The Albert Pujols Thing

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Tony LaRussa‘s going year-to-year as manager and has a 2012 option—he’s going to be back; Chris Carpenter is turning 37 and Lance Berkman 36; the Cardinals have exercised their 2012-2013 contract options on Adam Wainwright; Marc Rzepczynski is far from free agency and has potential as a starter; Jaime Garcia is locked up at a reasonable rate.

The only player on the roster who has a super-long, super-expensive contract is Matt Holliday who’s signed at $17 million per until 2016.

Yadier Molina‘s contract is up after next season and they have to keep him, but apart from that and the “Albert Pujols thing”, the team is set and they’re going to contend in 2012…even without Pujols.

It’s unfathomable to imagine Pujols in a different uniform than the Cardinals red, but there’s always that small possibility that he’ll leave. I’ve said forever that Pujols isn’t going anywhere.

And he’s not.

But what if he does?

What could the Cardinals do?

They could do plenty.

They could shift 2010 top draft pick, third baseman Zack Cox to first base; they could move Berkman to first and sign Michael Cuddyer; they could make a trade; they could keep Edwin Jackson and sign Jonathan Papelbon to have a devastating rotation backed up by a dominant closer; they could sign Jose Reyes to make up for some of the lost Pujols offense in a different way.

Could, could, could…

As long as the Cardinals have LaRussa and Dave Duncan and the core of players—especially the pitchers—they currently have, they’re going to be competitive sans Pujols.

That money allocated to Pujols—$20-25 million per year—would fill multiple holes with high-end players.

And Pujols has as much invested in the Cardinals legacy as they have in him; maybe more.

Would he want to muck with the Joe DiMaggio aura and his aesthetic by having teams other than the Cardinals on the back of his bubblegum card to make a few extra dollars?

It wouldn’t be as attractive as the “one team for his whole career” that is part of MLB lore.

The Cardinals need Pujols.

But Pujols also needs the Cardinals.

Examining it more deeply and with a ruthless and businesslike calculation, it just might be that Pujols needs the Cardinals more than they need him. Judging from their roster, their manager and the sudden availability of money to spend on other players, they’d win without him.

He needs to think about that before looking for the rumored Alex Rodriguez contract because as unthinkable as a Pujols-less Cardinals are, they could let him walk and still be very, very good.

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