More than the loss of an individual player, the Albert Pujols situation worried me that this may be the beginning of the end of the Cardinals being able to compete in Major League Baseball at a high level.
I think we've all known for quite some time that the Cardinals can't afford to bid for top free agents. Simply put, if the Yankees, Mets, Angels, Dodgers, Cubs, Phillies, Red Sox want a guy, the Redbirds aren't going to get him. Those clubs can simply offer a contract the Birds can't reach and hold all the best players for themselves. And all the mediocre players they fancy, too.
We were counting on Albert Pujols' willingness to play here for less to keep the Cardinals in the top tier of baseball. And if he wasn't willing to do that, what major free agent who didn't already play for St. Louis is going to be willing to do so?
I know a lot of folks think the Cardinals are going to be just fine without Pujols. But I really question how much offense the team will be able to muster without him in 2012. I'm worried about how the replacement of Pujols at first base with Lance Berkman will hurt the defense. And I am especially concerned with the 2013 roster because at the end of next season Yadier Molina will be a free agent, the aging Berkman will be a free agent and all those cheap, productive players like David Freese, Jon Jay, Allen Craig and Jason Motte will be farther down the road of arbitration and not so cheap.
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Why does everyone seem to think that Allen Craig, who has just more than 300 major league at bats under his belt across two seasons, will simply double his production numbers and maintain his .300 batting average if he is allowed to play twice as much? Does it cross peoples' minds that maybe part of the reason he hit so well is that he was only exposed to pitchers and situations against which he was likely to succeed. As he is exposed and pitchers learn more about his weaknesses, it is reasonable to believe that his production could suffer.
Besides, the Cardinals have built their offense for the last decade around Pujols as the centerpiece. By subtracting him, opposing pitchers can pitch around Berkman and Matt Holliday, kicking the resposibility for driving runs down to David Freese, Molina and Jon Jay.
Also the defense, which hasn't been the Cardinals' strong suit the last few years, and the loss of Pujols is going to make things much worse. Berkman is a much weaker defender than Albert at first base. Allen Craig is a pretty weak outfielder who will now start in right field. Holliday is a below average defender in left. Freese is a poor defensive third baseman. Of course, we don't know who will play short, second base or even centerfield with certainty at this point.
To sum it up, the Cardinals have a lot of work to do. And I'm not sure they're in a position this off-season to fill all the holes.