Since the St. Louis Cardinals won their 11th World Series in late October, the baseball world has witnessed many major moves and risky contracts — and that was with the big-money Yankees and Red Sox staying fairly quiet. From power sluggers leaving the NL Central to power arms moving east, there were many winter changes that will have a long-lasting effect on the 2012 campaign and beyond. Here are nine of the most important hot stove happenings:
Six strong candidates, but only four allowed on the mountain
MLB Mt. Rushmores
by Charlie Miller
We believe that all MLB teams should have their own Mt. Rushmores. Who are the four individuals that have risen above all others for each organization? The question sounds simple. Even two guys sitting in a bar can figure that out, right? Not so fast. Let the arguments begin.
St. Louis Cardinals Mt. Rushmore
The Mt. Rushmore for the team nearest and dearest to my heart also proves to be the most difficult for me to select. There are six strong candidates — five Hall of Famers and one who will be — and a handful of others who would make most teams’ mountains. One of the most storied and tradition-laden franchises in baseball, the Cardinals have enjoyed more success than any other National League team. They won six World Series and lost three in the 21 seasons from 1926-46. Since that time, it’s been a little bit of every-other-decade success for the Redbirds. No World Series appearances in the 1950s; three in the ’60s, winning two. None in the ’70s; three in the ’80s, winning one. None in the ’90s; two in the ’00s, winning one, before winning another in 2011. With 11 titles, the Cardinals rank second all-time, a distant second behind the Yankees. The organization has been loyal to managers. Since 1965 (47 seasons), only four men — Red Schoendienst, Whitey Herzog, Joe Torre and Tony La Russa — have managed more than 91 percent of the Redbirds’ games. Obviously, the discussion begins with Stan the Man. Musial is the No. 1 name on all Cardinals fans’ lists. After that, it becomes a tough choice.
Stan the Man is on the short list for MLB’s Mt. Rushmore, and no doubt would be a unanimous choice among Cardinals fans. Musial dominates the Cardinals’ all-time leaderboard, even leading in triples. He spent his entire career in St. Louis and remains an icon. He made 24 All-Star teams, was MVP three times with four runner-up finishes, won seven batting titles, is fourth all-time in the majors in hits, second in total bases, ninth in runs and sixth in RBIs. That’s quite a resume. He also was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor that can be bestowed on a civilian.
Gibson had as intimidating a mound presence as any pitcher ever. The menacing righthander spent his entire career with the Cardinals and was instrumental in the three pennant winners in the 1960s. There are the two Cy Young awards and 1968 MVP, but Gibson’s World Series performances were off the charts. In three Series he made nine starts with nine complete games, going 7-2 with a 1.89 ERA. He had 92 strikeouts in 81 innings and a 0.889 WHIP.
Known for his stolen base records, Brock was much more than a one-dimensional player. Other than establishing season and career stolen base records, Brock had 3,023 hits — 2,713 of them with the Cardinals. He scored 1,427 runs for St. Louis and drove in 900 runs in his career, 640 of them from the leadoff spot. He is as beloved in St. Louis now as the day he retired.
The Wizard came to St. Louis in 1982 as a .230-hitting defensive shortstop and retired as one of the greatest shortstops to play the game. During his 15 years in St. Louis, Smith made 14 All-Star teams, won 11 Gold Gloves and even a Silver Slugger in 1987 to go with his runner-up finish in MVP balloting. He had 1,944 hits, 991 runs and 433 stolen bases for the Cardinals in addition to saving more than 1,000 runs with his glove.
Had this stone mountain been carved a year ago, Albert Pujols would have been likely included. Had he re-upped with the Redbirds and finished out his career in St. Louis, he no doubt would have ended up on the mountain. King Albert completed the most astonishing 11 seasons in team history in 2011.
It’s equally painful leaving off Rogers Hornsby, one of the best hitters in the game prior to 1930. From 1921-25, the Cardinals’ second baseman averaged .402 with 29 homers, 120 RBIs and 123 runs. But by most accounts he wasn’t the most popular teammate and he bounced from team to team after spending 12 years in St. Louis to start his career.
