Well, the news isn’t really breaking anymore. Albert Pujols has decided to become an Angel. We all know that Pujols will be manning first base for Los Angeles, but with his insertion into the lineup there, the team will be changing dramatically. In 2011, the team had a half decent first baseman: rookie Mark Trumbo, who finished second in the American League Rookie of the Year voting, and had a team-leading 29 homers. Trumbo isn’t without his faults though, as his .291 on-base percentage will attest to. He’ll be 26 on Opening Day 2012, and you’re not going to immediately give up on a player that young. Angels GM Jerry DiPoto said in an interview after the Pujols signing that Trumbo would not be traded (contrary to reports that had him going to Oakland), and would instead be playing third base and DH.
The Angels third base position in 2011 was manned primarily by Alberto Callaspo, who has two years of arbitration left for the Angels. With Callaspo’s ability to play second, third, and short (in stints), he’ll likely go to a super utility role with the Angels, due to the presence of starters Erick Aybar and Howie Kendrick, both of whom are free agents after the 2012 season. Oh wait, the Angels already have someone like that in Maicier Izturis, who can play the same three positions as Callaspo. So maybe Trumbo would be better off as the team’s DH…oh wait, the Angels already have a DH, that being Bobby Abreu. Abreu is signed for $9 million in 2012 after his option for the upcoming season vested in July. Abreu looks just about done at this point, after a 2011 season that saw him OPS just .718 and hit a career low eight home runs.
Los Angeles also has some issues in the outfield, with two players making insane money, Torii Hunter at $18.5 million and Vernon Wells at an astounding $24.6 million (for the next three seasons!), and two young, more talented players making the league minimum, Mike Trout and Peter Bourjos. Trout is the top prospect in baseball, and after a brief tryout last year, should get his shot in the majors next year. Well, the only reason that is in doubt is because of the presence of the two albatross contracts in the corner positions. Hunter is breaking down, but still has some value left (2.5 fWAR in 2011). Despite that, he’s not worth what he’s getting paid. As for Wells, his contract is a monster that features absolutely nothing positive about it at all. Wells had a .248 on base percentage last season. That should tell you enough about his year. I don’t see much of a way that the Angels would be able to move either contract without eating a significant portion of the money left on it, which is something I don’t think the team would do.
So at the end of the day, the Angels are screwing young players out of playing time because of bad decisions made during the Tony Reagins era. Abreu, Wells, and Hunter will combine to make $52.1 million in 2012, and were worth a combined 3.2 fWAR in 2011, most of which came from Hunter. Meanwhile, Bourjos was worth 4.3 (mainly due to his defense), Trumbo was worth 2.3, and Trout was worth 0.8 in just 40 games (which is more than Abreu and Wells combined). Long story short, the Angels are in a tough spot in 2012 after the Pujols signing, because they have just too many players for too few positions. You could end up benching Wells and Abreu, to go along with Izturis and young catching prospect Hank Conger on the bench, and that could work. But do you really want that much dead money sitting on the bench? If you start Trumbo at third and bench Callaspo instead of Abreu, then you have two guys sitting on the bench who are essentially clones of one another. That seems a little excessive, don’t you think? DiPoto has shown no hesitation in making moves with his Angels team, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s not done yet. The signings of Pujols and CJ Wilson (more on him in another piece) are just the tip of the iceberg.
Now, let’s look at Pujols’ former team: the St Louis Cardinals. Pujols led the Cardinals to their second World Champioinship in the last six year with their victory this year, and his departure creates a gaping void at first base. Or….does it? Last offseason, the Cardinals signed Lance Berkman to be their every day right fielder. Berkman delivered in spades, with a .959 OPS (higher than Pujols’ mark of .907), good for 5.0 fWAR on the season despite some hideous defense in right field. They re-signed Berkman for a season this Septmber for $12 million, and with his major downfall last season being his defense, a shift to first base should only boost his value in 2012…assuming he stays healthy. Berkman moved to first base for the Astros in 2005, and played the majority of his time there until this past season. Berkman isn’t a long-term fix, as he’ll be 36 on Opening Day 2012. But it’s not out of the realm of possibility for Berkman to provide 5.0 fWAR in 2012 again, because he’s been good for a .380+ wOBA in every year of his career outside of his injury-laden 2010 season.
So now that Pujols is replaced on the field, who will replace Berkman in right? Well, here’s where the Cardinals are going to run into a problem. They had an awesome in-house option for an outfield spot in 2011 rookie and playoff hero Allen Craig, who had a .917 OPS and accumulated 2.6 fWAR in just 219 plate appearances. But here’s the problem with that: Craig had knee surgery at the end of November, and is expected to miss four to six months. He may not be ready for Opening Day. That’s not a good thing at all. St Louis has no one on their major league roster that could possibly replace Craig. We’re looking at guys like Adron Chambers, who’s known for his legs, and Skip Schumaker, the starting second baseman who has an awful bat, as a possible corner outfielder for the defending World Champions. But with Craig expected to be back before the All-Star break, why would the Cardinals want to spend eight figures on a premium free agent? Carlos Beltran is sitting out there with minimal interest, but what would happen when Craig comes back? Just one of the Cardinals top ten prospects is an outfielder, and he’s a 19 year old in high-A.
St Louis is going to need to get creative to replace Pujols in the lineup with Craig’s injury becoming a factor. If Craig didn’t need the surgery, everything would be fine. But with that on the table, GM John Mozeliak is going to need to rack his brain in order to come up with a solution for the now gaping hole in his lineup.