Possibly the biggest free agent signing in baseball history came this past off-season when the Angels signed Albert Pujols to a 10-year, $254 million deal. When I say that this was maybe the “biggest free agent signing ever,” I am not talking about money, although this contract ranks second all-time behind A-Rod’s $275 million deal with Texas. By “biggest free agent,” I am talking about the caliber of player that Albert Pujols is.
Pujols will no doubt go down in baseball history as one of the best players of all-time. He is the only player ever to:
- Hit 30 home runs in each of his first 10 seasons in the MLB.
- Hit 400 home runs in his first 10 seasons in the MLB.
- Drive in over 100 RBI’s in each of his first 10 seasons in the MLB.
- Hit over .300 in each of his first 9 seasons in the MLB.
In addition to those records, Pujols also has 2 Gold Glove awards under his belt. That, and all of those records, came while wearing a St. Louis Cardinals uniform. Along with setting those records, he also led St. Louis to two World Series titles. I think it is fair to say that he is one of the most beloved players in Cardinals history, if not the most beloved. Now, he is wearing an Angels uniform. Most people thought that this would be a HUGE blow to the Cardinals, and for good reason! How are they supposed to recover after losing one of the greatest players in MLB history? Who takes his place?
Well, to try and somewhat replace the offense that they lost in Pujols, the Cardinals went out and signed outfielder Carlos Beltran, who will turn 35 later this month. Heading into this season, Beltran had a lifetime batting average of .283 with 304 home runs, 1149 RBI’s, and 294 stolen bases. It would be safe to say that he is nearing the end of his career and that his numbers should steadily start to decrease. Contrary to that common belief, Beltran, along with the Cardinals, have gotten off to a red-hot start this season.
After winning the World Series last year (with Pujols), the Cardinals have started this season 4-1. Beltran has started his season hitting .333, with 3 home runs and 4 RBI’s (Beltran’s numbers include today’s game, which is still in progress). Needless to say, those are better numbers than Pujols has been able to put up so far this year. I’m not saying that Beltran has “replaced” Pujols or that he will have a better season than Pujols, but he has done just what the Cardinals have wanted him to do so far.
The Cardinals signed Beltran with the hopes that he might hit 25-30 home runs, and drive in around 90 runs. If he is able to put up those types of numbers, then I’d say St. Louis has a very good chance at winning the Central Division.
It seems to me like the Cardinals always sign a player who appears to be “washed up,” and then he goes out and has one last big year in St. Louis. Larry Walker and Lance Berkman are the two most notable players who signed with St. Louis towards the end of their careers and went on to have big seasons, with Berkman hitting .301 with 31 home runs, and 94 RBI’s last season. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least bit if Beltran had his last big season this year. The coaching staff in St. Louis has been one of the best in baseball over the last 10 years or so, in large part due to Tony La Russa, and they are always able to get their players to perform at high levels, regardless of the players’ ages.
I guess the main point that I am trying to make is that the Cardinals seemingly always make the right moves when it comes to free agent signings and trades. Their front office and coaching staff deserve a ton of credit for what that franchise has been able to do over the last decade.
So with that said, do not be surprised one bit if the Cardinals go out and have a great season this year, despite the fact that they are now without Pujols. They are a team full of winners who know how to do just that; win.