Cardinals fans are known to be passionate and intelligent baseball fans. Sadly, this is a rare compliment and St. Louis fans should be proud of such universal acclaim. Given this level of intelligence I expect Cardinals fans to increasingly speak glowingly about Albert Pujols. After all, the Machine is still producing for the Cardinals.
Pujols started his career with one of the greatest 11 year spans of all time. From winning the rookie of the year award to three most valuable player awards and two gold gloves, all he did was produce. He produced an 86.5 WAR value during his St. Louis tenure. He is second behind only the great Stan Musial in many offensive categories for the organization. More than that however, he helped bring two World Series titles to St. Louis. Though he signed a 10 year $240 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels after the 2011 World Series, his contributions to the Cardinals continue.
After Pujols left, the Cardinals acted quickly to bring in Carlos Beltran to replace his bat in a move that has clearly worked out to date and at a fraction of the price. They also opened up the purse strings to extend Yadier Molina to a 5 year $75 million deal. Pricey for a catcher, but as I noted in an earlier post he is the best all around catcher in the game today and arguably more important to the team than Pujols would have been. The Cards have also been able to extend Adam Wainwright, the staff ace, to a 5 year $97 million dollar extension. All three signings cost the Cardinals less than the $210 million the Cardinals offered Albert.
Were it just those players Cardinals fans should jump for joy as they compete for yet another World Series opportunity. However, come Thursday Albert's latest gift is scheduled to make his major league debut. Michael Wacha, a 21 year old flamethrower was drafted 19th overall in 2012 as compensation for Albert's leaving. Earlier this season Baseball America rated him the #6 prospect in the Cardinals #1 ranked farm system. Wacha may only make a brief appearance, but that is due more to the depth of the Cardinals pitching staff than any warts on his ability. He figures to be a rotation staple by the time he reaches arbitration.
I understand why Cardinals fans were upset and/or disappointed with Albert Pujols taking the money and leaving town. He was a face of the franchise, a positive impact in the clubhouse and in the community. However, he produced over a decade of dominance, the best decade he will likely produce as a player. St. Louis fans will be able to see a new generation flourish and compete rather than politely applauding as Albert inevitably declines. Fans can look back and remember how great he was and all the positives he helped bring to the franchise rather than worry if he is older than he claims. Albert left and is now the Angels problem. Cardinals fans know that in the annals of Cardinals history the greatest offensive players is 1) Stan Musial then 2) Albert Pujols, there is little debate. Albert would probably insist on that ranking himself.
I am not expecting an about face this year or next on Albert Pujols by Cardinal fans. I am not expecting him to ever get a bronze statue outside of Busch Stadium. But, Cardinals fans are intelligent and over the next few years they will look back and realize that while no longer wearing Cardinal red, the Machine kept producing for the Cardinals. Be it Yadier or Wainwright or Wacha, Albert played a part in them being around and for that he has earned a round of applause.