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Angels could bedevil Cardinals in 2012

There’s been a lot of talk about the Yankees and the Red Sox — if their rumored contract extension for Adrian Gonzalez goes through — not having any room at first base for Albert Pujols should he become a free agent after the 2011 season.

But, besides the Cubs and Mets having the money and the space for an MVP-quality first baseman, there’s another club I’m pretty worried about as a contender for Pujols.



The Angels have thrown a ton of money at Adrian Beltre and Carl Crawford this off-season only to be jilted when Crawford signed with Boston and Beltre moved toward a deal (reportedly for six years and as much as $90 million) with the Rangers. Not only do the Halos have a lot of money  in their war chest, they have a disappointed fan base that increasingly views the home team as unable to land the big fish needed to put them back in contention.



Landing Pujols would make the So Cal natives a whole lot less restless. And he would do wonders to give the Angels a marketing edge over their crosstown rivals, the Brooklyn Dodgers of Los Angeles.



While I wonder if the Pujols clan would really want to uproot its children from suburban Missouri to take them to New York City, where Albert had a scary upbringing, it’s a lot easier to imagine the family being convinced that the year-round warm weather of Southern California would make it a good place to live.



It’s yet another reason for the Cardinals to have a sense of urgency when it comes to re-signing baseball’s best player — NOW!



2011 predictions



Speaking of Pujols, baseball prognosticator Bill James has released his projections for 2011. And it promises to be a big year for the prospective free agent. He thinks Albert will hit .321 with 43 homers and 126 RBIs. How will the other Cardinals fare? Matt Holliday is projected to hit .313 with 28 homers and 109 batted in while David Freese is expected to hit .295 with 16 homers and 85 batted in. Lance Berkman is expected to check in with a .275 batting average, 22 homers and 79 RBIs.



On the pitching side, Chris Carpenter is expected to have an 18-8 record with a 3.06 ERA. Adam Wainwright is expected to go 15-8 with a 3.37 ERA and Brian Westbrook projects a 13-11 record with a 4.00 ERA. Jaime Garcia is prognosticated to have a solid 11-9 mark with a 3.86 ERA while Kyle Lohse is expected to struggle to a 6-7 mark with a 4.54 ERA.



On the whole, I’d take those sorts of performances.



The Berkman factor



I wonder if the Redbirds’ early move to spend their free agent cash on Lance Berkman has hurt them from a publicity standpoint.



Last year at this time, we were all abuzz about Matt Holliday who actually signed a year ago for the then shocking amount of $120-million for seven years. (That seems pretty tame compared to the mega deals handed out this off-season to Crawford and Jayson Werth.) This year, the Hot Stove League Store was closed by mid-December and all that’s been left to do is stare out the window and wait for the Winter Warm-Up in mid-January.



In short, at this time last year baseball fans everywhere were talking about the Cardinals. This year, if they all weren’t frozen solid, you would hear the crickets chirp in Cardinals nation.

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