It certainly doesn’t appear as if they’re building for the future. The two men who’ve been the co-faces of the franchise for more than a decade, Albert Pujols and Tony La Russa, both have contracts that expire at the end of the season, and it looks to be no better than a 50-50 chance that either will be back with the club in 2012. The organization’s three newest pieces, Lance Berkman, Ryan Theriot, and Gerald Laird, have all been signed to one-year contracts. The team has given up on one of the best defensive shortstops in the game, trading a relatively young Brendan Ryan (28 years old) to Seattle. They also regularly float rumors about trading up-and-coming outfielder Colby Rasmus, who’s been in Tony La Russa’s doghouse for the better part of his time in St. Louis. Chris Carpenter is getting up there in age (35), Yadier Molina will be due a pay-raise soon, and with recent revolving doors at second and third base, the only members of the Cardinals who look to be locked in for the long-run are Adam Wainwright and Matt Holliday. All signs point towards a “win now” mentality, and the potential for a complete roster and coaching overhaul could be forthcoming in 2012 and beyond.
Of course, there’s a little problem with “winning now”: The Philadelphia Phillies.
With the recent addition of Cliff Lee, the Phillies now have an absurdly talented starting rotation. Lee, the 2008 Cy Young Award winner, joins forces with two-time and reigning Cy Young Award Winner Roy Halladay, former Astro’s ace Roy Oswalt, and the Phillies’ other ace (who’s now probably the team’s fourth best option), Cole Hamels. Words cannot adequately describe the team’s potential, which is still anchored by a solid lineup of Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, and Shane Victorino, but I can tell you this much:
1) The Phillies are getting 5 to 1 odds to win the World Series (tops in the National League), and 2) I would not want to be in a fantasy baseball league with Phillies General Manager, Ruben Amaro.
Of course, anything can happen in baseball. It’s not as if the Cardinals can’t compete with the Phillies. You might recall the Cardinals have four pretty good starters as well: Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, Jake Westbrook, and Jaime Garcia. Pujols, Holliday, and Berkman make for a daunting 3-4-5 in the heart of the lineup.
But is it enough?
The Phillies were this close to returning to the World Series for a 3rd straight year in 2010 and decided to go out and pay Cliff Lee $124 million. The organization also locked in Ryan Howard for 5 years, $125 million over the summer. The Cardinals, on the other hand, haven’t even extended Albert Pujols’ contract.
So that brings us back to the original question: “What is the 2011 Cardinals team playing for?” The Cardinals have several key contracts up at the end of the year. With that in mind, wouldn’t the team want to do everything it can to fill the holes at short, second, possibly at third, and on the bench? Is the team really going to let Skip Schumaker and Ryan Theriot set the table for Pujols, Holliday, and Berkman all year?
One thing’s for sure, they are not building for the future. But do they really have a chance to win now?