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It's not often that a team can brag about having a returning Most Valuable Player on their roster, but the Cardinals can do that. And they didn't even make the playoffs last year.
One of the questions going into the Cardinals 2009 season is what will Sir Albert do for an encore after winning the NL MVP last season? And, perhaps more importantly, who is backing up Big Al in case his elbow finally (or ever) gives way.
It's obvious that Albert Pujols might be the best player in the game, if he isn't getting your automatic vote. He was pretty durable last season, playing 148 games, and doesn't show any signs of slowing down. That's pretty brutal for National League opponents. Just to flex the evidence, peep his .357/37/116 line from last year.
Pujols, at 29, may start getting the occasional rest day even more often from manager Tony La Russa, who likes to keep El Hombre fresh even when he's playing well. Backing up Albert might be any number of suspects. Joe Mather and Chris Duncan, who were both injured last season, have played first base, and so have both Jason LaRue and Yadier Molina, the two catchers on the roster.
Although there isn't a designated backup for Pujols, the Cardinals have plenty of options. The only relevant story line is about Albert's health. If he plays 140 games, the Cardinals have one of the best first base set-ups in the majors. If he struggles, his replacements are universally a step backwards.