Cardinals, with Beltran – Clear Favorites in the Central

by JohnBowen

Coming off a season which saw them win the World Series after sneaking into the Wild Card on the season’s final day (after starting September behind by 9 games), the Cardinals might not have necessarily had a great deal of hope for 2011. When Albert Pujols departed for Anaheim, those hopes seemed to be dashed further.

However, with the recent acquisition of Carlos Beltran for 2 years and 26 million dollars, the Cardinals should be looked at as the clear favorites to win the National League Central next year.

Let’s look at what Beltran himself brings:

Although his days as a center fielder are probably numbered, Beltran can slide into right field nicely, where he played over 140 games last season. This enables last season’s right fielder, Lance Berkman, to take over for Pujols at first, and give the Cardinals a rock-solid 3-4-5 heart of the order, with Matt Holliday. The presence of two switch hitters in that group will make playing the match-ups tough on opposing pitchers.

Beltran himself hit .300/.385/.525 in 2011, placing 7th in the National League with a 152 OPS+, which was actually better than the departed Pujols. That’s not to say that he can be expected to exceed or even approach Pujols’s production going forward – after all, 2011 was Pujols’s worst season – but building off a 2011 (in which they won it all), the Cardinals found an excellent replacement that didn’t involve committing a quarter-billion dollars.

With this move, the Cardinals have all-but filled in all the gaps that they needed to solve this off-season, without having to break the bank. Add to the fact that Adam Wainwright – who placed top-3 in the Cy Young voting in 2009 and 2010 – is coming back to the fold, and the Cardinals, overall, appear to be a much better positioned team than they were 1-year ago, when they made the impossible happen.

Meanwhile, the rest of the division is scrambling. Defending division champion Milwaukee Brewers have effectively said their farewells to big-time slugger Prince Fielder, while potentially saying goodbye to 50 games of reigning MVP Ryan Braun due to a failed drug test (though some sources have indicated that this was simply from a medication for a -um, sensitive medical ailment). The Brewers upgraded at third base and shortstop with Aramis Ramirez and Alex Gonzalez respectively, but with Francisco Rodriguez likely to come-back as the world’s most expensive and angry set-up man for around 10-15 million dollars in arbitration, the Brew Crew will be unlikely to add any more depth to the team and will most likely be in the mid-to-low 80’s for wins.

The 2010 division champion Reds have been busy in the last week or so, leading up to Christmas, acquiring young ace Mat Latos from San Diego and reliever Sean Marshall from the Cubs. However, not only was the cost for these players entirely too high, in terms of prospect talent, but the moves themselves don’t strike me as having the impact that those prices would suggest. Mat Latos has put up nice numbers the last couple years, but he is now moving from the most pitcher friendly park in the game, to one of the most hitter-friendly. Meanwhile, Sean Marshall continues to be a 29-year old reliever. Snore.

As a Brewers fan, I desperately hope I’m wrong, ¬†but I see the Cardinals winning around 95 games, even without the best or second-best player in their history. Carlos Beltran doesn’t do that by himself, but he certainly helps – and at the right price. Meanwhile, the Brewers and Reds will most likely have winning records, but will find themselves well out of first down the home stretch in 2012.

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9 Responses to “Cardinals, with Beltran – Clear Favorites in the Central”

  1. Bob Says:

    Good article, John. I agree this is a great signing for the Cards.

  2. Brautigan Says:

    As a Cardinal fan, I like this signing.

  3. Chuck Says:

    Good move by Beltran (or Boras) in taking just two years.

    He proves himself healthy and capable of playing every day and has two Beltran type seasons, he could easily get himself a three or four deal down the road with an AL team for a lot more than $13 per.

  4. JohnBowen Says:

    I dunno about that, Chuck.

    At the start of his next deal, Carlos Beltran will be 37.

    Were there any 3-year offers even out there?

    The other thing is the “Beltran-type” seasons. I think he’s going to prove himself an excellent player if healthy…but a decent chunk what I associate with “Beltran-type” seasons are speed and incredible CF defense, both of which I think are pretty much a thing of the past.

  5. Cameron Says:

    St. Louis made a good impact signing here, but the NLC is such a clusterfuck that I don’t know who to put my money on. Right now it’s a coin flip between St. Louis and Cincinnati.

    Long-term, the Reds are gonna collectively fuck this division. Votto and Bruce are there long-term and you’ve got young supporters like Cozart and Mesoraco there for a while and a staff anchored by Latos and Cueto. The only other team built for down-the-road success is Pittsburgh, which will be interestin races, but outside of McCutchen, I don’t think they have the same level of talent guys like Joey Votto do.

  6. Kerry Says:

    @2 Ditto, although longer term the Cards are going to need to fill in the holes that the older players (e.g., Berkman, Beltran, Furcal, Carpenter) will leave.

    @4 Supposedly there were 3-year deals out there for Beltran this time (maybe not in 2 years though).

    Beltran is an interesting Hall of Fame prospect. He has about 61 WAR already, and if he has another couple of seasons with 3-4 WAR each, he will be near the top of players not in the Hall (not counting active, not yet eligible, steroid-linked players, or Pete Rose). Lou Whitaker, Barry Larkin, Bobby Grich, Larry Walker, Edgar Martinez and Alan Trammell also are in the high 60’s.

  7. JohnBowen Says:

    I’ve always thought Beltran was well on his way. Total package player, beats you in so many ways. He’s not the 5-tool stud he was in his 20’s, but who is.

    Merry Christmas, Everyone!

  8. Cameron Says:

    I remember Beltran in his 20s. Good times, good times…

  9. Stephanie Says:

    It doesn’t matter guys! Both Pena and Kotchman have flaws as hiretts. Pena has tons of power, drive in runs, hit for no average, and will K 170+ times; while Kotchman will hit for little power, not drive in many runs, hit for a decent average, and not K very often. The only thing they both do well is field their position among the elite in the game. It’s really unfair to compare the 2 as hiretts because they’re polar opposites. To be honest, neither of them solve the problem at first base except for their defensive work. Kendrys Morales gives us a balance of both, and Rizzo might do the same (but he’s unproven, so there’s no telling). Trumbo isn’t known for being a very good defender, and he doesn’t get on base a whole lot so I don’t see him fitting in the Rays formula. Gotta start thinking like Friedman, guys. This doesn’t mean we won’t sign Pena or Kotchman it just means they’ll be looking for an answer that is more long term, instead of continuing with the revolving door.

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