After winning the World Series, St. Louis Cardinals fans expect Albert Pujols to return to his throne in Busch Stadium. However, the recently announced retirement of Tony La Russa could shake things up under the arch.
Tony La Russa is the only manager Pujols has had in the major leagues, and their relationship is of the "father-son" type. With La Russa's departure, maybe the Machine would like a fresh start as well.
What the Cardinals should be considering right now is not only re-signing Pujols, but knowing what they will have and what they need to do if he doesn't return to the Redbirds.
There is no one who will be able to fill the cleats of Albert Pujols in St. Louis.
However, with the front office they have, the Cardinals could very well find a way to remain one of the best teams in baseball.
Here are the guys who could be at first base for the World Champions in 2012.
Mark Hamilton isn't a guy who should be the starting first baseman in St. Louis, but he could certainly get the job if the Cards don't make an effort to bring anyone in.
The 27-year-old showed some promise in the minors but has looked horrible at the major-league level. Hamilton played 38 games in 2011 with the Redbirds and batted .213. He struck out in just over one-third of his at bats.
Based on a small sample size, the Cardinals might continue to give Hamilton a look. He did hit .345 at the AAA level in 69 games, after all.
Regardless, this would be the worst choice to start at first in 2012. Mark Hamilton seems like more of a career bench guy or a veteran hanging around the minors.
The Cardinals signing Carlos Pena may be a bit of a stretch, but it is still in the realm of possibilities.
If the Chicago Cubs don't re-sign the slugger like he hopes they do, the Cardinals could be waiting in their post-Pujols era.
Pena signed a one-year, $10-million deal with Chicago before 2011 and, although he hit just .225 with 28 bombs, the left-handed 33-year-old was a team leader and great asset on the diamond.
There is no denying that Pena is one of the best fielding first basemen in the league, and Albert's glove wouldn't be terribly missed.
Carlos Pena would serve as a temporary solution for cheaper than $10 million. The Cardinals could use a left-handed bat who could hit between between St. Louis' great right-handed hitters.
Matt Adams is a player the baseball world should take note of. Drafted in the 23rd round of the 2009 draft, Adams has abused the minors and is starting to prove scouts wrong.
Coming into 2011, the now first baseman wasn't listed near any top-prospects lists.
Don't expect the same before 2012.
This past year, Adams batted .300 with 32 homers and 101 RBI in 115 games with the Springfield Cardinals (AA).
He has a big bat and a big 6'3", 230-pound frame, which is ideal at first base.
The Cardinals have a history of moving players quickly through AAA, and we could see the same with Matt Adams. If he continues to show this level of play, the 23-year-old could be in a St. Louis uniform by mid-May.
Although Michael Cuddyer is 32 years old, the utility player is coming off of one of his best seasons as a pro.
In an All-Star year, the 11-year veteran hit .284 with 20 HR and 70 RBI. As a result, he is one of the top first basemen available.
Like Pena, Michael Cuddyer could serve as a short-term solution for relatively cheap on the market. The Cardinals could certainly afford the $10.5 million he made this year with Minnesota.
Lance Berkman made the most of an opportunity in St. Louis, and Michael Cuddyer could do the same in 2012.
Before the 2011 season, it looked as if Lance Berkman's career was winding down.
The Cardinals saw an opportunity.
Berkman signed a one-year deal with St. Louis and has looked like his old All-Star self. "Big Puma" finished with 31 homers, 94 RBI and a .301 average in 145 games for the Redbirds.
He proved to be an important asset on their championship run. On September 22, Berkman signed a one-year extension worth $12 million.
It is easy to believe he would take over at first if Pujols was to leave, as the Cardinals have the depth to replace Lance Berkman in right field.