It’s true: the Cardinals without Albert Pujols is like Corn Flakes without the milk. It’s like the Colts without Peyton Manning. It’s like Oney Guillen without his Twitter account.
But it could happen. Pujols has set a February 19 deadline to strike an extension deal with the Cardinals, and reports say the two sides will need a lot of steam to iron out these differences.
A recent article by Fox’s Ken Rosenthal says that Pujols wants to be recognized as the premier player in baseball, with a contract in excess of Alex Rodriguez’s 10-year, $275 million deal.
However, with Pujols now 31, the Cardinals have to weigh his immense value against the potential downward arc of his career as he approaches his mid to late thirties. Then there’s the financial handcuffs they might wear for the duration of a deal, and the potential for injury, and the pressure to generate revenue if they reach an agreement, and on and on.
One thing is clear—if Pujols walks, it won’t be the end of the Redbird world. There are options for replacing Pujols, and while none of them has the cachet that Pujols wields in the Gateway City, they could keep the Cardinals moving forward after 2011...
After signing Fielder to a one-year, $15.5 million contract this offseason, the Brewers appear poised for a run at a 2011 NL pennant.
Their payroll will again be the highest in Brewer history, at roughly $90 million, and they will have the two highest paid Brewers in team history with Fielder and Zack Greinke ($13 million for 2011).
However, the Brewers lost money last season, when they also had their highest payroll in team history and finished below .500. It therefore seems unlikely they would keep Fielder unless the team’s financial and baseball fortunes changed dramatically in 2011.
By now, it is common knowledge that GM Doug Melvin dangled Fielder this offseason in trade offers but found nothing suitable in return, making there no reason not to think he would do the same near the trade deadline if the Brewers aren’t contending in late July.
At 28, Fielder would likely command a contract approaching the five-year, $125 million deal given to Ryan Howard in 2007. However, unless he or Pujols re-signs before the 2011 season ends, he will enter free agency as the highest profile “Plan B” in MLB history and a suitable replacement should Pujols leave for greener pastures.
By now, the Mets' preposterous financial situation should be clear to all MLB fans. If it’s not, it will be soon.
Multiple reports tout the Mets as on the hook for nearly $1 billion following a lawsuit filed in December by the trustee for investors in financial schemes developed by Bernie Madoff. Look no further than the Mets’ lackluster offseason moves for proof that the purse strings have been tightened in Flushing.
Meanwhile, Reyes had his one-year option picked up by the Mets this offseason, and there is no sign that talks have progressed from there. Like Pujols, Reyes has said he won’t talk contract during the season, which is fine because the Mets don’t appear to be talking contract with anyone any time soon (except maybe Chris Young, their primary offseason signee).
At 27, the luster is off for the one-time can’t-miss star. Reyes has battled injuries and a thyroid issue for two years running, meaning he likely will not command the astronomical contract other 2012 free agents will seek.
By the way, Ryan Theriot will likely start at short for the Cards to begin the season.
Gonzalez never did get around to signing the multi-year extension he and the Red Sox appeared headed toward when they pulled the trigger on the blockbuster trade last December.
While the pair seems like a perfect match, the Red Sox payroll already tops $170 million for 2011 without a deal for Gonzalez in place.
Rumors have circulated with respect to a verbal agreement between the two sides. However, if April 1 rolls around without an announcement, the looming dual free agencies of Pujols and A-Gon will be a major story in 2011.
While it is extremely unlikely that either slugger would be traded during the season, both teams would progress without a net should their free agents be inclined to walk. If the Cardinals are looking at 2012 options at 1B, Gonzalez would be a perfect replacement for a departing franchise player.
Cleveland GM Chris Antonetti has twice denied reports that he is shopping two of the three highest-paid Indians ($13.5 million to Travis Hafner? Seriously?).
However, the Tribe is more cash-strapped than a Madoff investor, and they are going nowhere fast in the AL Central (except fourth place).
It has been speculated that the duo would likely be traded if they perform well in the first half. A Cardinals team anticipating saving money in 2012 by not signing Pujols might be willing to pull the trigger on a deal that could move Lance Berkman out of the everyday outfield and let Carmona fit in behind Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter.
