 WAR at every position is a pretty darn good team. Just playing devil’s advocate :) In the NL that’s 8X3 in the field, 5X3 in the rotation, so 39 WAR before you consider the bullpen and bench.

      Also, you hedge your injury risk a lot more. You never have to worry about having to replace one of your 6+ WAR when your talent is spread across the field.

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      • filihok says:

        Also, you hedge your injury risk a lot more. You never have to worry about having to replace one of your 6+ WAR when your talent is spread across the field.

        This is a little bit backwards.

        You have 2 teams full of position players projected to produce 24 WAR.
        Team 1 has a 3 WAR player at each position.
        Team 2 has 2 WAR players at each position, except 1B, where they have a 10 WAR player.

        On the first team, if any of the players gets injured you can fill in with a 1 WAR backup and lose 2 WAR over the course of a season.
        On the second team, if anyone other than the 1Bman gets injured you can fill in with a 1WAR backup and lose 1WAR of the course of the seaon. If the 1Bman gets injured you lose 9 WAR.

        If each player has the same risk of injury, then in each case the expected number of WAR lost to injury would be the same. But, in most seasons the first team would lose 2 games while the second team would only lose 1. Then, there is the 1 season where the 1Bman is injured and the team loses 9 WAR.

        Also, it is easier to upgrade on a 2 WAR player than a 3 WAR player. If your team looks to be coming up a little short it’s easier to get a couple of 3 WAR players than a couple of 4 WAR players or 1 5 WAR player.

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      • Filihok – it won’t let me reply to your message for some reason but here’s my response.

        That’s what I meant by hedging. I understand that expected WAR lost is the same, but your team (the one with the 10 WAR player) has a lot more downside. You’re going to lose a little bit of WAR most years, and the get submarined the year that your first baseman gets hurt. On the other team, you lose a bit more WAR each year, but you know what to expect and can plan around it. Also, on these hypothetical teams we’re talking about, they’re possible borderline playoff teams given the WAR (correct me if I’m wrong), and losing the 10 WAR player would dash any playoff hopes.

        Fun conversation.

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      • filihok says:

        Ryan – I think it is easier to plan around losing a 2 WAR player than losing a 3 WAR player.

        If you lose a 3 WAR…SS, then you have to either find another 3 WAR SS or a 5 WAR any other position and a 1 WAR SS.

        If you lose a 2 WAR SS, then you have to either find another 2 WAR SS or a 3 WAR any other position and a 1 WAR SS.

        And, yeah, you’re sunk when your 1Bman goes down.

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      • I definitely agree with what you’re saying on replacing 3 WAR vs 2 WAR. I guess I just like the certainty of knowing that while I still have a good team, I won’t have my season sunk by one injury. And yes, 3 WAR is more difficult to replace than 2, but it’s still possible. Replacing 10 WAR is impossible

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  4. Chris from Bothell says:

    Sorry, I’m being dense this morning (more than usual). Why is Craig valued at 1.5 in scenario 1 and 3 in scenario 2? Playing time? Positional adjustment? Something else?

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  5. JohnOrpheus says:

    The Reyes/Johnson senario sounds like the best possible option over resigning Pujols if you’re looking to field a competitive team. However, I can’t agree at all with committing money to back-end trash like Maholm, Harang, or Chen. There is no doubt in my mind any of these would be just as bad as Westbrook. I’d much rather just stick Miller in if he looks good in spring training.

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  6. Baron Samedi says:

    “Craig’s number was inflated by a .344 BABIP in a limited number of at-bats and don’t reflect his likely production going forward”

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    • Jerry says:

      Craig is a big wildcard in this. He was legitimately great this year, producing 2.6 WAR in 219 PAs and the second highest wRC+ on the team (158), trailing Berkman by one point. His numbers were inflated by BABIP (though in 2 seasons at AAA he had higher BABIPs both years, so take that for what it’s worth), but predicting him for 3 WAR is pretty conservative. If he had held that pace he’d have been worth 7.1 WAR in 600 PAs. Now obviously he’s not that good, but if you take off points for his elevated BABIP and lower his power production he’s still probably a 4-5 WAR guy. Moving Berkman from RF to 1st also probably raises his WAR by .5-1 (he cost a win in defense this year in RF and he could probably be at least close to average at 1st). It’s pretty easy to see how the Cardinals could be a better team next year by spending the Pujols money elsewhere.