During the 1980s and ’90s, Red Schoendienst was always alongside greats Musial, Gibson and Brock donning red blazers at every major Cardinal event. In addition to his Hall of Fame career, Red managed a couple of pennant winners in the 1960s and remained an influential presence as a special coach for several years after his managerial career ended.
In terms of popularity and impact on the franchise, Whitey Herzog deserves consideration. He took over a franchise in 1980 that was drawing just over one million, had drug problems and hadn’t won in 11 years. Over the next decade, “Whiteyball” accounted for three World Series appearances, lifted attendance to three million for the first time and turned the franchise down the path it travels now.
August “Gussie” Busch Jr. bought the team in 1953, and nurtured it as an iconic franchise that became Cardinal Nation, bringing six pennants and three World Series titles in the 1960s and ’80s.
For his emotional post-9/11 speech alone, Hall of Famer Jack Buck deserves some mention as the Cardinals’ long-time broadcaster.
When Dizzy Dean was in his prime, he was right there with Babe Ruth as the biggest star in the game. It was just short-lived.
Follow Charlie Miller on Twitter @AthlonCharlie or email him Charlie.Miller@AthlonSports.com
Offseason changes add to senior circuit’s pitching depth, teams’ expectations
—by Mark Ross
Similar to the American League, this offseason has seen plenty of changes when it comes to the pitching staffs in the National League. Trades and free agent signings have not only impacted rosters, but have been made in hopes of shaking up the standings in Major League Baseball's Senior Circuit.
Will Albert Pujols' former team or current team be the first to win it all?
by Charlie Miller
With Albert Pujols signing with the Los Angeles Angels, ending his 11-year tenure in St. Louis, just how much does that swing the balance of power in baseball? While the Cardinals are coming off their second World Series title in six years, even with Pujols they would have not been a favorite to win again in 2012. But how far does Pujols’ defection knock St. Louis down the pecking order in the National League? The NL Central isn’t exactly the toughest division in baseball.
And how much do the signings of both Pujols and starting pitcher C.J. Wilson push the Angels up the depth chart in the American League? Are those two signings enough to tip the scales to L.A. in the AL West? Remember, two-time AL champion Texas resides in that division. And with the strong AL East — eight of the last 10 AL wild card teams have come from the AL East — winning the division is the only realistic shot at the postseason if you play in the Central or West.
So, who wins the World Series first, St. Louis or the Angels?
The Case for St. Louis
St. Louis has a few loose ends to tie up in order to lock up some key players, but World Series hero David Freese, clean-up hitter Matt Holliday, rising star Allen Craig, centerfielder Jon Jay, starter Jaime Garcia, prospect Shelby Miller and essentially an entire bullpen are locked up for the next four years or beyond. And at relatively reasonable prices. Ace Chris Carpenter, who was one of the Redbirds’ postseason heroes last season, is signed for two more years. So not only do the Cardinals have a proven core in place, but there remains enough payroll flexibility to fill holes.
Now back to the “loose ends.” They hold the key to the Cardinals’ next five years. Catcher Yadier Molina can be a free agent after 2012 and Adam Wainwright is signed through 2013. Getting extensions done for Molina and Wainwright will keep the Cardinals squarely in the hunt in the National League.
They may not be the odds-on favorite to win any single season, but as we’ve seen over and over again, once teams reach the postseason, the season resets enough for any hot team to win. Were the Cardinals really the best team in baseball in 2011? No. Not even the best in the National League. They squeaked into the playoffs courtesy of the Atlanta Braves on the final day of the season. Having an ace in Wainwright and stalwart Molina behind the plate gives the Redbirds a terrific opportunity to reach the postseason. Then anything can happen.
The final loose end is securing one more first baseman/outfielder. Not only for 2012 while the Cardinals wait for Craig to return from knee surgery, but for 2013 and beyond after Lance Berkman is presumably gone.
