Admit it. Y’all have already huddled around water coolers, in break rooms, or gathered for drinks after work to discuss the state of the Cardinals more than once recently and discussed bringing back Berkman, Albert’s contract, and/or the state of TLR’s mental health. That’s all well and good, but how many of you did your homework and looked up the numbers to back up your answers? Forget all that, because I’ve done the work for you. Throwing around real numbers and stats doesn’t make you “right”, but it’s the difference between “plausible” and “outlandish”, and I’m shooting for something just south of “plausible” and just east of “ridiculous”. So sit back and take a ride on the Q&A train to a place henceforth known as “Plausidiculous”.
- Will Albert Pujols return? Yes, and he’ll do it for the loyalty, the people, and most importantly the money. Wut? Yep, don’t think for a moment that the money won’t be there. There is a huge difference between what the Cardinals CAN pay Albert and what they WANT to pay Albert. If they don’t bring back Chris Carpenter, they CAN pay Albert $30M a season, but they would probably much rather limit the damage to something closer to $20-21M. I’d put the walk line closer to $25.0M a year and the final price tag at about $22.5M per. Why? Because I don’t think any other competitive team is going to offer Albert more than that, and I certainly don’t think that they will offer him the number of years that the Cardinals will. Also, I don’t completely buy the argument that the Yankees are out of the equation just because they have Mark Teixeira at 1B. Jorge Posada and his $13.1M come off the books after this season, and Mariano Rivera‘s $15M is off after 2012. Juggling Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, and Pujols at a combination of 3B, 1B, and DH would be pretty nice.
- Should the Cardinals bring Pujols back? Yes, they should bring him back for the right contract. Anything longer than 6 guaranteed years is too long, and option years with performance triggers aren’t unreasonable. Getting creative with those triggers could make it interesting for both parties, too. For example, Albert’s year 7 could get triggered, if after year 4 either he finishes in the top 3 of the MVP voting, or the Cardinals make the playoffs. That gives him 2 different routes, and 1 of them is tied to team success.
- Can the Cardinals afford to bring Lance Berkman back in 2012? Yes, but that might be the only splurge the team can make, and they would be limited to internal solutions for a lot of other slots, and that would include middle infield. If the team picks up the options on Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina, then it will have $56.625M committed to just 6 players for 2012 (Molina, Wainwright, Matt Holliday, Jake Westbrook, Kyle Lohse, and Jaime Garcia). Toss in the $22.5M for Albert, and we’re talking about $79.125M for 7 players so far. Let’s say that Berkman wants a 2 year deal for $25M, so his 2012 figure is $12M. Yeah, that’s a lot of money, but some team would pay it. That pushes the Cardinals to $91.125M for 8 players. After you add in guys like Mitchell Boggs, Lance Lynn, Kyle McClellan, Jason Motte, Marc Rzepczynski, Fernando Salas, Daniel Descalso, David Freese, Allen Craig, Eduardo Sanchez, Tony Cruz, and Jon Jay, the total payroll is closer to $98M for 20 players. If the team picks up Chris Carpenter‘s option, then it will theoretically be at around $113M, 21 players, and in need of a couple of middle infielders. Keep your fingers crossed that Tyler Greene shows something in September, because the opening day payroll for 2011 was around $109.4M, and I doubt that it will go significantly higher for 2012. The good news is that $113M isn’t outlandish, and that’s a scenario that includes all options being picked up. It also doesn’t include any help coming up from the minor leagues, so anything that comes through the talent pipeline will be a bonus.
- Should Willie McGee‘s number be retired? No. I’m a huge Willie McGee fan, and I’ll be the first to admit that my golf swing with a pitching wedge looks a lot like his baseball swing against a good curve ball. Every time I replace my divot I think of McGee (in a good way). He may belong in the Cardinal Outfield of Fame, the Stl. Popularity Contest Top 10, or the All-Time Favorite Cardinal Team, but even those things are debatable, and none of them warrant the retirement of his number. The only retired numbers in franchise history belonged to Ozzie Smith, Red Schoendienst, Stan Musial, Enos Slaughter, Ken Boyer, Dizzy Dean, Lou Brock, Jackie Robinson, Bruce Sutter, Bob Gibson, and August Busch. By comparison, the team boasts nearly 40 HOF players in its history, so the retired number club is much more exclusive. Despite his defensive play and speed on the bases, I can’t get past these career lines: .292/.348/.382/.730 & .295/.333/.396/.729. One belongs to Willie McGee, and the other belongs to Skip Schumaker. Sorry, Willie.
- Is there anything exciting to look forward to in the September callups? Yes, all of them. Every single one of the September callups represents relief for tired arms/bodies, potential trade fodder, or a future big league asset. In the case of someone like Adron Chambers or Andrew Brown, the Cardinals may have their next inexpensive outfielder in the relatively near future. Chambers is a potential leadoff guy and an actual CF, so his arrival at the major league level would allow the Cardinals to switch Jon Jay back to RF (or even trade Jay). After watching nearly a full season of Ryan Theriot and Rafael Furcal, I’m actually interested in seeing what Tyler Greene and Pete Kozma can do with the shortstop position for a month. If one of them can hit with some authority or steal some bases while playing reasonably good defense, I’d take them over FurRiot next season, because price matters (see question 3).
