Refreshing our picture of the Cardinals post-Carlos Beltran

PHOENIX, AZ - SEPTEMBER 23: Carlos Beltran #15 of the San Francisco Giants hits a single agianst the Arizona Diamondbacks during the first inning of the Major League Baseball game at Chase Field on September 23, 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Now the Cardinals can hit. Even more than they could before. This is a slugging team that doesn't feel like a slugging team, because nobody's a guarantee to hit 30 home runs, and it's an old lineup that doesn't feel like an old lineup, because only one of the stars arrived on a long-term contract—Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Jimmy Rollins are much younger, combined, than a Carlos Beltran/Matt Holliday/Lance Berkman center-of-the-order, but they feel older because the Phillies have staked themselves to that team until a distant future where old-timers reminisce about how didn't there used to be flying bullpen cars.

Now the Albert Pujols Dividend for 2012 and 2013 is just about spent, if you want to look at it that way—Beltran and Rafael Furcal leave John Mozeliak just enough room to trade for Rafael Furcal next year around the deadline. The results are nice—the Cardinals took positions that they were willing to fill with cheap, homegrown talent and shored them up with aging, injury-prone, and potentially difference-making veterans. It's a different kind of risk from the one that lurked throughout the Pujols negotiations, and it will probably be more fun to live with on a day-to-day basis.

Now the Cardinals' fourth outfielder is much better! We last saw Jon Craig/Allen Jay when he was the penciled-in right fielder prior to last year's Astros reclamation project, Lance Berkman, signing up to play 126 exceedingly unlikely games in the outfield. Now he's the starter in Carless Field and the fourth outfielder, which is a significant improvement on Skip Schumaker.

(Now the Cardinals' decision to resign Skip Schumaker is fractionally more puzzling.

I don't think Erik Komatsu had bought a house in St. Louis, or anything, but if the Cardinals were interested in him (LH, OF)—and presumably remain interested in Adron Chambers (LH, OF)—and have now benched, for at least a few games, Jon Jay (LH, OF)—and have Daniel Descalso starting at second base (Skip Schumaker, 2B)—well, I just don't see what purpose Skip serves on this roster. Meanwhile, do you think this move screws Bryan Anderson (LH, C), who might be the ninth decent-average slap-hitting left-hander in this paragraph and is otherwise indistinguishable from Tony Cruz?)

Now the Cardinals can weather one big problem from among Lance Berkman, Jon Jay, and Allen Craig—regression from Berkman, BAbip troubles from Jay, even a Troy Glaus-ian recovery from minor surgery from Craig. In the immediate aftermath of the Albert Pujols signing I think most of us were surprised at how good the team looked—and part of that was due to the way the Cardinals had abruptly pushed most of last year's amazing depth into the batting order. It was still a great lineup, but instead of Allen Craig lurking behind it there stood a thousand slap-hitting left-handers, all alike.

Now the Cardinals hit better on a lineup card and over the long season, where last year from the bench Craig had a 153 OPS+, Nick Punto a 127, Descalso a 93. Now they can start Jay and Craig without having to commit entirely to starting Jay and Craig, and we can watch Carlos Beltran in something other than that transcendent Adam Wainwright GIF. I'm happy about it.

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