It’s easy to see how the Cardinals can be in the hunt in the NL Central for the next several seasons. The reigning champion Brewers are about to lose Prince Fielder and MVP Ryan Braun is facing a 50-game suspension. That’s a huge blow to the lineup in Milwaukee. It remains to be seen how quickly the Cubs can become contenders again, but at this point there are no real signs of improvement. They lost their best hitter from last season and have two ugly contracts (Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Zambrano) strangling their payroll. I suspect new president Theo Epstein will right the ship soon, but I don’t see the Cubs becoming a juggernaut in the near future. The Reds can be contenders, but they face payroll constraints and must deal with the impending free agency of Brandon Phillips after 2012 and former MVP Joey Votto after 2013.
Let’s face it, there are no dominant teams in this division, leaving an opportunity for St. Louis.
What could go wrong
St. Louis is beginning a new era, and not simply because No. 5 is no longer hitting in the No. 3 hole. Tony La Russa is no longer in charge in the dugout. Rookie manager Mike Matheny is the new sheriff in town and has little experience. While Matheny played a role in the development of both Molina and Wainwright, both could leave just as Pujols — a close friend of Molina — did this winter.
And what if Matheny just isn’t ready? Having a veteran pitching coach in Dave Duncan in the dugout and experienced Jose Oquendo still on the staff provides some kind of safety net. But if Matheny falters badly, the franchise could be set back a few years. The bullpen, which was much maligned early last season, became a team strength down the stretch. But counting on arms like Jason Motte, Eduardo Sanchez, Fernando Salas, Lance Lynn and Marc Rzepczynski could prove to be fool’s gold. And what if Freese’s World Series performance turns out to be the peak of his career?
There are certainly no guarantees, far from it. But the Cardinals will continue to put themselves in position to make the playoffs for the next several seasons. And that alone gives them a shot at winning the franchise’s 12th championship.
The Case for Los Angeles
Right off the bat, any team with Albert Pujols in the lineup and a rotation that features Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, C.J. Wilson and Ervin Santana has a chance. A very good chance. Wilson, the ace of rival Texas the past two seasons, is arguably the No. 3 starter on this staff. That gives the Angels a pretty good chance to win three out of every five games. Manager Mike Scioscia can’t ask for much more than that. And certainly Pujols, in addition to adding pop in what has been a punchless lineup the last few years, makes every spot in the order better. Weaver, Wilson and Pujols are locked up for the next five years (10 for Pujols). That’s a terrific core to build from.
And with the Angels’ $150 million per season broadcast deal with Fox for the next 20 years, there will be no payroll constraints, even given the enormous deals currently in place. So re-signing necessary parts like Haren and locking up rising stars like Mark Trumbo and Mike Trout are entirely possible.
What could go wrong
The bullpen could falter, costing the rich rotation wins at the price of having to throw more innings than necessary.
The 25-year-old Trumbo, who led the Angels with 29 home runs and 87 RBIs last season, must find a new position. Of course, DH makes some sense, but what will that mean for Bobby Abreu, to whom the Angels have committed $9 million in 2012? Trumbo has played some outfield, but one of the strengths in recent seasons has been the outfield defense. Moving Trumbo to third is risky as well.
How do the Angels fill in the lineup around Pujols? During most of the second half last season, Abreu, Hunter, Trumbo and Wells batted 3-6 in the Angels’ order. Let’s assume Pujols is slotted at No. 3 and Trumbo becomes the DH. That leaves Hunter, Trumbo and Wells as protection for King Albert in the lineup. That’s hardly Lance Berkman and Matt Holliday protection. So, Pujols may see 45 intentional walks this season, and get Jose Bautista treatment, in that no one pitches to him with runners in scoring position. And Pujols showed the propensity to become impatient and to get himself out at times this past season, unlike in his previous 10 seasons. If the Angels turn into a one-player lineup, it may not matter how stingy the rotation is, the Halos may not be able to score enough.
The Angels must make prudent decisions in free agency. With a hefty payroll, the team will rely on signing free agents in building a team over the next few seasons. That puts pressure on GM Jerry DiPoto to build quickly, while Pujols is still in his prime. And that prime may last only another 5-7 years.
