Was It Really A Good Idea To Sign Furcal And Beltran?
When God freed Albert Pujols from the St. Louis poorhouse in order to pursue his missionary goals in Hollywood, Cardinal Nation was mostly swept into panic. Accustomed to big boppers in the lineup, many fans clamored to see owner Bill DeWitt and GM John Mozeliak “do something” to address the gaping hole left by Pujols’ departure.
In fact, it seemed that Mozeliak himself felt pressure to deliver “something” in order to reassure fans that they were, in fact, still interested in winning. Unfortunately, the subsequent moves made by the Cardinal brass in the last two weeks indicate that they have been making decisions based on panic rather than on building a new core.
Immediately after the Pujols debacle, Mozeliak dumped $14 million dollars on two years of shortstop Rafael Furcal. Over the last four years, Furcal has averaged just 92 games and 400 plate appearances per year – not good. During his time in St. Louis in 2011, fans saw a diminished player who was a generally poor leadoff hitter with a shockingly-high error rate (10 errors in 50 games).
So why did Mozeliak agree to pay a 34 year-old shortstop $7 million a year when a cheap Tyler Greene and his batting line of .323/.422/.579 last year sits on the bench? Fan pressure, mostly. Fans connect the miraculous 2011 World Championship to the arrival of Furcal in August, and they want to see him continue despite little evidence that Furcal contributes very much to any of the wins. There simply wasn’t any real reason to keep Furcal at that price point except to placate frustrated fans who wanted “something done.”
But the real capitulation came yesterday with the signing of Carlos Beltran.
First of all, I really like Beltran. He’s always been a solid player and (seemingly) a decent teammate. And the contract given to him – two years and $26M with a no-trade clause – is probably a win/win deal IF Beltran stays healthy and produces numbers similar to his good comeback year in 2011.
But that’s a big IF around which to build a Pujols-free team. For one, the 35 year-old outfielder’s knees probably contain less organic material than Michael Jackson’s nose. Beltran’s knees are so questionable that he has continued to wear stabilizing braces beneath his uniform to prop himself up – how encouraging!
Even worse, the signing of Beltran means that Allen Craig will (once again) not have a permanent place in this lineup. “So what?!” scream Cardinal fans, “We have Beltran!” In their starry-eyed wonder, many fans have forgotten or overlooked the fact that Allen Craig was on pace to have the best season on the team in 2011. Yes, better than Pujols and Berkman. Projected out to the 651 plate appearances given to Pujols, Craig (who only had 200 at bats) would’ve posted a WAR of 8.9 at that pace in 2011. By comparison, Pujols posted a WAR of 5.4, and Berkman posted a 5.2. Even though it might be slightly ridiculous to suggest that Craig could actually produce an outrageous WAR like that, the fact remains that he was on pace to outdo the biggest names on this ballclub.
By signing Furcal and Beltran, Cardinal management has folded to the demands of fans angry about Pujols and hungry for a contender at all costs. The signings have made baseball’s slowest team in 2011 even slower, and quite a bit older as well. Meanwhile, intriguing young players like Greene and Craig are pushed aside (yet again) for “all star” players who are expensive and past their prime.
With all of these exciting prospects coming up in the next year, the team needs to focus forward on building a new core of young talent rather than cling fearfully to the past.