Pujols Knows Cardinals In it to Win it

The Cardinals made a bold statement with Thursday’s signing of Lance Berkman to a one year, $12 million contract. In addition to bringing back a productive, popular player, the Cardinals made sure they’ll have a representative lineup heading into 2012.

The Cardinals told their fans and first baseman Albert Pujols that they plan to contend. Pujols has consistently said that his main desire is to win. In February of 2009, he said to, “Do I want to be in St. Louis forever? Of course. People from other teams want to play in St. Louis and they’re jealous that we’re in St. Louis because the fans are unbelievable. So why would you want to leave a place like St. Louis to go somewhere else and make $3 or $4 more million a year? It’s not about the money. I already got my money. It’s about winning and that’s it.

“When that time comes, then we’re going to figure it out,” he said. “And I told you, I’m not going to lie to you, it’s not about the money all the time. It’s about being in a place to win and being in a position to win. If the Cardinals are willing to do that and put a team every year like they have, I’m going to try to work everything out to stay in this town. But if they’re not on the same page of bringing championship caliber to play every year, then it’s time for me to go somewhere else. Where? Somewhere else that I can win.”

Signing Berkman is a clear sign that the Cardinals are in it to win it. If Pujols decides to go elsewhere, the Cardinals can play Allen Craig in right and Berkman at first. If they sign him, Berkman returns to right and Craig becomes one of the best bench players in the National League.

Combining last week’s re-signing of Chris Carpenter and the Berkman signing, the Cards just need to procure a shortstop to be a solid contender in 2012. Think about it. Their starting rotation is set with Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, Jaime Garcia, Kyle Lohse and Jake Westbrook.

The bullpen seems to have most of its elements in place, with Jason Motte, Kyle McClellan, Fernando Salas, Lance Lynn, Eduardo Sanchez and Mitchell Boggs. Marc Rzepczynski would seem to be one lefty out of the ‘pen, unless the Cards can unload a current starter and get him into the rotation.

Left field and center field are set, respectively, with Matt Holliday and Jon Jay. David Freese and one of the first-base candidates will man the corners, and Yadier Molina will be behind the plate.

John Mozeliak will have a bench to build and a bullpen to finalize, but most important, a legacy to create.

Even with the moves that he’s made to create a competitive unit for 2012, Mozeliak will be remembered for keeping or losing Pujols. That’s going to be his legacy, for better or worse. And it would behoove the Cardinals to keep Pujols simply because he’s a known quantity … and history has shown us that the departure of such a quantity can be a franchise killer.

Through the 1992 season, Barry Bonds won a pair of MVPs and won the National League OPS crown in the final three of his seven seasons in Pittsburgh. After that season, the Pirates said they couldn’t afford to keep him. Bonds went to San Francisco, and Pittsburgh hasn’t had a winning season since.

Cal Ripken won the 1982 Rookie of the Year and 1983 MVP in Baltimore, and the Orioles had nine winning seasons and three playoff appearances in his 20-season career. Since Ripken left, the Orioles have finished fourth or fifth in the five-team AL East in nine of 10 years, never having a winning season.

Can a team recover from losing an iconic superstar? Sure. The Mariners traded Ken Griffey Jr. after 1999 and lost Alex Rodriguez after 2000, yet won 116 games in 2001. But the Mariners have steadily declined since then, becoming one of the worst teams in baseball.

If you have a chance to keep a difference-maker like Pujols around, you have to make every attempt to keep him. The Cardinals can be very good again next year with what they’ll have, but great if they bring Pujols back. And if he puts his money where his mouth is, the Cardinals have taken a big step toward keeping Pujols in a Cardinals uniform for his entire career. He said, “It’s about winning and that’s it.”

Signing Berkman and Carpenter, and presumably Rafael Furcal in the future, should signal that the Cardinals want to win. Pujols’ words were, “It’s about being in a place to win and being in a position to win.” Can anyone dispute that the Cardinals are in a position to win again next year? He said he already got his money. If everything else is close, there’s absolutely no reason Pujols shouldn’t choose to be a Cardinal forever.