The Cardinals were taking a cautious, perhaps perilous, posture with free agent slugger Albert Pujols as December and the winter meetings approached.
Though the Miami Marlins appeared to be the only other team that had submitted an offer for the three-time Most Valuable Player, the Cardinals didn't seem to be in a rush to sign Pujols, apparently preferring instead to wait and see if any further interest developed at the Dec. 4-8 meetings in Dallas.
Chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. had said a couple of weeks ago that the Cardinals were considering making another offer on top of the reported, nine-year, $198 million offer that Pujols and his camp had turned down in February. But it was not known if the Cardinals had as yet adjusted their stance.
One of the bottom lines in the equation was that many of the big-market teams, such as the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers, Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago Cubs and New York Mets, seemed to have little interest in indulging themselves in a Pujols sweepstakes. Those teams either had a high-salaried first baseman, were in a rebuilding mode or were in the midst of a potential ownership change.
It appeared most likely that Pujols would be returning to the Cardinals, where he has starred for 11 seasons, but the decision was still a week or more off.
1B Albert Pujols finished fifth in the Most Valuable Player voting, marking the 11th straight season he had finished in the top 10. Pujols got one third-place vote, and the rest were between fourth and 10th. Pujols was offered arbitration by the Cardinals but is expected to decline it.
C Gerald Laird, who left
as a free agent to return to the Detroit Tigers, was the primary backup to
four-time Gold Glover Yadier Molina this season, but that role probably will go
to Tony Cruz or Bryan Anderson next season. Cruz, a right-handed hitter who also
plays third base and first base, jumped ahead of
CF Jon Jay probably could use a right-handed hitting backup. The Cardinals do not really have that person on their roster although right-handed hitting OF/INF Allen Craig appeared in center field a couple of times this season.
RHP Octavio Dotel dropped
from being a Type A free agent to Type B in baseball's new labor agreement. The
upshot is that the Cardinals did not have to offer Dotel arbitration (which they
did not) to receive a draft pick as compensation should Dotel sign with another
team. The Cardinals had interest in retaining Dotel, a strong force both on the
field and in the clubhouse after he was acquired from
RHP Edwin Jackson was
offered arbitration, but SS Rafael Furcal and LHP Arthur Rhodes were not.
INF Daniel Descalso made just nine of his 63 starts at second base this season and spent the majority of his time at third base. But Descalso is projected as a potential regular at second in 2012. General manager John Mozeliak said, "I think he's a very good baseball player who can handle the position."
BY THE NUMBERS: 3 - Cardinals who received votes for National League Most Valuable Player - 1B Albert Pujols, RF Lance Berkman and C Yadier Molina.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I really don't see the need for a high rate of churn."
- GM John Mozeliak, on keeping much of the 2011 World Series champions together for 2012.
The Cardinals are coming off a World Series title, but general manager John Mozeliak realizes the big turnaround in the season came in late July and early August when the club changed 20 percent of its roster with five additions. There will be no standing pat, and that trend began three days after the World Series ended when manager Tony La Russa retired after 16 seasons.
C Gerald Laird (free agent, signed with Tigers).
The top priority, after naming new manager Mike Matheny, is re-signing 1B Albert Pujols, the cream of the free agent class. Secondarily, the Cardinals need to address their shortstop-second base situation, which finished with Rafael Furcal, whose option was not picked up, at short and Skip Schumaker, who is arbitration-eligible, at second. Mozeliak has indicated interest in Furcal but at a much lower figure than $12 million. Schumaker, a converted outfielder, has improved at second base, but the Cardinals might not want to pay to keep both.
Every effort will be made
to re-sign Pujols. Furcal and Dotel command interest by the Cardinals, but they
won't be able to give
2B/OF Skip Schumaker, RHP Kyle McClellan. INF Ryan Theriot.
All, in theory, could be non-tendered. McClellan is the most likely to dealt. Either Schumaker or Theriot won't be back, and possibly both.
RHP Kyle McClellan, who moved back
to the bullpen when
RHP Adam Wainwright is
expected to go to Jupiter,
LF Matt Holliday might need his right hand, injured twice late in the season, attended to.