Albert or no Albert, things look good for St. Louis

Behind the arm of Edwin Jackson the St. Louis Cardinals can punch their ticket to the World Series Sunday.  It is an exciting time for the people of the Budweiser state, as their boys have a shot to seal up their second crown in the last five years.  However, things will get zany this offseason, as one Albert Pujols will hit the free-agent market looking for mucho bucks.

The Cardinals went into 2011 with a $126 million payroll.  Heading into 2012, they have just over $61 million already spoken for.  Making the assumption the ball club exercises their options for Yadier Molina($7 million) and Adam Wainwright($10.5 million), they still have a nice amount of wiggle room.  Of course, they’ll still have a few million in arbitration cases to take care of as well.

Maybe the Cardinals reink their franchise player – maybe they don’t.  What makes this case interesting to me is the state of the franchise without Albert Pujols – the team is in pretty good shape with or without him.

Starting pitching wise you have a three-headed monster almost in the same galaxy as what the Phillies have.  Chris Carpenter is locked up through 2014.  One of the most talented lefties in baseball Jaime Garcia is in the pre-arb stages of his career.  And all signs point to a healthy Adam Wainright in 2012.  If the Cards decide Edwin Jackson can come back at the right price, you have the makings for a great rotation.

St. Louis also is strong in the outfield.  In left you have Matt Holliday locked up though the 2016 season.  You have something going with the young Jon Jay in center-field, and apparently Lance Berkman still has something left in the tank.

The infield is where you may see room for improvement.  Not at third base however where David Freese swings a hot bat and plays solid defense.  Rapael Furcal has an ugly $12 million option for 2012, and while Ryan Theriot is a nice player at second, if the Cardinals and Pujols part ways, there would be plenty of funds to upgrade there.

The bullpen might be thinned out at season’s end since Rhodes and Dotel are getting up there in age.  But you still have a strong young core in Salas, Motte and Lynn.  The Cardinals could use a strong lefty in the pen however.

Albert Pujols is going to need somewhere in the vicinity of $23 to $31 million per year.  I’m fine with that.  He’s still one of the scariest hitters in baseball history.  The years he’ll ask for is what should make the St. Louis higher-ups nervous.

If Pujols wants over eight years, that should make the Cardinal’s brass uneasy.  We’ve seen a wealth of high-priced free-agents not show their worth in the latter stages of gigantic contracts over the years.  Towards the beginning of 2011, it was rumored Pujols would want 10 years, meaning he would be 42-years-old at the end of such a deal.

This could be a potentially tricky situation for St. Louis.  Signing away $230-$300 million is a tough pill to swallow, even if the money is going to one of the greatest hitters ever.  Pujols is an unbelievable commodity to have though, as his constant assault on NL pitchers puts fans in the seats.

One thing going for the Cardinals is that most of the big market teams have their first baseman.  Your New Yorks, Philadelphias and Bostons are all set at the position, which in turn should keep the price down some.

The Cardinals will also have a bit of extra revenue from the games they’ve played at home during the postseason.  This is another reason I think Pujols probably has a good shot at sticking around.  If you’re a Cardinals fan you have to look at things like this – you’ve got a good shot of keeping Pujols around, and if you do that, it opens up about a three-year window to pad your championship trophy case.  You are in theory borrowing money from the future to kick ass in the present.

If Pujols and the Cardinals due part ways, Jose Reyes might look nice in St. Louis gear.  Or how bout this – if the Reds don’t re-up Brandon Phillips could the second baseman stab Cincinnati in the back and come to the Red Birds?

Either way, things are looking quite all right in St. Louis nowadays.

Tags: Adam Wainwright Albert Pujols Chris Carpenter David Freese Jon Jay Lance Berkman Matt Holliday St Louis Cardinals Yadier Molina

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