      There are other things at work too, of course. You put Pujols at 6 WAR, which I think is an understandable prediction. We all know that Pujols is capable of going out and putting up 8 WAR though (and that’s probably a lot more likely than 4 WAR). Reyes is a big risk on a long term contract, and you’d be signing him coming off his best year since 08. If Pujols is gone and money is tied up in Reyes, who plays 1st when Berkman leaves? Matt Adams? He’s put up gaudy minor league numbers but isn’t exactly a highly touted prospect, and not the kind of guy the Cardinals can rely on at this point.

      It’s a tricky situation, and I agree with your overall sentiment that the Cardinals won’t be in big trouble even if Albert moves on. The most likely scenario, though, is that St. Louis goes all in to keep him around.

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  7. thehotteststove.com says:

    I like the idea of retaining Albert and Furcal and then handing the leftover at-bats for short and second to Tyler Greene. I know he’s an old prospect, but he looked really good this year….

    Also, there will be plenty of at bats for Craig at various outfield spots. Berkman is old, Holliday had various injuries this year, and Craig is versatile enough to get spot starts in center in smaller ballparks as well. Keep Albert and keep the depth in place, because we don’t know when we’re going to need it with all of our injury troubles. I would absolutely love having the extra spending money for pitching though. Lot of question marks with an aging Carp, Waino coming back after injury, Garcia, Lohse and Westbrook.

    Good article. The moral of the story is that the Cardinals are in great shape regardless of what happens this offseason.

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  8. Beaster says:

    Johnson and Reyes are also type A free agents so in addition to their salaries they’re going to cost a few draft picks as well. For Johnson at least this will likely drive down the number of suitors.

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    • vivalajeter says:

      Isn’t it basically a wash though? If they lose their first round pick for Reyes and their second round pick for Johnson, they also gain a first round pick and a sandwich pick for Pujols. Although they would lose out if Pujols signed with a team that had a protected first rounder.

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  9. GiantHusker says:

    I’m not a Cardinals fan, so I hope they don’t read this.
    Why not a one-two strategy. See if Pujols will sign for something affordable, which may be a lot less than he can get elsewhere.
    If not, wish him luck and go after the alternatives.

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  10. Ben Hall says:

    Two comments:

    One, “Other than Shelby Miller and Carlos Martinez, who are still a ways away with only Miller having a realistic shot at pitching some MLB innings in 2012, the Cardinals don’t have much in terms of starting pitching prospects in the pipeline.” As with Martinez, Tyrell Jenkins is a long way away, but he’s a top pitching prospect. Doesn’t make much of a difference to the article, but Jenkins has too much potential to ignore.

    Two, projecting Pujols for 6 WAR next year likely understates his value. His 7.5 in 2010 was his lowest since 2002. I realize 6 is up from this year, but I still think 6.5 to 7 is a better projection. I’ll be curious to see what ZIPS projects.

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    • Jenkins is also a nice prospect but he still hasn’t pitched above rookie ball. I guess I didn’t phrase my sentence the best, I meant guys who could possibly contribute in the next couple year. Good catch though

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      • Jerry says:

        As for pitching though, I think you understate how close Miller is to the majors. After what he did at AA I don’t think he really has anything left to prove in the minors. The Cards rotation is set for next year but in a perfect world Miller would be starting over Westbrook right out of spring training. Maikel Cleto is also a guy worth mentioning. His upside isn’t close to Miller’s but he has tremendous raw stuff and held his own last year as a 22 year old in AAA. With a full rotation, three bullpen guys capable of starting (McClellan, Lynn and Rzep), Cleto and Miller I think SP depth is the last thing the Cardinals need right now. It’s one thing to go after Buehrle or Jackson, but guys like Harang shouldn’t even be on the Cards radar IMO.

