What should the St. Louis Cardinals do with Albert Pujols?

Before I start this article, I would like it to be known that I love Albert Pujols and think he is going to be one of the top 5 players of all-time when it’s all said and done.  I think most St. Louis Cardinal Fans, including myself, would hate to see Mr. Pujols in another uniform.  But, since we’re not the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Philadelphia Phillies, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, and a few other teams that have a chance to hit or miss with large contracts, the question has to be asked. 

The Cardinals have payroll limitations.  Here are all the MLB team payrolls for 2010 per CBS Sports.

2010 Team Payrolls
No. Team Payroll Average    
1. New York Yankees $206,333,389 $8,253,336    
2. Boston Red Sox $162,747,333 $5,611,977    
3. Chicago Cubs $146,859,000 $5,439,222    
4. Philadelphia Phillies $141,927,381 $5,068,835    
5. New York Mets $132,701,445 $5,103,902    
6. Detroit Tigers $122,864,929 $4,550,553    
7. Chicago White Sox $108,273,197 $4,164,354    
8. Los Angeles Angels $105,013,667 $3,621,161    
9. Seattle Mariners $98,376,667 $3,513,452    
10. San Francisco Giants $97,828,833 $3,493,887    
11. Minnesota Twins $97,559,167 $3,484,256    
12. Los Angeles Dodgers $94,945,517 $3,651,751    
13. St. Louis Cardinals $93,540,753 $3,741,630    
14. Houston Astros $92,355,500 $3,298,411    
15. Atlanta Braves $84,423,667 $3,126,802    
16. Colorado Rockies $84,227,000 $2,904,379    
17. Baltimore Orioles $81,612,500 $3,138,942    
18. Milwaukee Brewers $81,108,279 $2,796,837    
19. Cincinnati Reds $72,386,544 $2,784,098    
20. Kansas City Royals $72,267,710 $2,491,990    
21. Tampa Bay Rays $71,923,471 $2,663,832    
22. Toronto Blue Jays $62,689,357 $2,089,645    
23. Washington Nationals $61,425,000 $2,047,500    
24. Cleveland Indians $61,203,967 $2,110,482    
25. Arizona Diamondbacks $60,718,167 $2,335,314    
26. Florida Marlins $55,641,500 $2,060,796    
27. Texas Rangers $55,250,545 $1,905,191    
28. Oakland Athletics $51,654,900 $1,666,287    
29. San Diego Padres $37,799,300 $1,453,819    
30. Pittsburgh Pirates $34,943,000 $1,294,185    

The Cardinals sit at 13th, with a payroll close to $93.5 million.  I know this might not be entirely accurate, considering in season pickups and other variables like September call-ups, but it gives us a good idea.  4 of the playoff teams this year had a higher payroll than the Cardinals, and 4 with a lower payroll than the Cardinals.  As of tonight, the San Francisco Giants will play the Texas Rangers in the World Series.  The Giants have a payroll of about $98 million while the Rangers have a $55 million dollar payroll.

The Giants are going to the World Series without a high priced bat in their lineup, and with their highest paid starting pitcher (Barry Zito) not pitching.  Aubrey Huff is making $3 million this year, while Pat Burrell is at the end of a contract that pays him $9 million this year.  The Rangers have struggled for years with having a great lineup and not nearly enough pitching, but by adding a dominant starter to go along with some other solid starters, have finally advanced.

I’m sure there are plenty of Giants fans that thought after Barry Bonds was gone, they were in trouble.  I think a lot of Cardinals fans think the same way if we get rid of Pujols.  Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez, Madison Bumgarner and other young stars had quieted that belief.  I’ve been thinking about this for quite some time, and here are my reasons for bringing the subject up.

1.  The Cardinals don’t appear to be ready to raise the payroll significantly, and by resigning Pujols, the Cardinals are going to have somewhere between $40-45 million tied up in 2 players over a many years, with a majority of those years Pujols and Matt Holliday will be in their mid to late 30’s.

2.  What kind of team can the Cardinals put around Pujols and Holliday, assuming the payroll stays around $100 million.  That leaves 23 players dividing up somewhere between $55-60 million, an average of $2.5 to $2.8 million per player. 

3.  What chances would the Cardinals be passing up as far as low-cost prospects that have a high ceiling? I’m pretty certain the Cardinals could get most teams top 3 or 4 prospects for him, and would getting cost controlled players give the Cardinals a better chance of winning over the long haul.

4.  What if Pujols gets injured or his production drops off dramatically.  I think you have to at least think about it.  If they do resign him and a serious injury results, could they really be competitive by having that amount of money tied up in someone not playing?

5.  Would it just be better to split up the $22 to $30 million per year among a couple of positions so that if there is an injury, that injury is more easily addressed?

6.  What about Adam Wainwright, Yadier Molina, Jaime Garcia, Colby Rasmus and other players that will have to be addressed during Albert’s contract?  Will we be able to keep most of these guys, some of these guys, or constantly have trade them or let them walk?

7.  Should the Cardinals just be happy with the discount years they’ve had with Albert Pujols and move on without him?  For what Pujols has done, he’s been a bargain every year.  Is it possible he could continue to produce at his past level much longer?  I just don’t see how.  Players age, bat speed slows down, injuries happen.  If he had his next 10 years like his first 10, he would have over 800 home runs, something no one has ever accomplished, and I think injury and age have a lot to do with that.

In closing, I just don’t know if the Cardinals should sign him.  I know he’s a 5 and 10 guy now, and trading him wouldn’t be easy, but I think they should take a look at it unless they can come up with a contract that won’t hamper the organization long term.  I love Albert Pujols, but I love the Cardinals as a team more.  Don’t we all feel the same?  I would hate to see him play for another team, but I would hate more for the Cardinals to be hamstrung like the Orioles were with the Albert Belle contract. 

If the Cardinals are not going to raise the payroll significantly, then things could get ugly in a few years.  I think building around Matt Holliday, Colby Rasmus, and dominant starting pitching would be enough.  I’m curious to hear your thoughts and why.  Thanks for reading.

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