With the Cardinals in the World Series and the Los Angeles Angels not even making the playoffs, its easy to say that the Cards made the right decision in letting Pujols walk after the 2011 season. Scott Miller of CBS Sports basically says that the Cardinals are better off without Pujols, and I tend to agree with him.
But it makes one wonder what would have happened had the Cardinals beaten the Angels 10-year, $240 million offer and re-signed Pujols to a 10-year, say $245 million contract. What might the Cardinals look like today?
First off, we would say adios to Carlos Beltran. Shortly after the Cardinals lost Pujols to the Angels, they signed Beltran to a two-year, $26 million contract. Its unlikely this signing would have occurred if Pujols had stayed.
Beltran has done well with the Cards, hitting .282/.343/.493 in his two seasons with the team. He has also hit .308 the last two years in the Playoffs, including 18 rbi's in 23 games.
Without him, Pujols would be at first and Craig would have been in right field. However, with Craig injured for the NLDS and NLCS and Matt Adams (and Pujols, for that matter) unable to play outfield, the Cardinals offense would have had a huge hole.
Michael Wacha/Stephen Piscotty
If the Cardinals had kept Pujols, they would have lost first round pick Michael Wacha and supplemental pick Stephen Piscotty in the 2012 draft.
While Wacha did not have much impact on the regular season the last two years, he has obviously been outstanding this postseason, earning the MVP award in the NLCS.
However, even without Wacha, the Cardinals still might not have missed a beat. Shelby Miller, who was effectively replaced in the rotation by Wacha, did win 15 games this year with a 3.06, but has been used sparingly in the postseason. Or he could have been used in relief, while current postseason setup man, Carlos Martinez, could have been placed in the rotation. The point being, the Cardinals still would have options.
As for Stephen Piscotty, he is often the forgotten man in the life without Pujols discussions, but he is an intriguing prospect. He has hit .295/.362/.458 in 167 minor league games and could be an outfield fixture in the not-so-distant-future. If the Cardinals had resigned Pujols, he would not even be in the picture.
Yadier Molina, Adam Wainwright and Allen Craig extensions
The final impact that Pujols signing with the Angels had was freeing up money for the Cardinals to sign Yadier Molina, Adam Wainwright and Allen Craig to contract extensions.
Molina was the first to sign, agreeing to a 5-year, $75 million extension in March 2012, with Craig (5-year/$31 million) and Wainwright (5-year, $97.5 million) following in March 2013.
With Craig, the Cardinals effectively bought out his arbitration years with a highly backloaded contract, so his signing did not have much impact. However, both Molina and Wainwright got $7-8 million raises as a result of their extensions, which is roughly equivalent to the difference between Pujols' last Cardinals contract ($16 million) and his Angels deal ($24 million/year). (Note: I realize that Pujols' Angels contract is backloaded too, but I'm using the average value for simplicity sake).
Its possible that, if the Cardinals had resigned Pujols, either Molina or Wainwright would not have been signed to an extension and, given Molina's value to the team, I think Wainwright would have been left out in the cold. However, Wainwright would not be a free agent until after this season, so it would not have had an impact on this year's team.
Overall, I think that, if the Cardinals had signed Pujols to an extension, it would not have had a significant impact on this year's team. Beltran (.836 OPS, 128 OPS+) and Pujols (.823 OPS, 130 OPS+) have put up similar numbers in their two years with their new teams, so that's pretty much a wash. Sure, the Cardinals wouldn't have Wacha and may not have reached the World Series as a result. But, they still would have been a playoff team.
The biggest impact will be on the future Cardinals' teams. Wacha will be in the Cardinals rotation in 2014 as will Wainwright. Beltran will need to be replaced, but the Cardinals have Matt Adams and Oscar Taveras as potential replacements. Plus, the Cardinals will not be paying $24+ million a year to a player who's skills will likely diminish significantly over the course of his contract (think Alfonso Soriano).
In the end, the Cardinals did just fine without him this year and will come out way ahead in the long run.