Last time I checked, baseball weirdly started a week ago in Japan with a few games that no one watched, but the season officially starts tonight, when we get to see the World Series Champion Cardinals take on the Marlins in a game that reminds all of us how weird professional player movement can get.
The two teams playing tonight are at different ends of the same drama. One team is a story loosely titled “How Good Can They Be Now That They Have X,” and the second team’s saga is more likely to be “How Far Will They Fall Now That They Don’t Have X.” The Marlins had an awful year last year, but the Jose Reyes pickup has a lot of people who know things about baseball excited. The Cardinals won the entire show last year, but it turns out they didn’t have the pockets to keep the best player on their team (or any team) for a run at defending it.
Here’s my take on both of those stories:
Cardinals: I’m sure this will come up around 1,000,000 times during the opening game tonight, but how in the hell do the Cardinals replace Albert Pujols?
Are you ready for the answer? They can’t. And they don’t have to.
I’m being totally serious. A lineup with Holliday, Beltran and Berkman isn’t as dangerous as a lineup of Holliday, Beltran, Berkman and Pujols, but those three guys aren’t bad at all and Albert is the best player in the game, there’s no way to go from him to a replacement without losing something.
Speaking of losing something, let’s not forget that the Cards played last season without Adam Wainwright, who won 20 games in 2010 and finished the year with the fourth-lowest ERA in baseball. The starting pitching on this team is close to as good as it gets.
Overall, the 2012 Cardinals are not the 2011 Cardinals minus Albert and Tony La Russa, they’re a different team that doesn’t need to scrap everything and start over again. This is a good team that should win plenty of games.
There is no “replacing” Albert Pujols, there is only “playing without” Albert. Like it or not, the Cardinals have to do the latter, but so do 28 other teams.
At the end of the day (the end of today is actually a baseball game), baseball is a sport that begs numbers nerd like me to make comparisons, and the truth is that in a season where the best group of players get about 600 at-bats, the difference between a .360 OBP player (Pujols last year) and a .300 OBP player is about one extra trip aboard every 5 games. While it’s nice to have a guy on base a bunch, it isn’t worth $240 Million.
Marlins: Does putting Jose Reyes and Ozzie Guillen on this team make them any better? Probably. Does throwing two lit matches into a power keg make something I’ll watch? Absolutely.
Here’s what I like about baseball: teams with the best players don’t always win everything. If you’re looking for evidence, see any year the Yankees or Red Sox don’t win the Series. The Phillies gave it a run before last season, and lost to the Cardinals in the NLDS. They had better players than the Cardinals, but it takes more than that to win in the Majors.
They 2012 Marlins definitely have better players than the 2011 Marlins. They have better players than a lot of 2012 teams. But I have a feeling they’ll be a lot more entertainment than success.
Reyes is good, but Heath Bell might turn out to be the bigger acquisition for this team. The starters (Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Anibal Sanchez and Ricky Nolasco) aren’t bad and some pen stability might lock down more wins than you think.