Scioscia is one of the best managers in the game. He relishes the National League style of pitching, defense and speed keeping pressure on the defense. Now with a big bopper at his disposal, the manager will squeeze every ounce possible out of this lineup.
We’ll see both of these franchises in the playoffs regularly for the next decade. But winning the World Series? That is all a matter of getting hot at the right time. With their young talent locked up contractually for the next few years, and having the postseason experience from 2011, the Cardinals will have more talent and stability on the roster, which gives them the slight advantage. St. Louis will reach the promised land before the Angels do, but neither team will be an overwhelming favorite in the next few years.
Cardinals fans should feel pretty good that their team dodged a financial bullet
DALLAS, Texas — Let me start with this disclaimer: I am a St. Louis Cardinals fan. There I said it. It’s out there. The walls in my office are decked out with newspaper front pages of the Cardinals’ World Series victories and all things Redbird red. As I write this, a banner hangs over my shoulder with the St. Louis Cardinals logo and the 10 dates of their World Series titles (I haven’t taken it to a seamstress yet to get 2011 added. I need to put that on my to-do list.)
Signing the best player in the game to a long-term deal is not a no-brainer.
by Charlie Miller
Question: Would you rather be the GM that allowed Albert Pujols to walk? Or would rather be the GM, who seven years from now, will be associated with a contract that is crippling an organization?
That, in a nutshell, is the dilemma for St. Louis Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak. There are no shortage of stories from writers citing this source or that source saying Pujols is close to reaching a deal with the Miami Marlins, or the St. Louis Cardinals, that the Chicago Cubs are squarely in the mix and even the Los Angeles Angels are in the hunt. And I’m sure they are all true, to a certain extent.
However, the decision rests with the Cardinals. They know what it will take to convince Pujols to finish his career in St. Louis. They know the dollars and they know how many years they must guarantee. And St. Louis ownership appears committed to the cause of keeping King Albert in Cardinal red.
But is the price worth it? Seven years from now, as Pujols approaches 40, there could be another three years of guaranteed salary if the contract is for 10 years. That is a tough pill to swallow. Unless, of course, you plan on being the general manager of another organization by that time, then of course, it doesn’t matter to you.
It appears the Cardinals and Pujols are on the cusp of reaching an agreement. All will be smiling, as will fans from every corner of Cardinal Nation.
But the follow-up question to the one above is: Will the next five years of Albert being Albert outweigh the next five years of an aging star approaching 40 and carrying an albatross of a contract?
If Pujols begins to show signs of age, gets injured or we discover that his 2011 season has become the norm rather than the anomaly, this contract will quickly strangle the organization. And that is a real possibility.
In order to answer either of the questions we’ve posed here, you must determine whether you are signing the player whose 10-year average production was off the charts, or the 2011 player whose numbers were merely above average.
Last season Pujols had 14 fewer doubles, four fewer homers, 24 fewer RBIs, hit 32 points lower and saw his OPS drop by 0.144 from his 10-year averages.
It says here that Cardinal fans are getting what they’ve clamored for (re-signing Pujols at any cost), and the front office is getting what it fears (an aging star’s astronomical salary hamstringing the team in seven years).
Of course, by that time, Pujols will have cemented his legacy in St. Louis much like Derek Jeter has in New York and will own numerous records, and potentially be within reach of 763 home runs. But it will take another World Series title to make this a PennyWise contract, rather than a DollarFoolish deal.
The Cards slugger is going to land somewhere soon, here's a few different possibilities
Albert Pujols is dominating the MLB hot stove headlines right now. One of the greatest players in baseball history (who has never tested positive for steroids) is now a free agent and is testing the waters to haul in a giant payday. Reports have surfaced that the Miami Marlins, St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs have offered Pujols a 10-year deal.
St. Louis can enjoy Albert Pujols one last time in Game 7 of the World Series.
by Nathan Rush
Albert Pujols’ last game as a St. Louis Cardinal is Game 7 of the World Series. The stage is set for a Michael Jordan or John Elway hero’s exit. But instead of retiring a champion, Pujols will dive into the free-agent pool in search of a 10-year, $300 million contract.