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    • JayT says:

      I realize Pujols is a special player, but is there really any good reason to assume that a 32 year old that has seen his WAR drop significantly each of the last two years will turn it around and get back to his peak? Especially since he’s been battling more and more nagging injuries in recent years?

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      • vivalajeter says:

        This is my thought as well. Ben is basically saying that 2010 was Pujols’ worst season since 2002, and then he got even worse in 2011, but we should expect a 2 win improvement next year? I look at it as a trend that would scare me a little bit when it comes to offering a mega contract.

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  11. Kyle says:

    Good stuff. Scenario 2 would take a lot of guts to pull off, but it would be incredibly interesting to see it applied.

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  12. rob says:

    Aside from the “difficult to quantify” elements of a Pujols departure, I do not greatly disagree with the theoretical idea of replacing him by making significant MI upgrades. STL certainly could use some help up the middle, and between what they currently have and what’s in the minors (1B Matt Adams), I think they could survive and use the money saved to extend some of their other core pieces in the near future (e.g. Molina’s contract is up after 2012).

    The problem is I don’t see the 2 mid infielders on the market that could adequately replace Pujols’ consistent production. (Darn the Rox for locking up Tulo!)

    Reyes is too much of an injury risk given those hamstrings, and do you really expect a sore-legged speedster to maintain his value into his 30s? Plus, his Game 162 performance this past year shows he’s hardly a “team-first” guy… that stuff would NOT fly in the Cardinals clubhouse.

    Rollins is OK, but no one in their right mind would give him a 5-yr deal. (Once he realizes that, I suspect he’ll return to PHI.)

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    • Definitely risk with Reyes, not going to argue with you on that note. But there is risk with anyone. Pujols walk rate dropped significantly even when accounting for IBB, and his ISO was the worst of his career (wrist injuries wil do that to you and are hard to bounce back from). So I don’t think it’s fair to acknowledge the Reyes risk but ignore the Pujols risk.

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      • Greg H says:

        I’m calling shenanigans on the wrist injury comment. The articles I’ve read have shown that, contrary to popular belief, hitters are able to bounce back quite well after recovering from wrist injuries. The legs, hips, and shoulders are far more critical to a hitter’s success. And Pujols actually hit a lot better after he returned from the wrist injury – he raised his OPS by 51points. Pujols suffered a minor injury, and there’s no basis to think he will suffer any lasting effect from it.

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    • vivalajeter says:

      Rob, don’t be silly and act like his Game 162 performance will have any impact on the contract he receives or the performance he gives the team. Unless a team is in a must-win situation, plenty of stars sit out (or play a partial game) at the end of the season. Or was George Brett hardly a team-first guy too?

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  13. Vision says:

    Ryan, the Cards have many other options than Pujols/Theriot/Schu if they re-sign Pujols.

    This whole thing reads like a story written with a conclusion in mind, and then working backwards trying to validate it, rather than performing an exercise with all variables included and then coming to a conclusion, and writing about it.

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    • Of course there are options at every position, but when you dish out another $25 million to Pujols and hopefully want to re-sign Yadier, that doesn’t leave the opportunity for good options at second or short. You can replace the names Theriot or Schumaker with whoever you want, but whoever those names are are probably not going to account for more than 2 wins combined. As far as I know, the Cards don’t have anyone in the system capable of jumping in and contributing 2-3 WAR at those positions.

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  14. Eminor3rd says:

    I actually agree with this scenario and have all along. Even if Pujols doesn’t decline, $25-30m or so a year is going to be a major problem to them extending and acquiring new players, and all to lock up mass production at the easiest position to find production on the field.

    Also, while Reyes is an injury risk, he’s also a LOT younger than Pujols.

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  15. Dave S says:

    Pujols career reminds me of Frank Robinson’s… and their WAR graphs look quite similar.

    Reds traded Frank when he hit 30, and he won the triple crown (and MVP and world series MVP) that season with the Orioles. The Reds clearly lost the trade.

    But Albert is entering his age 32 season. At that point, Frank generated (WAR) an 8, two 5′s, two 4′s, two 3′s, a 1, and a 0. So, 33 WAR over 9 seasons. How much is that worth?

