Thursday, February 17, 2011

Sign Him, Don't Sign Him, Just Stop Yammering About It

Even as a St. Louis Cardinals fan, I'm sick of hearing about Albert Pujols' contract negotiations. Unfortunately, I highly doubt that just because he's through discussing it with the Cardinals until after the season, the media will stop discussing it. Really, I think it's the fact the talking heads keep blathering on when either they know nothing, or else there's nothing to know that bothers me. Let me know when the sides reach an agreement, whether it's a new contract, or a decision to part company. So naturally, I'm going to post about him now. Makes perfect sense.

At this stage, I don't even know if I want Albert to come back after this year. Yes, he's really good. Yes, he's probably going to start to decline, which means he'll be so good it can barely be comprehended by mortal minds, rather than being beyond comprehension. I'd rather have him on the team than not, but what worries me is what the rest of the team will look like around him. The Cardinals have a budget that they probably won't be too willing to increase. So if Albert's making 30 million a year, and the team's payroll sits at 120 million, that kind of limits their options.

If they were to fill in the roster with more young players (and if I thought they had viable options in the farm system), I'd be fine with that. I like watching young players, since they tend to have more enthusiasm, they're more unpredictable (for good and ill), and I can excuse their mistakes as growing pains. I'm not confident they'd take that approach. I'm not sure Albert would go for it. He seems pretty serious, and the young players might be unable to match his intensity. He's criticized Colby Rasmus, and may have been one of the veterans annoyed with Brendan Ryan. Then there's LaRussa to consider. I don't know how long he'll stick around, though Albert's presence would probably convince him to stay. Tony's certainly not adverse to using younger players, but his preference seems to be for the known quantity, even if the known quantity is terrible.

If they let Albert walk, can they replace his production? And what would be the best approach? Try to find a first baseman almost as good? Or accept that the new first baseman will be a major downgrade (but also much cheaper), and look for considerable (and probably costly) upgrades at other positions (second base, shortstop) to make up the difference? Money not spent on Albert is, in theory, money to spend elsewhere on the roster. Of course, having money doesn't mean it'll be spent wisely. Look at the Mets. or the Kyle Lohse contract. I can't believe I was reasonably satisfied with that contract.

The team could always pocket the money, go with a highly-reduced payroll, though combining that with letting Albert go would seem like a recipe for fan backlash. There are still plenty of Cardinals' fans ready to call Bill DeWitt cheap, though there's every chance the team would use local media to paint Albert as the bad guy, and the fans would eat it up. As I've said before, I'm consistently bothered by how LaRussa seems to emerge from every conflict he has with a player largely unscathed, with the player usually labeled as a problem or malcontent. Either he's a master media manipulator, or just very careful about which battles he chooses, selecting players to squabble with he's confident he can turn fans against.