The aggregate Pujols

Recreating the aggregate is the idea of deriving the production of a certain lost player using others. It's generally thought of in the context of the loss of a superstar and was coined by Billy Beane after the departure of Jason Giambi from the Oakland A's in 2001. Giambi is no Pujols, but at the time he was coming off of a 9.3 WAR season. Pujols, on the other hand, only posted 5.1 WAR- the worst of his career, indicating the depth of the team that he is leaving behind. That said, the Cardinals finished behind by six games (to a Prince Fielder-less Brewers team) and also have not signed Rafael Furcal. There is the addition by subtraction of the retirement of Ryan Franklin, the departure of Miguel Batista, and the emergence of the young, good bullpen. After a few calculations, the team needs to make up around two Pujolses to have a comfortable shot at the division title. Where will this aggregate production come from?

First Base

It's actually possible to lose less than a Pujols by losing Pujols. Lance Berkman is projectable for 3.5 WAR at first, Craig for 3.5-4 WAR in the outfield. In this cascade of changes, Craig's spot on the bench opens up, and we can assume we lose at least 1 WAR there. This is a 3.5 WAR decline from the Pujols-having Cardinals.

Prince Fielder erases this discrepancy, but he is going to cost a lot of money. Having just avoided an albatross contract for a defensively limited superstar, Fielder will have to come relatively cheaply to be a good value, and even a six year contract is probably too long and at $25M or so per year, too expensive. Pass.

The Middle Infield

The middle infield is the most obvious spot where we could derive an additional Pujols, but as yet we haven't even added enough talent to assure the same production as last season. Mind-blowing as it may be, Ryan Theriot, Skip Schumaker, around 1/3 a season of Furcal, and Nick Punto combined for 4 WAR (mostly from Furcal and Punto despite their small amount of playing time). Greene and Descalso project at roughly 3 WAR and the bench player that plays behind them (Pete Kozma excepted) should be worth 1 WAR, and we have another player around replacement level, leaving us no worse off than we were last year.

The upside is if Furcal takes the place of Greene, Greene takes the place of Kozma, and Descalso plays against fewer left-handed pitchers. We gain 1.5-2 WAR. Punto's resigning adds another middle infielder and probably another 1 WAR, for an overall gain of 2.5 WAR.

Other scenarios exist where we trade for Stephen Drew, sign Jimmy Rollins (ugh), or trade for another player (Alexei Ramirez, Emilio Bonifacio (also ugh), etc).

Adam Wainwright (Pitching)

This is another area where we stand to gain big, the only question is how big. In a good, healthy year, Waino is worth one Pujols on his own, and he is replacing our worst pitcher- Kyle Mcclellan, who bounces around replacement level. Wainwright's three year average projection is 3.9 WAR. His Bill James projection is 4.8 WAR. I'm going to assume 4.0, but the upside for higher and the downside for lower is certainly there. The rest of our rotation, Carpenter, Lohse, Westbrook, and Garcia, is set in stone and only a blockbuster acquisition would supplant the sunk cost of Westbrook and Lohse's remaining contracts.

Yu Darvish and Hiroki Kuroda are the two starters who make the most sense for us in this case, since both are substantial improvements on Westbroke. They are polar opposite in terms of career and price position. Kuroda is likely to make a similar salary to Westbrook and to be available for a short term deal. Between posting and contract, Darvish is likely to command a price similar to Prince Fielder in the mid 100 millions (50-75M posting fee, 75M contract). Kuroda is a 1-2 WAR improvement on Westbrook. Darvish's valuation requires a bit of math.

In Japan, his K rate has been 8.9 for his career, but it has been higher in recent years, reaching almost 11 K/9 last year. His BB rate in Japan is 2.36/9 career but is also trending positively, reaching a fantastic 1.39/9 last year. In my mind there is no question that Darvish would be a fantastic pitcher in the states. Assuming the jump is equivalent to AAA to MLB, Darvish can be reasonably assumed to be an ace and a 5 WAR pitcher.

Our bullpen is also likely to provide a boost compared to last season, when they recieved almost -4.0 WAR from Franklin, Batsita, Miller, Tallet, and McClellan. The average team got 2.6 WAR from their pen last year. The Cardinals derived 0.7 WAR despite huge seasons from Motte and Salas. I am pegging this at a 2 WAR increase.