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    • If you want to go that route, which we probably shouldn’t because it’s just comparing him to one player, that’s worth $192 million over 9 years. He starts at 5.65 WAR in 2012 to total up to 32.85. Loses .5 WAR a year. $5 million per win in 2012, 5% inflation each year.

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  16. Nik says:

    If you include the playoffs (and there is no rational reason not to) Pujols did not have a down year. Can we stop pretending he did?

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    • vivalajeter says:

      Through 2009 he had established himself as an 8-10 WAR player. There was a drop in 2010 (7.5). Last year he barely managed 5 WAR. Even with a solid playoff performance, I don’t see how you can act like this was not a down year for him. Most people would be thrilled to have a year like this, but it was definitely a down year compared to his prior performance.

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  17. ms says:

    Is there any validity to the idea that Pujols is such an iconic player that keeping him is worth it, at almost any cost? If Bill DeWitt wants the Cardinals to be valuable, which should be his ultimate goal, isn’t retaining Pujols an outrageously high priority…not just for his production, but for his long term value in enriching the Cardinals as a brand as well as a team? Would retaining him make the value of the team higher in 30 years just “because they were the team Albert Pujols played for?” By this logic, isn’t he worth way more to the Cardinals than to any other team? Or is this just something Dan Lozano will argue?
    BTW, great article. I will be reading it over and over and over if Pujols leaves to try to convince myself that “No, it’s really better that he left”.

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    • There is absolutely value to that. That was one of those things I mentioned in the intro that I didn’t want to try to quantify in this piece because, quite frankly, I can’t put a dollar figure on that. Maybe someone smarter than me can.

      My piece was simply looking at it from the perspective of winning baseball games.

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  18. Eminor3rd says:

    Look at the Twins and Mauer. Even if Mauer produced 80% of his MVP year performance, which I think was a realistic expectation, they’d still be a bad team hampered by his contract. I think there’s a case to be made that no player is worth 25-35% of your payroll, especially given adequate internal replacements (Berkman) and opportunity cost (Reyes)

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  19. ExtraBases says:

    I think Berkman and Holliday’s numbers would probably decline without Pujols hitting around them in the lineup.

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  20. baty says:

    It would be a good time to take a chance on blocked prospects like Yonder Alonso or Lars Anderson if you can find space.

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    • I think those are good guys to take a chance on for a lot of teams, but they play the positions where the Cards are also blocked, if you consider Berkman a barricade, which I think you should for 2012. And Craig in the OF.

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  21. Dusty B says:

    Hi Ryan…

    As a Cardinal fan I love your quite logical dismissal of albertageddon. To the best fans in baseball heartbreak may indeed equal the end of the world, however irrational that may be. I do think you sold us a little short on our depth in some areas though. Lynn, Rzepczynski, and possibly Boggs and McClellan could all be candidates to start, and there are others such as Trevor Rosenthal and John Gast rising quickly through the system. More importantly I dont think there is any way the Cards add someone like Johnson with Kolten Wong almost certain to be ready by 2013, if not before. The cupboard isn’t bare at SS either with Ryan Jackson and Tyler Greene, who may have the highest ceiling/lowest floor of any 28 year old in the game. Is he an AAAA player or a 30/30 guy with above average defense? The Cardinals have known this day was coming for a long time and IMO have done a pretty good job preparing for it. It will be very interesting to see what happens.

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    • Dusty,

      I hear what you are saying. I had the opportunity to see Rzepczynski start for the Jays quite a few times and that probably clouds my vision of his ability to start. But reality is, the AL East is not the NL Central. You’re probably right in that Rzep could be a back of the rotation starter for the Cards. I won’t comment on the other guys but you very well could be right. I always found it funny the amount of $ they committed to Westbrook and Lohse given their other options.

      And I hear you on Kolten Wong, but with guys like Berkman, Holliday and Carp, I feel like the Cards should be immediate (2012) contenders. However, they have stayed consistently good while moving on from the MV3 days from Edmonds and Rolen, so who knows. It’s a well run organization.

