So we're a mere one month away, give or take, from the start of Spring Training, and the Pujols Doomsday Clock (PDC) continues to tick ominously in the background. Both sides are tight-lipped, but I'd wager there is a lot of money and years on the table. And I want Pujols to sign with the Redbirds. I really, really, do. But. Let's just pretend for a moment that the Cardinals and Albert reach an impasse, and the club realizes its not going to work. What represents "Plan B"? I thought I'd throw the floor open for discussion on this.
Lets just go ahead and make a wild assumption that the Cardinals are offering Albert something in the neighborhood of $28M per year, for say seven years. That's $196M, not quite A-Rod territory, but still respectable. And Albert still says no. He'd rather head North and lead the Toronto Blue Jays for the next decade or so. Heck, they gave Vernon Wells all that money, they'll probably pay him the equivalent of $35M for ten years in Canadian duckets. And now the Cardinals have a black hole in their lineup. How do we fix this? Well, here's one idea, using the COTs Page for 2012 Free Agents. I tried to double-check whether these guys had signed recently, so forgive me if I miss something. But this is just a fun exercise after all. Instead of Pujols, we could sign in 2012:
.282 / .321 / .428
Ok, we gave up on Brendan Ryan. And now we're experimenting with Theriot. Well, Reyes may be more expensive, but he feels like a huge upgrade from what we've got. If he's healthy (perhaps a significant if) he is a superior-level leadoff hitter. Lots of steals, decent walk total. He hits for good average, and even has a little homerun pop. His fielding (according to Fangraphs, is slightly above average based on his TZ and UZR). He's also young, 27 years old, so he should be entering the prime of his playing years. Assuming he is given a very clean bill of health, he is probably one of the top five shortstops in the game.
Contract (best guess): 3 Years, $30M
Estimated 2011 WAR: 3.9
.319 / .381 / .534
We've got money, so lets swing for the fences. Cano has insane average and power. He doesn't get injured much. He is young at 28 years old. His defense according to TZ and UZR is superb. And escaping the American League East would potentially make his numbers look even better. To say he would be an upgrade over Skip would be an understatement. If he comes and plays in baseball mecca and would dominate. And yes, he's the centerpiece of this plan. And honestly, who wouldn't want to "out Yankee" the Yankees?
Contract (best guess): 6 Years, $72M
Estimated 2011 WAR: 5.2
.283 / .340 / .525
I ran myself in circles on this one. What right fielder upgrades us the most and has the most upside? Part of me thinks bringing back Ludwick would be brilliant. But I'm not sure Ryan would take the deal. I also considered Michael Cuddyer, who I think has tremendous upside and tore it up this year in Minnesota. But Hart was my final selection for a few reasons. He hits for solid average. He has great power (31 HRs last year). And he is young (28 years old) and should have many solid years ahead. His fielding is a bit subpar, but RF is hardly the most demanding spot to defend.
Contract (best guess): 3 Years, $18M
Estimated 2011 WAR: 1.6
TOTAL COST OF PLAYERS PER YEAR - $28M
There are dozens of other permutations to this that I could have tried. I thought about trading Pujols mid-season and picking up someone else. Maybe the Orioles would ship us Nick Markakis and his $11M salary, or we try and get Andre Ethier from the Dodgers, who hits well and is cost-controlled for a bit. But in the end, I went with this mix. These guys all appear to be free-agent eligible, and are upgrades from what we've got.
So let's look at our imaginary lineup, minus Pujols, but with the new adds. How would this team do?
To me, this lineup has a very satisfying amount of balance. We still have premiere hitters in the 3/4 slots. We have added speed. We have mostly upgraded defense. And despite losing Albert, we actually add power. We've reduced our long-term commitments. We have gotten considerably younger. And since 1B is a relatively low-difficulty position as defense goes, we've got some more flexibility
Now... this is the part where you laugh, flame, insult, deride and dismiss me. I'm perfectly ok with that. Doubtless, you guys have other ideas about what would make sense. You'll say that Albert gives us intangibles that can't be replaced by other players. You'll say that the Mang can will us to win, and that can't be replaced. And you're probably right. But I would argue that this team would win the NL Central. What do you think?