We as Cardinal Nation will miss Albert Pujols greatly. The team lucked out in extreme fashion by drafting Pujols and giving him an opportunity at the major league level in 2001. The start of a decade + bargain Hall of Fame production. Cardinals fans were very spoiled, and eventually it had to end. Depressingly enough, it happened before he was able to retire a Cardinal. Albert was swept off his feet by the Cali Angels, stolen right away from the Cardinals of StL.
Now I don't blame the guy, but it was at least somewhat surprising to me how it went down. On a gut level, just that he wouldn't return because of the money (even though the Cardinals did offer him quite a bit). On a cerebral level, that the Angels would offer one player that much in the latter part of his career. We've all thought about this for long enough now, and it's not what I wanted to write about.
What Pujols did as a Cardinal is difficult to comprehend. He lead the National League in baseball reference WAR from 2005 to 2010. That's six years straight! He also lead the league in 2003. In '03, '06, '08, and '09 Albert was #1 in MLB in bWAR. Considering fWAR, Pujols leads by far from 2001 to 2011. His total is over 12 WAR higher than the next best, Alex Rodriguez. Lance Berkman and Carlos Beltran are 3rd and 4th during this timespan.
As for traditional stats, Albert had an even higher batting average than Ichiro from 2001 to 2011. Pujols had 1,329 RBI as a Cardinal... by far the most of any player. He also scored the most runs: 1,291 runs! Ichiro and Jeter are the only two even close. The end of an era also saw the most home runs in those 11 years. The Machine eliminated 445 pitches, many of them laser beams or absolute bombs.
But that era is over. The Cardinals said no way Jose Alberto Pujols; ten years at $25 million a year was just a bit too much. Instead, the ballclub has brought Rafael Furcal back into the fold, and has now signed Carlos Beltran to chip in on outfield duties (if not start almost every game). I think we can expect at least 2 fWAR from Furcal, and around 3.5 from Beltran.
Granted, Pujols could pretty easily outdo that 5.5 total next year. The decider here is Furcal... he also could pretty easily surpass 2 WAR. The key for Furcal is if he can raise his on base percentage and sustain some level of what he can do on defense. So perhaps the total is more like around 6 total. Pujols will have to have a nice bounceback season to significantly surpass Beltran and Furcal... who command less money as a combo than Albert.
Of course the main benefit is that the Cardinals avoided all the overpaid decline years beyond next year. The question of competing in 2012 is a different one, though. If they could do it last year, there is no reason the chances would be significantly less going forward with Adam Wainwright returning, and not much loss of production due to Pujols departure. Given the free agent market, signing Beltran and Furcal is a major win for Mo. His depth signings have been bad, but more importantly he successfully maneuvered the big deals.