If first baseman Albert Pujols leaves the St. Louis Cardinals this offseason, then the franchise will get over it. But if he departs for the Chicago Cubs, then all bets are off.
The Cubs haven’t tasted the postseason in the past three years. Their last postseason trip ended in a 3-0 sweep by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2008.
The Cardinals, on the other hand, have competed in the postseason two of the past three years, and are doing so in 2011.
While the Cubs are the Cardinals’ biggest rival, the rivalry hasn’t been as sexy as in recent years, as the Milwaukee Brewers and Cincinnati Reds have outplayed the Cubs the past two seasons.
But oh the places this rivalry would go with Pujols as a Cubbie.
If Pujols left for Chicago, it would be like if Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter departed for the Boston Red Sox.
Pujols is the Cardinals’ franchise player, as Jeter is for New York, and the Cubs are St. Louis’ biggest rival, as is the case with the Yankees and Red Sox.
It just cannot happen from the Cardinals point of view.
But it just might.
Chicago’s current first baseman, Carlos Pena, was on a one-year contract. And given his massive struggles at the plate in 2011, most notably his .225 batting average, it can be presumed the Cubs will look elsewhere to fill their void at first base in the 2012 offseason.
Pujols is the No. 1 option on the market, in front of Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder. That means Pujols will have plenty of offers, and that there will be a team that will meet his demands.
It very well could be the Cubs.
This rivalry becomes fierce—fiercer than it already is—with Pujols in a Cubs uniform. It escalates itself, at least for the 2012 season, to the position as the most interesting in baseball—regardless of whether or not the Cubs are actually any good.
But the acquisition of Pujols by the Cubs would make than more relevant than they were in 2011. And the departure of Pujols would bring the Cardinals down a notch.
The replacement for Pujols could come from in-house for St. Louis. Current outfielder Lance Berkman, who’s signed for the 2012 season, can also play first base—better than he can outfield anyways.
With Pujols’ replacement potentially taken care of, the Cardinals would have the financial ability to throw money at a big-time free agent. They could make a run at New York Mets shortstop Jose Reyes, or fill the first base void with Fielder and leave Berkman in the outfield.
Whatever the Cardinals do to replace Pujols, it won’t completely compensate for Pujols’ departure.
First, there’s the sentimental value. The St. Louis fans are attached to Pujols. He came up through the organization and was one of their guys.
Second, there isn’t a better-rounded hitter in the game of baseball. In his 10-year career, Pujols has never hit below .299, less than 32 home runs, or driven in less than 99 runs.
If Pujols bolts St. Louis for Chicago, then the return to St. Louis would be exciting to say the least. It won’t be like when Miami Heat forward LeBron James returned to Cleveland to face the Cavaliers…but similar feelings will be present in some St. Louis fans’ hearts.
If Pujols takes the ultimate leap and betrays his Cardinals faithful, it will bring new life to a down rivalry.
If Pujols takes the ultimate leap to Chicago it will crush the hearts of St. Louis fans.
If Pujols takes the ultimate leap to St. Louis’ No. 1 rival, then all bets are off. The Cubs and Cardinals become the Red Sox and Yankees for 2012.