Not ones to let sentimentality get in the way of shrewd business decisions, the St. Louis Cardinals passed up the chance to pay Albert Pujols $25.6m a year for 10 years, and will instead pay a combined $42m for Matt Holliday ($17m), Carlos Beltran ($13m) and Lance Berkman ($12m). It is not a bad trio of aging sluggers: Holliday turns 32 before the 2012 season starts, Beltran will be 35 in April and Berkman 36 in February.
Still, they posted respective OPS' of .912, .910 and .959 in 2011, hit a combined 75 home runs, and the Houston Astros only had 95 last season. All three of them might be a little gimpy from time to time with the odd trip to the disabled list, but how Astros fans would do for at least one of them, never mind three in their present lineup. Shorn of Hunter Pence, Michael Bourn and perhaps Carlos Lee before the season starts in April, their most productive hitter to remain on the team from 2011 might be utility man Matt Downs.
And remember (and this is the part which should make you sick), if we fail to move Carlos Lee, we're paying him more ($18.5m) than the Cardinals are paying either of their three big bats individually. If you ignore Lee's ridiculous defensive metrics numbers from 2011 and just look at his offensive numbers he did not do too badly. His OBP nearly nudged .350 as his BB% was up from 2010's 5.7 to 9.0. Aided by a .279 BABIP his BA was roundabout where you would expect it to be. For a number six hitter, paid a reasonable amount of money, any team would be happy enough with him.
I enjoyed reading Derrick Goold's piece in the St. Louis Post Dispatch when he talks about Beltran and reminisces about the 2004 NLCS between the Cardinals and the Astros. In what was one of the best series I've ever seen, and one that would have gained far more attention had events in Boston and New York not have overshadowed it, the Cardinals squeaked to victory in an enthralling seven games. Had the Astros not had to throw Pete Munro to start two games instead of a healthy Andy Pettitte, I am confident the outcome would have been somewhat different.
Anyway, the article points out how amazing both Beltran and Pujols were in that series, putting up respective slash lines of .417/.563/.958 and .500/.563/.1000. They scored 22 runs between them, drove in 14 runs, hit 8 homers, drew 12 walks and combined for 51 total bases. Beltran even swiped four bags too, and made an amazing catch during the seventh inning of Brandon Backe's Game 5 masterpiece.
The Astros, who did rather well against the Cardinals in 2010 were bashed about in 15 games against the Redbirds losing 10 of them. In 2012, their last year in the NL Central, they might lose even more. Of the five, three were started by Redbird killer Bud Norris, two by Wandy Rodriguez. In 10 starts Norris has a 2.37 ERA against St. Louis, and he is one player the Cardinals will be happy to see the back of after next year.
Lastly, imagine for a second if the Cardinals were a huge market franchise and money was no object, what would their team be like if they had signed both Pujols and Beltran this offseason? Wouldn't that be a behemoth of sluggers to behold. But then they would be setting themselves up for the fall. The Astros may be leaving Beltran and Berkman behind, but they can look forward to many long tussles with Pujols in the AL West over the next nine years of his contract.
Now let's just pray Roy Oswalt and Brad Lidge don't follow suit....