St. Louis Cardinals: Mad Albert?


Time goes by like pouring rain: There may not be the glamour in being a platoon outfielder that there is in being Albert Pujols, but somebody has to wrestle 250 plate appearances away from Lance Berkman for the good of the team. Enter Allen Craig, a 26-year-old, right-handed hitting outfielder, who’s fit for the part. Craig has hit AAA pitching well and consistently the last two years — averages of .322 and .320, slugging percentages of .547 and .549 — but his major league experience has been limited to 114 mediocre at-bats. Someone has to be the next Matt Diaz, and there should be no shame for Craig if that’s his career ceiling.

I feel I’m knocking on heaven’s door: The Cardinals seem to like their third baseman old — they held off on David Freese’s debut until he was 26 and they’ve helped prolong Matt Carpenter’s career by making him visit seemingly every stop in the system. Carpenter is 25 as he begins 2011 and coming off a .316, 64-walk season in AA. He has one more stop in AAA in 2011, but if nothing else, he projects as a reasonable platoon complement to Freese.

What is this man doing here? It’s one thing to extend infielder Tyler Greene an invitation to spring training as a courtesy before sending him off to a season on AAA infields. It’s another to use a spot on the 40-man roster to protect him. Yet there Greene is, one of the Cardinals’ first 40, with a .222 career average and .625 career OPS. Previously, his task was to make Brendan Ryan loook good by comparison. He excelled at that. Now he’s competing with Nick Punto for the backup infielder’s position. Sometimes, there just are no good options.

Outlook:  Albert Pujols may not want to spend the next eight months talking about his contract status, but a lot of other people do. And will. It’s hard to believe the Cardinals made such a mess of this; if it’s true they offered Pujols about what they signed Matt Holliday for, then they handled it with all the deftness of how they’ve handled their shortstop position. Pujols was always going to take $30 million a year for many years to sign — get it over with.

Too bad, because the Cardinals should have the best team in the NL Central. They have the best front-line starting pitching — Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright and Jaime Garcia — and the best front-line talent — Pujols, Holliday, Coly Rasmus.

But they’ve allowed themselves to be undercut by their lesser talents, and 2011 might be no different. New shortstop Ryan Theriot is better than Ryan, but not by much, and they’re still waiting on Kyle Lohse. Their offseason moves — Berkman and Jake Westbrook — were curious, at best.

The Cardinals should win the division, but they might not, and Pujols’ contract is only one of the reasons why.

Update: Reports say Wainwright is on his way back to St. Louis for X-rays on his elbow, which are expected to reveal he’ll miss 2011 and need Tommy John surgery. All of a sudden the Cards’ rotation doesn’t look nearly as good. Hello, second place. Or third. 

Remember when: Baseball’s most unassuming star, Stan Musial, turned 90 last November; last week he was one of 15 recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. No one ever made the fuss over Musial that they did over Joe DiMaggio or Ted Williams. Perhaps they should have.

Musial had 3,630 hits, a lifetime .331 average and .976 OPS. He slugged .559 for his career — in 1948, he slugged .702 (39 homers, 46 doubles, 18 triples). That season he led the NL in average (.376), runs (135), hits (230), doubles, triples, RBIs (131), slugging percentage, on-base percentage and OPS. From 1948-1954, he never batted less than .330. Not Williams’ numbers, perhaps, but pretty good.

A link to a Stan Musial documentary, and an interesting note, courtesy of Bob Costas, to Musial’s 3,630th hit.

Next: Cincinnati

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