Thoughts on Pujols in LA, and What it Means for St Louis as Well

Albert Pujols is leaving St. Louis for the rest of his baseball career.  He signed a 10 year deal with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for $240 million plus incentives that could push the contract to $265 million(and its back ending by paying him $30 mil for his age 41 season. Yikes!)  In addition he also signed a contract to immediately follow that one for 10 years/$10 mil for personal services.  This essentially means that Albert will be an Angel for the next 20 years and will probably go into the Hall of Fame as an Angel barring a disaster.  This contract is staggering and

could plausibly sink the Angels by the end of the deal, much like the A-Rod deal in New York.  But what does this mean for the two teams for the next season and beyond?

St. Louis Cardinals

The 2012 St. Louis Cardinals will open the year as reigning World Champions but everything will feel a little different.  Albert Pujols will be gone and attempting to replace some of his production will be a couple former Astros, and fierce rivals from 2004, Lance Berkman at first and Carlos Beltran in the outfield.  Berkman produced at near career-high levels with a .301/.412/.547 and a career high 166 OPS+.  He also accumulated a 5.8 WAR, some MVP votes, and 31 homers showing he still has power.  Now he moves back to a more natural fit at first base where he should be able to improve his defensive value after being barely watchable in the St. Louis outfield.  Carlos Beltran also experienced something of a career revival last season for the NY Mets and SF Giants, stroking doubles in the large gaps in both fields producing a .300/.385/.525 with a 152 OPS+ and 4.0 WAR on the year.  With the improvement in defensive production that Beltran is sure to bring over Berkman the Cardinals could actually get the same amount of production that the two positions provided last season.  The Cardinals will also get Adam Wainwright back, who was posting ERA+’s over 150 the last 2 years he pitched.  Even with some regression he hasn’t ever posted an ERA+ worse than 119 in his first season as a started and even that is markedly above the league average of 100.  With a full year of the revamped bullpen that pulled through time and time again in October and SS Rafael Furcal the Cardinals could reasonably expect to increase their wins next season, despite the loss of Pujols.

The outlook for the Cardinals in the future is a little more bleak.  The St. Louis Cardinals will be relying on one of the older rosters in the league as Furcal (34), Berkman (35), Beltran (34), Carpenter (36) are on the wrong side of 30 and Wainwright is just hitting that number.  There is some nice upside in terms of Allen Craig, David Freese (if he can stay healthy), Yadi Molina, and Shelby Miller looks like a power arm coming through the minors quickly, but overall the roster is led by older veterans.  The Cardinals beyond 2012 should be looking to get a little younger.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

The 2012 LA Angels have been the big spenders this off-season giving Albert Pujols the back loaded 10/$240mil deal in order to also sign free agent pitcher C.J. Wilson for 5/$77.5mil, which is also back loaded ending with $20mil being doled out for his age 35 season.  These two contracts, while massive gambles that both these players age gracefully, do improve the Angels greatly in the short term.  The 2012 LA Angels will boast what will probably be the strongest rotation in the American League.  It will go in some order Jared Weaver (career 158 ERA+ ), Dan Haren (119), C.J. Wilson (126), and Ervin Santana (101).  This is a fearsome foursome especially if Santana can reproduce his 112 ERA+ from 2011.

The lineup will undoubtedly be better with all the walks Albert Pujols will bring compared to Mark Trumbo.  Granted Pujols walked only 61 times last year, that was his first time in 4 years under 100 and his first since 2004 under 90.  Trumbo produced and grand total of 25.  Pujols’ worst OPS for any season is still about 200 points higher than Trumbo’s best!  This is a massive, massive upgrade for the Angels especially for 2012 because I believe Pujols will produce better than he did in 2011.  Howie Kendrick also received a 4 year extension, Torii Hunter at 36 will be back, Abreu at 37 will be back, and the awful Vernon Wells will be back but it is an even year.  Wells career number for the last 4 even years out produce his odd by 20 to 40 points in OPS+ so maybe that’s something.  But overall these 3 will only be blocking the superb on defense Peter Bourjous and the uber-prospect, rated #1 in 2011 by Baseball America, Mike Trout who are the future of the franchise.  The Angels will almost assuredly increase their win total next year, but with the depth and potential signing of Yu Darvish, the Rangers look to be a slight favorite in the AL West.  If Darvish is not signed all bets are off on who will take the division.  I feel confident in saying it won’t be Oakland.

The Angels long term plans are going to be based around the pitching they currently have and Albert Pujols with help from the two young outfielders based upon the current contracts that they have on their roster.  They do have a massive new TV deal and with the Dodgers down the LA market is more open than ever so it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Angels become a year-to-year massive payroll franchise with the Yankees and Red Sox.

Overall both of these franchises look to have rosters worthy of playoff competition over the next few years.  Long term the Angels are going to owe a lot of money to players past their peak years, which could handicap their competitiveness in the future.  The Cardinals, who appear to have done everything they could to avoid a long term deal with Albert, have relatively clean books with which to peruse the free agent market over the next few off-seasons.

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