Free agent Albert Pujols signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers. The St. Louis Cardinals missed on the opportunity for a storybook ending for one of the franchise’s biggest icons.
When Albert Pujols walked away from the St. Louis Cardinals after the 2011 World Series victory, it marked the end of an era. An all-time great player who had put together a decade of excellence wearing the Birds on the Bat was now leaving for California. The Los Angeles Angels, to be more exact.
This week, the Cardinals and Pujols were given an unexpected opportunity after Pujols was let go by the Angels. Could the two sides reunite and write the final chapters in Albert Pujols’ storybook ending?
The answer was “no.” Pujols is departing one Los Angeles team and joining another. Make no mistake, for Pujols, it’s an obvious fit. He doesn’t have to travel far to join his new team and he’s joining the clear favorites in the National League. Yet, the St. Louis Cardinals were the perfect fit.
For as great as the Los Angeles Dodgers are, the St. Louis Cardinals seem like a legit championship contender this season. The Cardinals play in the weak NL Central division so their road to the playoffs is relatively easy, compared to the Dodgers who have to deal with the San Diego Padres and surprising San Fransisco Giants.
The Cardinals signing Pujols, for minimal cost, to join the team and compete for a championship was such a great potential storyline it seemed obvious. Right?
Pujols was likely not going to find a team to give him regular at-bats. The Cardinals bench is weak. If Pujols is going to settle for a reduced role, as seems probable, wouldn’t he be a better pinch-hitting option for the team than Matt Carpenter, Edmundo Sosa, and Lane Thomas? From a pure baseball perspective, it made some sense. From a nostalgic and business perspective, it made a lot of sense.
With Busch Stadium set to increase capacity, the Cardinals could have touted the return of Albert Pujols as an added incentive to come and see the team. Ticket sales might have been through the roof. Certainly, the team being one of the best in the league right now is incentive enough to come watch them play, but from a fan service point of view, wouldn’t it be cool seeing Albert Pujols getting to come up with the game on the line in the late innings?
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The Cardinals had the perfect PR opportunity sitting for them on a golden platter and decided to spit on it. To me, the failure to bring Pujols back for one last potential rodeo is a huge whiff. There was basically no financial commitment, the team seems poised for a playoff run, and a rejuvenated Pujols could have been an ideal bench bat. That’s not even taking into account the fan excitement and promotional value that would have come with a Pujols reunion.
Look, it’s not like the St. Louis Cardinals missed out on the missing piece for making them a championship team. At this point in his career, Pujols is probably not a game-changer. But the pros for adding him far outweighed the cons. The management and organizational decision-makers missed out on a great opportunity to give fans some more memories of a former franchise icon.
It’s not unreasonable to say the Cardinals could be a World Series caliber team this season. How cool would it have been to see Pujols and good friend Yadier Molina celebrate another World Series title together, ten years after Pujols left? Storybook, indeed.
That book has closed, and now the Cardinals can await Pujols’ return to St. Louis later this season as a member of the Dodgers. A potential playoff matchup, too. The St. Louis Cardinals are a good team and could make a deep playoff run. Pujols could have been a part of it. Don’t say there was no room on the roster when first baseman John Nogoswki made the Opening Day roster. The possibility was there, the stage was set, and the spotlight was shining bright.
The St. Louis Cardinals dropped the curtain and exited stage left.