|Beltran, Freese key to replacing Pujols||| Print |||Send|
Written by Jim Mancari (Contact & Archive) on January 04, 2012
As we all know by now, the unthinkable happened this offseason to the St. Louis Cardinals. The reigning World Series champions saw their franchise player, Albert Pujols, sign a 10-year, $254 million deal with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
Though 10 years for any player is a hefty commitment, Pujols led the Cardinals to two World Series titles and is regarded as the best hitter in the game today.
Rather than lament over the loss of Pujols, St. Louis was busy searching for ways to make up his production. While it seems like a daunting task, the Cards appear to have found the right pieces -- some of which were on the team last year -- to stay on track as a top team in the NL.
Let's take a look strictly at the numbers. Pujols actually had an off year by his standards in 2011, hitting .299 with 37 home runs and 99 RBI. It was the first year in his career that he didn't hit at least .300 or drive in at least 100 runs.
Here is the Cardinals projected opening day lineup (exact order subject to change): Rafael Furcal, SS; John Jay, CF; Carlos Beltran, RF; Matt Holliday, LF; Lance Berkman, 1B; David Freese, 3B; Yadier Molina, C; Skip Schumaker, 2B.
Furcal signed a two-year deal at age 34. He was acquired at the trade deadline last season and clubbed seven home runs in 50 games for the Cards. However, his forte is getting on base and setting the table for the big boppers in the middle of the order. Still, a full season of Furcal, if he stays healthy, will inevitably lead to more runs scored.
Jay was a nice surprise last season for St. Louis. He hit .297 with 10 home runs. Like Furcal, he'll be expected to get on base consistently so the hitters behind him can drive him in. Expect similar production out of Jay in 2012.
After a bounce-back year split between the New York Mets and San Francisco Giants, Beltran signed a two-year contract with the Cards. He'll be viewed as a main offensive source of production in an attempt to replace Pujols. However, it will not fall solely on his shoulders.
Beltran will turn 35 in April, and injuries have clouded what could have been a Hall of Fame career for this former five-tool player. If he can stay healthy all year, he should be able to match his 2011 stats (.300, 22 home runs, 84 RBI), especially if the hitters around him produce.
Holliday is arguably the key factor in replacing Pujols. He was limited to 124 games last season due to injury, but he still managed a .296 average and 22 home runs. Don't expect him to put up numbers like he did in Colorado, but a healthy season of Holliday should yield 30-plus homers and 100-plus RBI batting between Beltran and Berkman.
Speaking of Berkman, the Big Puma resurrected his career after falling off the map in 2011 for the New York Yankees. Back in the NL, he hit .301 with 31 home runs and 94 RBI. Matching these numbers may be difficult, but he should still be a force at the plate if everyone around him produces.
Like Holliday, Freese may be viewed as a viable option to replace Pujols. Once again, it will not be solely on one player, but Freese can build off his postseason heroics to translate into a productive year. He only played in 97 games during the regular season but hit .297 with 10 home runs. He's also struggled with injuries, but a healthy Freese over a full season can be a .300 hitter with 15-20 home runs and 85-plus RBI.
The Cardinals received an offensive jolt last year from Molina, a defensive specialist, who hit .305 with 14 home runs. He'll be a consistent offensive player, but the team will be more focused on his stellar defense behind the plate, especially in throwing out would-be base stealers. Any additional offense the Cards get from Molina is an added bonus.
Finally, Schumaker as the eighth, and maybe even the ninth, hitter in the order can be a major weapon. He hit .283 last season and does many of the little things right. Tony LaRussa liked batting his pitcher eighth to create a second leadoff position. It's unclear whether new manager Mike Matheny will use Schumaker in that role, but it would certainly make sense. Schumaker may also see time as the team's leadoff man.
Overall, a healthy Beltran, Holliday and Freese can rival the output of Pujols collectively. Though it's impossible to replace a player of Pujols' caliber, St. Louis can make up the offensive production. The team's offense, coupled with great starting pitching and a good bullpen, have the Cards eager to defend their World Series title.