      As for Greene, the rate at which he strikes out considering his lack of power is an issue. Just my opinion though.

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  22. Robert says:

    IMHO the Cardinals have already made up their mind what they are going to do. They made Pujols an offer at the end of last season and he did not take it. They resigned Berkman, Carpenter and picked up Wainrights options before the end of the regular seasone ended. Don’t be very suprised if Berkman is starting at 1B next year. I am a diehard Cards fan that wants Pujols back, but I would not offer him the kind of money or length of contract he is looking for. NOBODY plays for the love of the game anymore. It’s all about MONEY(thanks Stienbrenner). I actually thought the money Holliday got was a bit much. I would feel much better about Cardinals ownership spreading the “Pujols money” around filling in other areas of need rather than putting all their eggs in one basket so to speak. Pujols IS on the decline no matter what anyone thinks. Yes he is going to have some good seasons, but not like he did the first half of his career. My 2 cents.

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    • Very good point. Don’t disagree with you at all. Pujols has been an absolute pleasure to watch for the last decade but I don’t think it’s fair to even consider him the best player at his position (Votto, Miggy etc…) let alone in all of baseball.

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    • Antonio Bananas says:

      The whole “no one plays for love of the game” is a crock. no matter how much you love the game or whatever your profession is, you want to be compensated for what you bring in. There is a lot of evidence that players get paid a lot less than their marginal revenue product. MRP is how most people are compensated.

      Let’s say you’re a salesman, and you love working in sales. However, your only compensated for a fraction of the sales you generate, then another firm will compensate your for more, what are you going to do?

      I really hate it when people rag on players for wanting more money. Instead, be mad at the owners (who mostly inherited their money and didn’t work as hard as the players who came from nothing).

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  23. Bob says:

    After the oddball first two months of the season, Pujols was the same old Pujols over the final 5 months—roughly a 175 OPS+, with, of course, stellar defense.

    His “decline” is 80-90% myth.

    Sign Pujols. A fraction over $25M per annum, for 8 years oughtta do it; if he’s merely average, or slightly above, in 6 or 7 years, does anybody at this forum really believe Pujols would stick around? I do not.

    Sign Furcal, at a $4-5M base, with another $2-3M in playing time incentives. Perfect placeholder for cheap, MLB-average Ryan Jackson in 2013. (Ignore Tyler Greene. Horrible waste of a first-round pick. Bad pitch recognition in college. And bad in the minors. And bad in the majors. Can. Not. Hit.)

    Second base? Descalso is probably a 2.5-to-3 WAR keystoner right now. No need to overpay for K. Johnson.

    Allen Craig–the guy with the (eventual) game-winning RBI in 3 of 4 Series wins–is a nice bat. A very nice bat. But he’s an insurance policy, as the A.P./L.B./M.H. trio are all on the wrong side of 30. Ya see, the thing of it is, the organizational dropoff *after* Craig is massive. So if you let #5 go, you have no depth whatever at LF, or RF, or 1B. And I mean none.

    Maybe Matt Adams will be ready in 2013…or maybe not. But he ain’t ready now. Tommy Pham is truly talented, but he cannot stay healthy. Oscar Taveras will be a star—if not superstar; but that’ll have to wait until 2013 at the least.

    Those are the rational objections to the non-Pujols StL scenario…but the non-rational is actually more compelling.

    Why are grown men paid a king’s (and queen’s) ransom to play a little boys game? Sentimentality. It’s *not* a *large* part of it. It’s the whole shootin’ match. And Cardinal fans are sentimental about no Redbird player more than The Machine. Ownership will not abuse that sentiment over a difference of 2 or 3 million bucks a year, or a year or two of contract length.

    Pujols should, and will, spend his entire career wearing the birds on the bat. You can take it to the bank.

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    • jason says:

      “Descalso is probably a 2.5-to-3 WAR keystoner right now.”

