Although the St. Louis Cardinals feel they were kicked in the teeth by their former superstar Albert Pujols, they didn’t lie around in the gutter moaning and groaning. They took action. Carlos Beltran will not fully replace the dearly departed Prince Albert, but if he turns in the type of season in 2012 that he had in 2011, he will be of major assistance to an otherwise depleted batting order.
As Plan Bs go, Beltran is not a bad hire. I like it. Pujols is Pujols, the best player in Major League baseball, so the Cardinals were not going to find the perfect replacement for their star of 11 years who fled to the Angels for all of the money in California.
St. Louis will move Lance Berkman to first base to replace Pujols (I would worry as much about whether Berkman can keep it going at a high level as I did about how Beltran will perform.) Beltran will take over in right field. Makes sense. He did not come cheap at $26 million for two years, but keeping Pujols would have cost more than $200 million, so by comparison St. Louis hopes that Beltran is a steal.
Beltran will turn 34 shortly after the season starts, so you have to be concerned about how long he will wield a steady big bat. But 2011 was a hot season for him. He batted .300 with 22 homers and 84 RBIs. Just do it once more, the Cardinals ask. Lifetime Beltran’s average is .283 with 302 homers and 1,146 RBIs, 1,184 runs scored and 293 bases stolen.
Interestingly, at his advanced age, Beltran hit three home runs in a game for the first time in his career with the Mets last May. Pretty good day, too, with three 2-run shots. As well as he was playing, Beltran was probably surprised to be shipped to the San Francisco Giants in mid-season. The Giants need hitting, so it is equally as surprising they didn’t work harder to hold onto Beltran for 2012.
Apparently tired of moving around, Beltran demanded a no-trade clause in his contract with the Cardinals.
Beltran, a one-time American League rookie of the year, has been an All-Star six times and won three Gold Gloves. If he can maintain his production he will be a key asset for the Cardinals in the ever-changing National League Central Division where the Brewers will lose Prince Fielder and the Reds underachieved last year.
He is the type of piece that can help keep the Cardinals in contention for the playoffs for a year or two. After all, St. Louis did win the National League pennant and the World Series in 2011 and just because Pujols split they are not giving up on baseball there. The Cardinals may not be the big spenders the Yankees and Red Sox are, but St. Louis’ savvy baseball fans always demand the best product on the field and they know if the team is working hard to build a winner or not.
St. Louis fans were hurt and angry whenPujols left them behind, but there doesn’t seem to be a backlash against team officials, as if the fans recognize him going west wasn’t really their fault. Signing Beltran is a good-faith effort by the club to demonstrate that one player era may have ended, but the good baseball era in St. Louis has not.