Are the Cardinals Better Off Long-Term By Allowing Albert Pujols to Leave St. Louis?
While it is tentatively believed that it was caught rather early in the process and he should recover before a big chunk of the season is missed, nothing can be deemed a certainty.
This sudden bad break can be added to the growing list of hurdles being thrown in the path of the St. Louis Cardinals during the 2011 season.
First came a tough contract negotiation with Albert Pujols that ended with nothing more than an agreement to disagree until after the season concludes.
Then the Cardinals were slapped with a season-ending injury to dominant ace and Cy Young candidate Adam Wainwright—a loss that I’m not sure any contender can overcome in a competitive division race.
Next was an injury to replacement ace Chris Carpenter that had placed the beginning of 2011 in question—though it thankfully turned out to be nothing more than a tweak.
Now St. Louis must face the realization of how quickly a season can go from all smiles to trepidation, and it’s becoming more and more clear how poor a decision Pujols’ $25-30 million per year would be for the franchise.
While the Cardinals fanbase is a loyal one and the organization is one of the most respected in the sport, they remain in a “mid-market” payroll threshold. They typically hover between $85 million and $100 million in total player salaries, and this is unlikely to change in the near future.
Pujols taking up between 25 and 30-plus percent of the payroll will limit their ability to place talent around him and will leave the team even more susceptible to injuries crippling their season (due to a lack of quality depth).
Instead of paying Pujols upwards of $300 million over 10 years, they can instead split that money up into five quality pieces on a playoff-caliber roster.
A farm system ranked anywhere from 17th to 24th in MLB (according to Baseball America and AOL Sporting News) will not provide quite enough cheap aid to compensate for the lack of additional payroll, and St. Louis would struggle to compete without receiving MVP-caliber seasons every year from their 30-something slugger.
Due to Wainwright’s uncertainty in terms of 2012 performance, they will likely have to pick up Chris Carpenter’s option in order to compete—further strapping their ability to sign quality free agents if retaining “The Machine.”
While St. Louis undoubtedly possesses a larger talent pool moving forward than Texas had in 2001, the general principles of why this can create an issue rang loud and clear.
Virtually no team can lose its ace and second-best hitter while continuing to contend, but the early misfortunes of 2011 are a clear reminder how much more it takes to win than one immortal offensive force.
Holliday will return before too long, and it is doubtful that his 2011 season will be derailed by this surgery. That said, injuries like these can ruin a team when it’s so dependent on the health and success of one high-salary player.
The Cardinals should take this as a wake-up call that as painful as it will be to watch Pujols walk out the door, letting him go may be the best thing for long-term success within the franchise.
Additionally, the Colorado Rockies won 92 games the year after letting Holliday walk, and the Florida Marlins have done well since Miguel Cabrera left town (even while getting little help from any of their young trade acquisitions).
The decision is a very, very difficult one—one that most fans will rightfully lash out against. At the end of the day, however, it is oftentimes the right decision for small- to mid-market franchises to move on.
The Cardinals have won a championship thanks to Pujols’ immense talent, but it may be time to try winning one without him after 2011.