Don't look now St. Louis, but here comes the Florida...oops, I mean the new look, new stadium, make it rain, talents-to-South-Beach Miami Marlins trying to get beloved patron saint, key-to-the-city slugger Albert Pujols to go LeBron on you and leave town. Just as quickly as that flared up, it wore down and the Miami-Pujols romance seems to be on the skids as the fish signed left-handed pitcher Mark Buehrle.
Miami floated a 10-year offer to Pujols, reportedly worth in excess of $200 million. This is after they signed closer Heath Bell, shortstop Jose Reyes, and acquired Ozzie Guillen as manager. My gut is telling me that that team is headed for dysfunction. This was once a lean and mean organization which has won two titles despite never having a payroll over $60 million. Now they're floating $200 million to one player while having two All Star caliber shortstops on the roster. You wouldn't run your fantasy team like this!
But enough about Florida. What happens next for the Cardinals and their other question marks? Here are the other Cardinals free agents:
Octavio Dotel - RP
Rafael Furcal - SS
Edwin Jackson - SP
Gerald Laird - C (signed with Detroit)
Corey Patterson - RF
Nick Punto - 2B
Arthur Rhodes - RP
Let's go around the horn.
Laird is gone and I don't think Matheny will be suiting up, so the Cards need a backup. Guess what, Ivan Rodriguez is available and unsigned. Crazy Ivan...Pudge. However, he's probably too competitive to sit simmering on the bench, but I could be wrong. I like Chris Snyder from Pittsburgh here.
Update: I should have waited one more day to write this--obviously I was wrong about Pujols! Well, this frees up money for Prince Fielder here but that's another bidding war waiting to happen. I wonder what they will do. Berkman can play 1B, but you're still missing a big bat in the lineup. They may do nothing. Their pitching staff is pretty strong. They don't need to score Yankees-style runs. I'll give it more thought.
Miami is now reportedly out of the running. The Cardinals have reportedly upped their offer to $220 million over 10 years. The Angels, Cubs, and at least one other "mystery" team are also in the running, but the Cubs deal seems to be between four and five years. I really feel the Cardinals are going to win this out because I think most people agree that even $220 over 10 years is a high price tag for a player who will be 41 when the contract is over. The Angels and Cubs just don't seem that reckless.
According to a report, it looks like the Cardinals have commited to Daniel Descalso as their second baseman for 2012. St. Louis plans to non-tender Ryan Theriot.
Rafael Furcal played only 50 games last year and batted poorly in the post season (.179 in the World Series). He's currently a free agent. Nick Punto is a free agent, so let's keep him out of the discussion. That brings up Tyler Greene, former first round pick who has been mired in the minors most of his career.
The Cardinals have been rumored to be interested in Philadelphia free agent Jimmy Rollins, or Atlanta's Alex Gonzalez. I tend to think Rollins is overrated, but it's not much of a decision if it comes down to him or Alex Gonzalez. Still, Gonzalez can probably be had cheap, but he's pretty much a bottom-of-the-order hitter rather than lead-off as Furcal usually played. However, Rollins has wheels, and as I'll show, the Cardinals have a huge need here.
Allan Craig picked a bad time to get screws put in his right knee. I know, it's not his fault, he went hard into the fence at Minute Maid Park in Houston (what a crazy stadium). He's out 4-6 months and will probably be on the DL for opening day. With Pujols gone, Berkman might be asked to play 1B leaving a spot in the outfield. There are actually quite a few decent free agent outfielders available. My favorite is Juan Pierre, a guy who is always underrated, and a prototypical Cardinals style leadoff guy--doesn't strike out a lot, can lay down a bunt, can steal, plays hard.
The top of the order was really a question mark even with Furcal and his 50 games. Over 162 games the Cardinals batted .254 from the lead-off spot. So let's say Furcal is not re-signed or is too old or is too injured. This leaves a hole at the top of the order. The Cardinals were led in steals by Tyler Greene, with 11. St. Louis had the second fewest stolen bases in baseball last year with 57 (Detroit had the fewest at 49), so they need some wheels for the top spot.
You could go with Ryan Theriot or Skip Schumaker there, assuming the platoon at second base anyway and keeping the rest of the lineup pretty steady. Scrappy players they might be, but they are hardly fire starters, which is yet another reason why Rollins might be a nice fit here.
Edwin Jackson, the team's #5 starter, is a free agent, but the Cardinals are gaining back Adam Wainwright after his being out last season to Tommy John surgery.
OK the Cardinals have Marc Rzepczynski. He was pretty tough out of the bullpen in 2011, striking out 61 in 62 innings with a decent 3.34 ERA. Arthur Rhodes was used less frequently with only 33 innings (4.64 ERA). Rhodes is a free agent this season, so let's assume the Cardinals pass. I like Atlanta free agent George Sherrill here.
Overall, I think the Cardinals still look sound. A Pujol-less batting order might be something like this:
1. Jay - CF
2. Schumaker - RF
3. Holliday - LF
4. Berkman - 1B
5. Freese - 3B
6. Molina - C
7. Daniel Descalso - 2B
8. Tyler Greene - SS
Obviously Jay, Shumaker, and Theriot can all be juggled around, and Rollins would really solidify the top of the order. I feel like the role players the Cardinals had were used to their maximum with Tony La Russa. I don't expect as much from Matheny, so a strong leadoff hitter would probably suit the team well. I put Pierre at the bottom because it's a long shot. But he'd be a nice fit.
Starting pitching I think will be very strong, and the Cardinals still have pitching coach Dave Duncan. La Russa and Duncan also orchestrated the bullpen very well, and the Cardinals may want to think about adding another left handed arm.