Of course, the Cardinals would have to part with a top prospect, such as hard-throwing righty Shelby Miller. But it could be worth it to make a one-year run for a club that has sniffed the playoffs only once in the last four years.
I know—hear me out on this one.
Cano is under contractual control with the Yankees for three more years, by which time he’ll be 30. He finished third in the MVP balloting last year and is the best hitting 2B in the baseball, one-quarter of MLB’s best and most ridiculously paid infield.
Cano recently hired Scott Boras to be his agent, indicating the intention of going after Mark Teixeira/A-Rod money. While the Yankees are not likely to shy away from a good negotiation, what are the odds they would rather not pay their starting infield $85 million per year?
While it’s likely that that is not a bridge they will cross until 2013, things could look different by next offseason. Cano is capable of—how should we say it—taking a year off (ahem, .715 OPS in a healthy 2008).
If the Yankees decide the Ivan Nova/Sergio Mitre experiment hasn’t gone as planned, they might take a stab at a veteran/prospect combination like Chris Carpenter (club option in 2012) and Shelby Miller.
Rollins might be an underwhelming option to replace Pujols, but coming off three straight declining seasons, he would likely come at a reasonable price and would immediately fill the holes at shortstop and leading off that the Cardinals suffered through in 2010 (I’m looking at you, Skip Schumacher and Felipe Lopez).
The 2007 MVP is 33, coming off leg injuries and has seen his OPS steadily drop by 180 points in the last three years. The Phillies will certainly want to keep him in place for their 2011 run, but there’s a decent chance he will walk after the season ends.
A healthy Rollins would improve the top of the order for the Cards.
Nobody would say that a closer is a suitable replacement for one of the two greatest Cardinals in team history. But an All-Star closer who ranks among the best in the game would be a start.
Nathan has a club option in 2012, and if the Twins find themselves in third place in July with a healthy Matt Capps in a setup role, they might be willing to deal the hard-throwing closer for prospects.
Nathan is a durable back-end star who saved at least 36 games in seven consecutive years prior to 2010. His comeback this spring from a case of the Tommy Johns will be closely monitored, like Sizemore’s in Cleveland. If Nathan returns to a semblance of his pre-injury form, the Twins could look to deal him—just not in the American League.
Bautista is a bona fide free agent after 2011 and would command a big contract following another year as chief baller for the Blue Jays.
Bautista connected for 54 HRs in 2010, nearly doubling his five-year career total going into the year. He could be Luis Gonzalez, or he could be Brady Anderson. So how to pin down the contract he’ll want in 2012?
Bautista may not be the superstar he appeared to be at times in Toronto last year. However, he would signal a substantial upgrade over David Freese and may come at a reasonable price at the trade deadline if he appears headed for free agency and the Blue Jays appear headed for fourth place.
The premise goes that the Cardinals will have money to spend if they are not spending it on Pujols. But if Pujols walks, they are also dropping $16 million off the books at one position.
Meanwhile, the Rangers have decisions to make too. After giving $96 million to Adrian Beltre, they will have to decide on an extension for Hamilton.
The reigning MVP is a hit machine, a batting champ and a Silver Slugger in CF. He also has a history of injuries and addiction, and the Rangers might not be willing to give the almost thirty-something outfielder a nine-figure extension when questions linger regarding his endurance.
A desperate Cardinals team might be following the 2011 season, which would allow Berkman or Matt Holliday to move to 1B so Hamilton could assume a corner outfield spot.
History may show that the Phillies merely rented Oswalt for a couple of playoff runs. The Phillies will pay just over half of Oswalt’s 2011 salary, and with a $16 million mutual option looming in 2012 and Cole Hamels and Jimmy Rollins approaching free agency, it would be a reach to assume Oswalt will be a Phillie beyond this year.
Meanwhile, it seems that pitching might win championships after all. Assuming the Cardinals paid attention to the pennant runs authored by the Giants and Rangers last year, they may be focused on redirecting some cash flow toward the mound.
A Wainwright/Carpenter/Oswalt-led rotation (assuming the Cards re-sign Carpenter after this year) could reposition them for some post-Pujols success in 2012.