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Oct 7, 2011; Philadelphia, PA, USA; St. Louis Cardinals players mob pitcher Chris Carpenter (29) after he pitches a complete game shutout of the Philadelphia Phillies during game five of the 2011 NLDS at Citizens Bank Park. The Cardinals defeated the Phillies 1-0. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-US PRESSWIRE

Bye Bye Prince, Hello Division Title Run?

Prince Fielder‘s massive new deal with the Detroit Tigers helps the St. Louis Cardinals in many ways. First, it gets him out of the division and makes the rival Milwaukee Brewers that much weaker. As of now, Mat Gamel will be starting at first base for them. Secondly a Brewers team without Fielder and possibly Ryan Braun for the first 50 games due to a possible suspension, weakens their offense immensely. The Houston Astros are in complete rebuilding mode and won’t be in the division after this year. The Chicago Cubs will also be in rebuilding mode with new president Theo Epstein. The Pittsburgh Pirates are too young to contend quite yet, but they do have some prospects on the way.

This leaves the Cincinnati Reds as the Cardinals biggest threat going into 2012. The Reds won this division two years ago and have added Mat Latos and Ryan Madson this off-season to boost their pitching staff. They have a talented group of young hitters such as Jay Bruce and Joey Votto. Bruce got a six-year/$51 million contact before last season so he will be there awhile. Votto on the other hand is a free-agent after the 2013 season. Brandon Phillips, Scott Rolen, become free-agents after 2012. The Reds aren’t going to have enough cash to keep everyone so they may need to make some tough decisions. Votto may be the piece that ends up leaving, especially after Fielder’s and Albert Pujols‘ new contracts.

The Cards are set up to hang onto the division and be one of the top teams in it for awhile. Besides Lance Berkman and Yadier Molina who are free agents after 2012, many of the team’s best players are under contract for the foreseeable future. Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter are free agents after the 2013 season, however the emergence of top prospect Shelby Miller may help alleviate the loss of either one of them if it comes to that. Of course there is a possibility that maybe the Cardinals can come in and swoop Votto from the Reds as a free agent as well.

The Cardinals are in a unique position to have a grip on the NL Central for years to come. Even without that Pujols guy, they can still be at the top of the division and compete for the pennant for the next few years. The other teams in the Central are rebuilding. The Reds may only be able to compete with the Cards for the next one or two years. Time will tell.

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Tags: Adam Wainwright Albert Pujols Brandon Phillips Chris Carpenter Jay Bruce Joey Votto Lance Berkman Mat Gamel Mat Latos Prince Fielder Ryan Braun Ryan Madson Scott Rolen Shelby Miller St Louis Cardinals Yadier Molina

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