Archive for December 9th, 2011

The Captain Says Goodbye To The Mang

Wow, so I guess I picked a bad time yesterday to post my blog!

The outpouring over the last 24 hours regarding Albert Pujols leaving the Cardinals has been deafening in St. Louis.  Reactions have been all over the map, but civilized and calm for the most part.  St. Louis fans just are not the jersey burning type.

Before the season I had mixed feeling about the thought of Pujols leaving the Cardinals.  But after the way things went down in 2011, I feel 100% positive about the outcome.  I realize that there are far too many column postings today on the subject, but nevertheless I want to cover the topic for Friday 5.

Top 5 Reasons I’m Glad Pujols Is Leaving The Cardinals.

1.  To be The Man you gotta pay The Mang

While it’s true that the Cardinals took a chance on a young Albert, and invested heavily in him in subsequent years, they got a decade of Pujols under market value in return.  At some point Pujols decided that if he was going to be the best player in baseball then he should be paid accordingly.  And if he was chasing the last dollar, it was never going to be in St. Louis.

From what I understand, Albert set the salary discussion with the Cardinals at A-Rod’s 10 year, $252 million contract.  The Cardinals consistently offered less, so he went out and found someone to give him just a bit more, $254 million.  It a business move that I can’t disagree with no matter how I look at it.  He proved he was the best in the game and now he’s reaping the benefits. Expecting Albert to take a discount just to stay with the Cardinals is a fantasy of bygone years.

2.  The Cardinals couldn’t afford him and a playoff team.

Back in 2004 the Cardinals signed Pujols for eight years at $110 million.  In return they received the best years of a Legend’s career and two World Series Championships.  It was a remarkable deal for St. Louis, much in the same way that resigning him now would be a terrible deal in the future.  As a medium size city, St. Louis can’t hand out the contracts that big cities like New York and Los Angeles do regularly.  Even if the Cardinals were able to sign Albert for their 10 year $210 million offer, he would have severely handicapped the team in the latter part of this decade.  Many people I know feel the same way, so no need to continue with this point.

The part that I think doesn’t get enough attention is the wisdom of signing a guy in his thirties to a huge ten year contract for a first baseman in the National League.  First off, this deal only makes sense in the American League because they have the designated hitter.  The chances of him staying on the field at first base for the next decade are troublesome.  However, several late-30s early 40s type sluggers have found success at DH-ing, and I think Albert will too when he’s at the tail end of his career.

Second and more importantly, I just don’t agree with having the first baseman as the highest paid player on the team.  First base and right field are the easiest positions to play, and are usually filled by hitters who can’t field.  The minor leagues are filled with young guys who can clobber the ball but suck at defense.  They get stuck at first base most of the time.  Why teams pay top dollar for an easy fielding position is beyond me.  I’d rather see the Cardinals invest in a tough fielding position with a guy who can hit for power.  A slugging second baseman like Chase Uttley is far harder to find than a first baseman with power. 

3.  Albert found an ideal location for the rest of his career

Besides the allure of the DH, moving to the American League means Pujols gets to take advantage of their pitchers for a few years.  Plus, he now has a shot to be only the second player ever to win an MVP in both leagues.  But my personal favorite is that he can still continue his reign of terror and Minute Maid Park when the Astros move to the American League West in 2013.

But besides the game, Los Angeles seems like a good fit for Albert and his family.  I’m guessing the sizable Latino population in southern California will enjoy watching him every nite.  And now he can abandon his quest to master the English language by giving his postgame interviews in Spanish.  But perhaps most significantly, Albert and his family can just blend in with all of the other stars in California.  St. Louis is a notoriously tough place to live if you are rich and famous; we follow the big fish around our little pond till they eventually leave.  Maybe he just wanted to go out for a family dinner without the whole restaurant staring at him like they do here in St. Louis.

4. On the whole, the 2012-2021 Cardinals are better off without him

2012 was already going to be a tough year for the Cardinals, coming off of a Championship Season with a rookie manager.  Handcuffing payroll with his contract would be a large burden to an already winning team.  And as luck has it, the Cardinals already have a spare All-Star first baseman in Lance Berkman.  Now instead of splitting time in right field with Allen Craig, the Puma can have first all to himself.  And now the Cardinals can spend some of the $25 million they would’ve paid Pujols on getting a legit shortstop or second baseman for a change.  And if Craig doesn’t pan out in right field, there are plenty of high paid outfielders that could be had for the right price. 

The Cardinals have a good core of guys like Freese, Wainwright, Holliday and Garcia to build around for the next several years, and that would be much tougher with Pujols on the team.  With first base open for much of the rest of the decade, maybe the Cardinals can finally invest heavily in the farm system that originally yielded All-Stars like Pujols and Molina.  Three trips to the World Series in eight years proved that the Cardinals can win with a middle of the pack salary cap.  Now they can stick to that plan and keep showing up those big market clubs!

5. It was time for a change.

I started following baseball again seriously when I moved back to St. Louis in 2001.  What great timing!  Watching Pujols’ rookie year on through the next eleven seasons has been an amazing experience.  But now I’m honestly ready to watch something new again.  Winning a Championship followed by losing a legendary player and legendary manager is the perfect way to end an era.  This clean break will forever save those years as a special place and time.  And as much as I enjoyed what I’m sure I will remember as the Tony & Albert years, I’m just as excited to watch the next chapter in Cardinals baseball.

And now the rest of America will see more of what St. Louis has loved for so long.  Moving to L.A. will give him the kind of exposure he never received in the Midwest.  It’s only been 24 hours, and he’s already gotten the Taiwanese Animation treatment!

Bottom line is that this decision was the best for everyone involved.  When it’s all said and done, I believe that Albert will enter the Hall Of Fame wearing a Cardinals cap.  I look forward to attending the retirement ceremony for his number 5 at Busch Stadium years from now and remembering The Mang and the decade of dominance that he gave St. Louis.  Thanks Al.


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