A few thoughts as the Cardinals enter the final two games of what has become a wildly successful road trip…
1. Here we go again. Every year someone jumps on the “Who is better than Pujols” bandwagon. And every year, some hot-hitting, elite player gets pushed out of the crowd by an over-excited baseball analyst. I can only imagine Troy Tulowitzki shuffling shyly from the throng of would-be candidates, head down, eyes shifting side to side as if to ask, “Is this okay? Is it cool that I’m out here?” and then turning around to see Rich Lederer of The Baseball Analysts with his hand out and a devilish grin on his face.
“Move over Albert Pujols,” Lederer wrote. “Troy Tulowitzki is now the best player in the game. The (Rockies shortstop) is nearly five years younger, plays a much more important defensive position — and as well as any shortstop in baseball — and, get this, has actually outhit Pujols over the past 365 days.”
Sigh. Look, I got this from the Bernie Miklasz column on StlToday.com this morning, but unlike Bernie, I am not a numbers guy…so I’m not going to go into all that here. But I do want to say this…Tulo is a great ballplayer – just like Joey Votto, Josh Hamilton, Miguel Cabrera, and many, many other players who have been lucky/unlucky enough to be elected “The Next Great Pujols” by a writer, a player, or countless misguided fans – but he’s no Pujols.
Every year, someone gets off to a hot start, wins an MVP award (emphasis on “an”), or maybe saves a drowning puppy during Spring Break (okay, I made that one up…). And every year, someone gets all excited because maybe…just maybe…they have the next Pujols on their hands. It amazes me how often this happens…and how eager people are to let it. Hell…in 2008, Albert had to be named to the All-Star team by Clint Hurdle. NAMED! Not elected…actually named to the team because people were “so over Pujols” that he was actually left off the roster. Sheesh. Enough already.
Many great players play this game…but Albert heads the list. Tulo is having a great start, but let’s at least allow him to finish the season (a real season…not a statistical manifestation of combined seasons) before anointing him. Votto is also an amazing player…but let’s see him do it for ten years. Let’s see Cabrera hit a monster home run at JUST the right moment in Houston with the season on the line and men on base. Let’s wait for Hamilton to string together season after season after season of Ruthian numbers.
This is really sad. Because so many people are so anxious to move on from the great Albert Pujols, they are stirring up discussions that inadvertently belittle great players like Tulo and Votto…not to mention the fact that those critics are missing out on the greatest hitter this generation has ever seen. They just don’t get it. It’s not about the best WAR this year…or the best average the last two years…or the highest home run total on and off over the last five years. It’s about Albert being Albert this year, last year, the year before that, the year before that…and on and on…and then being Albert for years to come.
Here…let me sum up this point by repeating one, simple statement…and then we’ll move on: No one…not one single baseball player in that pantheon of elites we idolized as children…has ever done what Albert Pujols has done in the first 10 years of his career. No one. ’nuff said.
2. The Gonzalez contract is a good thing for the Cardinals. Despite what pundits are saying in St. Louis, I believe the Adrian Gonzalez, 7-year, $154 million contract is exactly what the Cardinals were hoping for this season. At an average annual salary of about $21 million, the contract helps contribute to the self-correcting economic efforts occurring in baseball after the Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth deals. Gonzalez is a great player – not Albert, but great. He plays Albert’s position and plays it well. He’s younger and less of a gamble for a long-term, high AAV deal. Like Albert, Adrian was fairly public about his desire to stay in one place with a contender and a baseball town. And…Albert and Adrian are friends. It would not surprise me one bit to see Albert paying attention to what his friend and colleague has agreed to with the Red Sox. And it doesn’t hurt that the deal removes another big bidder from the Pujols auction floor.
On the flip side…Albert knows this removes another potential back up candidate for the elite-hitting, “good guy” first baseman vacancy left in St. Louis if Albert departs. In that respect, it strengthens the Pujols position…but not all that much. Ultimately, the Cardinals’ front office is finally seeing some things go their way in the Albert Pujols negotiations. Red Sox off the board. Elite first baseman signs a “less than $25 million per year” contract. Baseball attendance is down all over…including at Busch Stadium…perhaps justifying a “restrained” payroll approach. Yes, the Cardinals waited far too long to get this done…especially considering the way the market beat them about the head and shoulders while they waited…but things may finally be going their way in terms of forecasting a Pujols deal. They may finally be able to get Albert to back off his 10 year, $300 million asking price.
The only question then will be…How much will Albert resent them for it?
3. This team is knocking the cover off the ball right now…but let’s keep the enthusiasm in check. We will have a good season, but we’re still a bit vulnerable to lefties with much of our production coming from Berkman and Rasmus (two players whose production is impacted against LH pitchers). Jake Westbrook is having difficulty locking it in (he will…but still…), Garcia is showing a crack here and there (nothing to worry about, but still…), K-Mac still doesn’t have a large enough sample size to predict…anything, and Ryan Franklin is still our closer. Just like we had to keep our slow start in perspective, we must do the same now. This team will not average 9 runs a game for the rest of the season. We still have much to show if we are going to keep pace with the Reds. Tonight’s game against a very good lefty starter (Kershaw) should be informative.
4. Geez…enough already with these late night, West coast games. Tonight, on a Saturday night, after subjecting the highest TV-rating MLB fanbase to 9:00 pm start times, the schedule calls for yet another 9:00 pm start time. Come on! What happened to Saturday afternoon games? I mean, the Dodger fans will probably show up at 9 anyway. And the pace of these games is not helping either. I love the Cardinals offensive explosion…but can they get it done a bit faster this time? Not only is it making National League games feel like American League games (I don’t know how AL fans do it), it’s taking its toll on our starting pitching staff. Sitting around waiting for all those runs to cross the plate is tough for a pitcher who has to stay warm and focused while he waits to take the mound. I can’t wait for baseball to come back to St. Louis. West coast games for an entire week are just too much.
That’ll do it for today. No podcast the last week due to the UCB Weekend, West Coast games, and annoying-as-hell allergies…ugh! But look for one this weekend…hopefully. In the meantime…