The Outfield

As of now, our OF is Holliday, Jay, and Craig along with the recently rule V'd Komatsu. I've covered Craig, so the main thing I want to talk about with our OF is how much worse our CF projects to be next year than last. Last year the Cards got 4.1 WAR from JazyRasmus and Jay, and I can't imagine a world where Jay projects to repeat that production. Given continued BABIP luck and defensive adequacy, Jay is worth 2.5-3 WAR. He still flashes surprising power but his plate discipline leaves a lot to be desired. He has the potential to repeat last year in more innings, but he is also a rather frightening candidate for overexposure and a crushing slump. He is decent against leftiest although he hits for almost no discernable power against them. With relatively little depth and a lack of a RH CF, a few names have been talked about as RH options to join our OF rotation: Carlos Beltran, Coco Crisp, Andruw Jones, Mike Cameron and Cody Ross.

Jones is, in my opinion, the worst option. He's essentially done as a center fielder, and isn't exactly killing it on offense either. He would be a nice second or third option, in the same way that Jay would be a nice first or second option.

Okay, maybe Jones is the second worst option. Mike Cameron was below replacement level last season, seems to have no heart left for the game, and is 38.

Cody Ross is arguably the best option that will play for league minimum (assuming Coco Crisp gets a real contract). Still an average-ish CF, not old, and above average against lefties. He is the bench bat/defensive replacement I would most prefer and is certainly 1-2 WAR better than our current RH CF option (Shane Robinson?).

Crisp can probably still hack it as a full-time CF and is a limited but decent offensive player. He probably projects better than Cody Ross, though I am not sure he would actually be better.

Carlos Beltran is the only person worth a real contract here. A natural righty with a weird power-one-side patience-one-side split, he is still flat-out fantastic on offense on both sides. His defense is bad. There's a lot of danger here, but Beltran would arguably be our second best hitter right now and his projection is probably around 3.5 WAR. His signing would complicate matters in the outfield and at first base, but between him and Lance Berkman there are probably only two intact knee joints. They will both need the rest. His contract demands are unknown to me, but if he could be had for a year at $10M or two years at 6-8M each I think he is a good bet to return surplus value on those deals.

And before I forget: Yoennis Cespedes. He's the CF version of Yu Darvish, if reports are to be believed. For us, he is a strong buy. We don't have the young, top-end talent in position players, and we aren't going to strike Lance-Berkman-shaped gold veins every year. God knows what his Cuban league stats mean- they might as well have been posted in the Martian-Lunar Summer League, but the reports are good and the reports are saying $40-50M. In order to return value on that investment he only needs to approximate Jay's production, and we are in something of a position to take risks like this. The main problem is that he doesn't play shortstop. I'm not even going to hazard a guess at his likely WAR. I assume it will be somewhere between negative 0.5 and 12.7.


Internal assets also exist. The three that seem most likely to make a splash in 2011 are Ryan Jackson, Matt Carpenter, and Shelby Miller.

Carpenter had nothing left to prove last year during spring training, and he...continues to have nothing left to prove. He needs to be given a shot on this team, and between him and David Freese, I am confident that the team will not be further cursed by 3B, although I don't see it as a position where huge gains will be made. Perhaps 1-2 WAR from lil Carp.

Ryan Jackson on a good day is maybe a 1-100 shot to make the team this year. He isn't likely to set the world on fire if he does, in any case, since his strong defense, pray-his-offense-isn't-terrible offense is usually only a skillset worth 1-2 WAR.

Shelby Miller likely will spend the entire season in AAA, but if an injury occurs and he ends up replacing Westbrook or Lohse, he could add 1 WAR over their production on the season. More likely, Lynn, Boggs, and AAA backups to backups will fill in and be, hopefully, adequate.

And Finally

My numbers say we get a Pujols back from our pitching alone. Waino plus Motte's apple Salsa in the bullpen are big upgrades over their predecessors. I don't think we pick up a Pujols with any other internal moves, but there is always the possibility of a Tyler Greene breakout (I guess). Furcal and Punto add about half a Pujols. Fielder or Darvish certainly adds a Pujols but basically soaks up the savings of the original Pujols leaving and does it on a pretty high risk, long-term contract. Beltran could easily add a Pujols, and he could easily require another knee surgery in April. His median projection is around half a Pujols, but he might come at only a third of the cost, making him one of the favored moves. Cespedes adds somewhere between zero and five Pujolses, and I kind of like the sound of that as well.

On a scale of likelihood, to me, it seems to be Furcal first, Beltran second, stand pat or make incremental moves like Punto and Cody Ross third, a trade for a MIF fourth, Cespedes fifth, Kuroda infinitesimally likely, Darvish in my dreams, and Fielder in John Mozeliak's nightmares.

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