      No, right NOW fangraphs has him at .5 WAR and BR 1.2 WAR, and neither think much of him, defensively. He never hit more than 10 HR’s in the minors and had a career minor league OPS of .753. Yawn. Given his age, pedigree, and history, to expect more that a 2.0 WAR season is a bit generous. He’s basically a year older version of Johnny Giavotella (.812 MiL OPS) from the left side, but not as quite as good. Maybe Descalso will post a 2.5-3.0 WAR, but given what he is and has been, I doubt it.

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  24. Dusty B says:

    Bob and Ryan…

    Ultimately it is highly likely you two are correct about T Greene. The man had 14 HR and 19 SB in just over 300 AAA AB’s this year, but in the majors has looked like he just cannot get out of his own head. I think Bob is probably also right about Pujols returning, and this may be the reason for their widely panned strategy of taking mostly low ceiling/high floor guys in recent years to have surer bets to place around Albert.

    Also, thanks for the fair and timely responses to everyone Ryan, they are much appreciated and your mother should be proud.

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  25. Bob says:

    I’d like to second Dusty’s comment about your responses, Ryan. Prompt, polite, and professional are you, sir.

    The give & take of sites like Fangraphs adds to my baseball knowledge, and I’m grateful for it. :)

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  26. Matt says:

    In general, how many of those long, expensive contracts work out well for the team? I’d love to read an article studying the contracts of at least 6 years and $100 million (or something like that). I would have to think that in 4 times out of 5, the team regrets the signing before it reaches its maturation.

    Branch Rickey said that it is better to trade a player a year too early as opposed to a year too late. I think from a purely winning baseball games perspective, he was right.

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  27. CircleChange11 says:

    I also think Berkman will regress some. But that regression might be balances by a healthy Freese full season and more PAs for Craig.

    I’m really interested in Johnson at 2B or even seeing if Felipe Lopez can have a BABIP bounceback.

    The pitching should also see improvement over 2011 with the return of Wain and a solid BP, with Motte as closer right from the start.

    StL needs to get more out of Westbrook and even Lohse. I’m also interested in seeing what Mikler can do.

    There is also the aspect of Jay/Craig in full season over Rasmus. CR both underperformed and brought negative drama to the clubhouse.

    With TLR gone, I would also like to explore bringing Ryan back to suppot a GB heavy rotation. Theriot is better served as a 2B where his D at SS is not a liability.

    With or w/o Pujols StL looks to be, yet again, a strong contender in the NLC. That’s all you can ask for. This FO has made some good, under-rated moves.

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    • Antonio Bananas says:

      you’re very optimistic. Freese, Craig, and Jay are all around their peak. So as good as they were in 2011, is likely as good as they’ll ever be. Decent chance Craig is worse than last year.

      Berkman went from about 1 WAR to about 5. Freese, with more at bats, is what? another 1.5 WAR?

      Carp will probably keep declining, Molina will be 29 and could have a declining year, same with a lot of the other players.

      Basically the Cards depend on how you see it. I see them as an ancient team losing the one sure thing they had. If they don’t think they have the financial resources to resign Pujols, they probably can’t sign Reyes. Waino could come back fine, but he’s ALSO in his 30s.

      When you look at the cards roster, pretty much everyone is either already in their prime (and typically near the end of it) or they’re in the decline years. The guys in their prime are guys like Craig (27), Jay (27), Freese (29) aren’t really impact guys, but are solid but they all came up after age 25, so given the typcial productivity curve aren’t ever going to be really good.

      Pitchers are pretty much the same way except for Jaime. He’s 25 and could become like a 5 WAR pitcher if his 2 WAR drop from 09-10 wasn’t anything other than growing pains.

      As for the pen, pens are always fickle. It should be better than the first half of 2010 though.

      So really I guess it depends on if and how much guys decline. then again, the Central is going to be weak and if they get hot at the right time, who knows, 12 in ’12.

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      • Antonio Bananas says:

        Not much in the farm either. Shelby Miller is great but pitchers, as you know, fail often. Maybe Zack Cox, guessing he starts 2012 in AAA, if not even still at AA as a 23 year old, which isn’t really anything special.

        Old MLB team and a middle of the road (at best) farm all while losing your best, most consistent player even if he is aging, doesn’t look good.

