I’m sure precisely nobody is shocked to learn that my blog post today is regarding the signing of Albert Pujols by the St. Louis Cardinals Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.  Word came out on Thursday late morning that Pujols had agreed to a 10 year deal with the Angels in the $250-260 million range.  My initial reactions were as follows: shocked, calm, upset, all right with it, slightly bitter, and now I’m graduating to more level-headedness.

I’m not going to lie.  I’m a little heart-broken over the whole thing.  Pujols has been a great player for 11 years who just so happened to wear a St. Louis Cardinals uniform.  In fact, I remember, back in 2001 after the second series of the season, thinking, “This Pujols guy might be pretty good.  It’s nice to have an exciting young player.”  Understatement of the decade in retrospect.

The past 11 years of Cardinal baseball have been phenomenal.  Think about it, since 2001, the Cardinals have only missed the playoffs three times.  Pujols won three MVP awards, and, if it weren’t for Barry Bonds, he’d have at least two more.  The Cardinals have been to three World Series, and won two of them.  As a Cardinal fan, I’ve been able to see one of history’s greatest players wearing the birds on the bat for just over a decade.  It’s been great.

However…

Signing a guy that is 31 right now (and will be 32 when the season starts) to a 10 year contract is risky.  Most sluggers start to have a pretty significant downturn once they pass their mid-30’s.  I don’t doubt that Pujols is going to continue to be a great player for several years, but for 10 years?  I’m not so sure.  The bonus for both parties in this deal is that after 5-6 years, the Angels will be able to put him at DH, but only if Albert isn’t too proud to do it.

The other end of this is the money. $250 million dollars.  A quarter of a billion dollars.  That’s so much cheddar that I’m fairly certain Tex Richman wouldn’t go for it.  (Yes, that’s a Muppets reference.)

If the rumors are to be believed (and who knows if they are), the Cardinals were offering Pujols $22 million/year, which would have put him fourth at his position in terms of average annual salary.  Of course, the players ahead of him on that list: A. Gonzalez, M. Teixeira, R. Howard; players on the Red Sox, Yankees and Phillies – the highest payrolls in baseball.  The Cardinals are not on that list.  Their payroll is significantly less than those three teams, as is most of baseball.  They simply cannot afford to put that high of a percentage of their payroll into one player, a player that may not perform as well over the last few years of the contract.

Not, in reality, the Cardinals could have afforded to overpay Pujols for a few years because, let’s be honest, given the market, they’ve been underpaying him for his whole career.  And, indeed, they were going to give him a hefty raise (150%), but it wasn’t enough.

And here’s the thing: Pujols didn’t owe the Cardinals anything.  He doesn’t.  He doesn’t owe them a “hometown discount”.  He doesn’t owe them to finish his career there.  He doesn’t owe the fan base.  He doesn’t owe the city of St. Louis.  He doesn’t owe the people that work at Pujols 5 on the west side of St. Louis.  He doesn’t even owe me for the very nice jersey that I bought not too long ago. The only people he owes anything to are his wife and kids, and I’m relatively certain he didn’t make this decision without consulting his wife on it.  That’s just the way it all goes down.

The unfortunate thing in all of this is not that he’s leaving, but that his legacy as a St. Louis Cardinal will be diminished.  Let’s say he puts together another great 10 years in Los Angeles, hangs it up and Cooperstown comes calling five years later – what goes on his plaque?  Will he be remembered as a Cardinal, or as an Angel?  He will not stand beside Stan, and Bob, and Lou on Opening Day in the future, wearing the red jacket, throwing out the first pitch.  He will just be the greatest name on a list of players who played for the Cardinals for a short time, and then moved elsewhere.  He will be historically great, but he won’t be a living legend, and it pains me to say that.  Is that worth the extra $30 million that he’ll be getting over the next decade?  I hope so because that’s the price he just put on it.

All in all, I wish him the best.  I really do.  The chances of me rooting against him are going to be pretty slim – the Cardinals rarely play the Angels, and the only time they would meet in the postseason would be in the World Series, which is unlikely to happen all that often, if at all – there’s no guarantee that either team will make it there in the next ten years.

The discussion moves on now to what the Cardinals are going to do.  They still have some needs to fill – needs that they had at the beginning of the offseason, regardless of what happened with Pujols.  Most likely, Berkman moves to first.  Allen Craig will be taking over in the outfield (assuming he recovers in time from his knee surgery, news that broke a couple days ago).  The Cardinals have the money to go after higher quality infield help, but there aren’t too many options out there right now.  It’s possible that they go after Prince Fielder, but I doubt it.  There are a couple of bottom lines here:

1) It’s certainly possible that the Cardinals can find 2-3 quality players to replace the .299/37/99 line that Pujols put up last year.  Freese is starting to come into his own.  Allen Craig can mash.  Berkman was back to form last season.  Oh, and maybe Matt Holliday won’t have so many health-related issues moving forward… you know… like a moth in his ear, appendectomy, etc.  Throw in a couple of quality middle infielders into that mix, and you’ve still got a pretty good lineup.

2) In line with that last sentence, the Cardinals are still a pretty good team.  I’m not sold on Tyler Greene at short, but that’s one position.  I like an OF of Holliday, Jay and Craig, and corner infielders of Berkman and Freese.  Even if the middle infield is some combination of Schumaker, Theriot, Greene and Descalso, that’s no worse than it was last year.  Let’s also  not forget that Yadi is still behind the dish, and they have a pretty good pitching staff as well, especially with Wainwright coming back after missing all of last season.

It totally sucks that the Cardinals lost their best player over the last decade, but they aren’t going to suddenly be battling the Cubs and Astros for the cellar of the NL Central.  Unfortunately, losing great players to free agency is just part of the game.  The key is adapting and moving forward.

All the best to Albert, but I hope he never celebrates another World Series championship, and he spends a lot of time watching his former team at the pinnacle of the sport.

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