- Is Chris Carpenter worth the $15M option for 2012? No. The ERAs for Lohse, Garcia, and Carpenter are 3.72, 3.73, and 3.76 respectively. Lohse has a much lower WHIP, but Carp has thrown significantly more innings. It’s unlikely that he’s going to improve greatly between now and 2012, so why spend $15M for innings? Remove emotion from this decision if at all possible. Maybe it’s worth trying to restructure the option, but what if CJ Wilson hits the free agent market and is available for $15-17M a season? The answer is simple. Get greedy and go after both and try to make the numbers work.
- Who should play SS for the Cardinals next season? Someone not named Ryan Theriot. The value pick is Tyler Greene, because Rafael Furcal‘s option is $12M. Heck, his buyout is something like $1.3M. Sure, Greene is much maligned for his inability to strike the round thing with the wooden thing, but he can at least cover a lot of ground. His 0.6 UZR (6.1 UZR/150) might come in handy with all the pitchers the Cardinals have who allow the round thing to be struck by the wooden thing with great frequency. By comparison, Furcal has a -2.8 UZR and -7.6 UZR/150. The longshot pick here is Kozma, because he might be better at making the wooden thing contact the round thing, especially if he’s given the opportunity to start without having to look over his shoulder constantly. A weak bat at this position isn’t a horrible thing, because it’s not like the Cardinals can’t score runs. Speed at this position would be a plus, though.
- Is TLR to blame for the Cardinals missing the playoffs? Ultimately, he deserves some credit and some blame, but he is not the primary reason the Cardinals have a double-digit deficit in the NL Central. The team simply lost too many games to injuries for their collective talent to overcome. The moment Adam Wainwright was injured, the Cardinals lost several games off of their projected win ceiling, and their margin for error was completely eliminated by a shaky bullpen. By the time the right parts were put into place in the bullpen, it was far too late, even though the starting pitching has been relatively good despite not having a true ace. Consider that the 5th most productive player (by WAR) on the team is Allen Craig, and he only has 161 plate appearances this season. The 6th most productive is Nick Punto (1.3 WAR), and he only has 131 plate appearances. That indicates that some of the more productive players have been injured a lot, and the healthy players just haven’t been as productive as needed. Sure, TLR deserves some blame for his reliance on guys like Batista and Rhodes (3 consecutive days, really?), but players like Rasmus and Pujols failed to blow the top off the place early in the season as well. Maybe he did stick with Ryan Franklin a bit too long, but that doesn’t account for all the walkoffs. There is plenty of blame to go around in that department.
- Should Fernando Salas be the closer next season? Yes, but his workload needs to be managed. He’s pitched 61 2/3 innings in 55 appearances, but he’s only had 27 save opportunities since becoming the closer. He’s blown 5 saves, and 3 of those have come in his last 10 appearances, so fatigue may be a factor as well as unfavorable game situations. He’s not exactly coddled by TLR, so he doesn’t always get the benefit of entering the game with a clean slate and nobody on base. Perhaps what is missing is a structured role model for the bullpen in which each reliever knows what to expect in terms of situational selection. As it currently stands, there really is no preferred “8th inning guy” or true “lefty specialist”, so the lack of role definition and uncertainty may not be helping Salas. If Salas is the closer, then he needs to be handled like a closer. Treat him like the best arm in the pen, and pitch him when the game is on the line.
- How is the Prince Fielder / Albert Pujols free agency spectacular shaping up? Very round with very, very bulbous bobbleheads. Seriously, I’ve maintained all along that the most natural place for Prince Fielder to play is Chicago, because his swing is just built for Wrigley. With the wind blowing out, he could check his swing and put one at least into the ivy. The Cubs could also pay him truckloads of money. However, I wouldn’t totally count out Milwaukee at all, because Fielder is already making $15.5M this season. If Milwaukee could somehow structure a deal to keep 2012 low and ramp up starting in 2013, they could keep Fielder and keep payroll down once the Wolf and Greinke deals come off the books. Replacing the 2 wouldn’t be easy, but Wolf would be 35 after the 2012 season, and Greinke hasn’t exactly been as good as advertised this year. Also, the Brewers already have Ryan Braun, Rickie Weeks, and Corey Hart locked in for a while, so the lineup around Fielder would be set for several years to come. As for Pujols, I can only imagine just how much a team like the Angels, Giants, or Cubs may covet a player like him. Even his off year of 2011 would represent a huge upgrade over what they have at 1B right now. However, which team will be ready to throw out a $170-$200M offer after the Cardinals’ exclusive bargaining period ends? It may just be my take, but if you are the Angels or Cubs and make that bet, it’s worth it for 4 or 5 good years of Pujols as long as he helps deliver 2 or 3 playoff runs during that time. Once you consider the marketing side, it’s probably a no-brainer, especially for a guy who will most likely hit his 500th hr relatively soon. He also has a reasonable shot at 600 as well (he’s at 439 now).
TIDBIT: For the Cubs, it’s probably worth making a solid offer just to up the final price the Cardinals are forced to pay Pujols, and that’s just smart business.
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