        I’m a pessimist though.

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      • I don’t disagree with your overall assessment of the Cards, but you are going way outside the scope of this piece. I’m not saying doing this will net the Cards 90 wins, I’m just focussing on where they can upgrade the weakest parts of the rosters without sacrificing. Guys like Jay and Freese are not really part of this analysis.

        And I also did account for Craig being worse. Last season he was 2.6 WAR in 219 PA’s. I pegged him at 1.5 WAR as a part-time player (around 200 PA’s) and 3 WAR as a full-time player (600 PA’s)

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      • Antonio Bananas says:

        I was mostly responding to Circle Change. He’s a cards fan. I do think that signing a big ticket free agent would be bad for the Cards. I think they really need to rebuild their farm. Although they’ve really never had a super farm since I’ve been following the minor leagues (like 5 years) and i don’t remember them really ever having a studly prospect who they call up except obviously Pujols and the Waino trade.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        Colby Rasmus was a top 5 prospect in all of baseball for awhile, then he slipped to top 10, then … Shelby Miller is viewed as being the real deal. Jaime Garcia was highly rated before his TJ surgery.

        StL has had too many Chris Duncans and Joe Mathers for my taste, but I think Freese and Craig are far superior than those guys, if for nothing else than they play good defense and they hit the ball hard the other way and can hit breaking stuff. When all you can do is hit medium fastballs you’re not long for MLB success.

        I’m not going crazy over their performance in the playoffs, but if StL can get 2-3 good MLB service years out of guys that were not prospects isn’t that a BIG win? You get basically 12M/y performance out of guys that will make between minimum and a million bucks. I’ll take it.

        We can say what we want, but StL got about 52 M worth of performance from Garcia (3.6), Freese(3), Jay(3), and Craig (2.6) for a total payment of around 3M. Around 50M of surplus value from medium prospects. Go back and read that again. StL got about 50M is surplus production from 4 not-so-hot prospects. IMHO, if this were any other organization we’d be hearing about it non-stop.

        I think StL’s FO gets undersold A LOT, and often by me in the past. The trades they made led to a championship team. The great value from medium prospects, while trading their “can’t miss talent” … and possibly having very affordable replacement parts for a departing Pujols that leaves the team in about the same quality? That’s flat out amazing.

        That Jay/Berkman Craig could equal (or almost equal) Pujols/Berkman/Rasmus is flat-out amazing.

        Did I point out StL won the WS while missing their CYA caliber SP all seasons? That’s 5-6 WAR missing right there.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        The more I think about, the more amazing it is.

        Out of 4 guys — Jamie Garcia, Jon Jay, David Freese, and Allen Craig, StL got about 45 M in surplus value due to them performing around the 3 WAR level and making less than a million bucks each.

        Rather than look at the situation as “Yeah, but those guys are already out of prospect age and won’t be good in 3 more years”, why aren’t we looking at this as, “From 2011-2013, StL could get 80-100M in surplus value from these players”?

        Over the last decade, StL has the 3rd best $/Win ratio in baseball. It’s almost entirely due to Pujols’s 200M in surplus value over that time. I think I’ve said this already.

        Now, they’re getting (possibly) half that amount from 4 guys that are nowhere near Pujols’s caliber.

        IMO, it’s the steal of all steals.

        Maybe the non-prospect prospect is a market inefficiency that StL has capitalized on? Not many teams really want “prospects” that are over 26 … so they can be obtained cheaply and may perform at starter or better level for a few years. Who cares if they don’t become stars, they’re providing 8-12M in production for less than a million bucks.

        I think we’re, as a group, looking at this backasswords.

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  28. Antonio Bananas says:

    Maybe I’m dumb, but can people statistically explain why everyone is all over Reyes? He had a great year last year, his first 5 WAR season in since 2008. He’s 28. Typically plyers peak at 27 and then get worse, shortstops and other “speed” guys decline faster because it’s harder to stay fast than to stay strong.

    So why does everyone seem to be in agreement that Reyes will be a great buy? It seems pretty likely that Reyes will decline, and maybe even pretty fast after a year or two.

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  29. CircleChange11 says:

    @AB

    I view the improvement of Jay, Craig, and Freese just coming from more PA. Specifically the PA given to Rasmus. In ’11 that woulda been about 2 WAR. I’m not expecting an improvement in skills just as I am not expecting a decline due to aging. If they have down years it’ll be due to advanced scouting rather than a slip in skills. I am only looking at ’12 and not 3 years down the road. There’s too much fluctuation, injjries, and turnover to really do that with enough certainty.

    I expect LB to decline/regress to about 3.5, but that to be countered by an increase in at bats by the 3 I mentioned above.

    Carp will decline, but not drastically over 1 season. I expect Garcia to be 3-4 and Wain to be around 5. The bullpen could be plus 4 given how much better Motte is over Franklin and Scrabble is over T.Miller. RF and TM were -2 combined in half a season.

    I view Pujols at 5-6 going forward. StL also got Garcia, Jay, Freese, Craig from a ‘medium’ system. That’s around 9 WAR in ’11. Probably more in ’12.

    I have no interest in Reyes. I think he’s going to be inj too much and I don’t think his personality messes well with the docile veterans. StL is too boring for Jose.

    I think StL will be fine over the next 2 years and then after that they better have young talent pay off or expect to spend in FA, both are concerning. But, StL has gotten great value from their system in some guys that didn’t have a big prospect label, sort of like they did with Ryan Ludwick.

    We could say there are big concerns about 2014 but we have no idea what will happen btw now and then. Lots of teams have big concerns 3 years from now if their rosters don’t change some.

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    • Antonio Bananas says:

      i agree with their “value from guys who aren’t big prospects”. It seems like they constantly churn out Ludwicks and Chris duncans, which is what I think Jay/Craig/Freese all pretty much are. They’ll be above average for 2-3 years and that’s about it. When guys get called up after 25 I don’t expect a lot out of them.

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  30. CircleChange11 says:

    @Filihok

    An aspect you’re missing is the dollars to WAR thing.

    Teams don’t pay their 8 WAR player 32M bucks. They get a lot of surplus value.

    StL has the 3rd best dollar per win result over the last decade. That is all due to the 200 plus surplus that Pujols has provided.

    You either need to get 2-3 WAR players for cheap, or get Wainwright on a 3WAR contract and have him produce 5.

    Wherw teams can get into trouble is when stars are paid 25M for 3 WAR seasons.

    TT’s blog has a good thread going on the value of scarcity.

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  31. Jacob says:

    So the argument is Reyes + Mark Buehrle > Pujols? What a joke.

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  32. CARLOS says:

    I PREFER PUJOLS 30MM THAT REYES 15MM + BUEHRLE 15MM =30MM
    OR CRAWFORD 20MM + WERTH 18MM + AROD 30MM=68MM.
    Cardinals cant take the W.S performance as tools to 2012 team. For sure Freese and Berkman were so
    sucessfull because they see better pitch than Pujols, so simple. And Pujols were ever in base because
    intentional ball, so freese and Berkman take the clean up easier.

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  33. John says:

    Are we forgetting about Pete Kozma! Just kidding … I’m still upset about that one as a Cards fan

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  34. Bob says:

    I agree with AB, that the excitement over Reyes is misplaced. Way too many durability questions to justify a 5+ year, and $15-17M per annum contract. At that’s what *somebody* will give him—if not more.

    Gotta disagree, though, about St. Louis needing to “rebuild” their farm system. It’s already built; in fact, it may be the best in the sport right now. The estimable John Sickels of minorleagueball has published his grades for some of baseball’s best farms, and the Cardinals have more elite-type B+ or better (and more straight B or better) players than either the Rangers, Rays, Braves, or Royals—teams commonly considered the cream ‘o the crop, when it comes to the minors.

    The Cardinals *might* have the best collection of pitchers in the minors (unquestionably top five), and *might* have the top bunch of position players (certainly top 3 or 4).

    With average luck, the future is as bright as the present for the birds on the bat. ;)

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