Make sure you click here to check out Part 1 of GG’s interview.
In Part 2, Daniel Shoptaw shares who his favorite Cardinals fantasy sleepers are, who would be perfect next to Albert Pujols on the right side of the infield, what he expects out of the club in 2011, and where he thinks Pujols ends up.
GG: The Cardinals have had quite the 2000s so far. There have been seasons where they totally dominated the regular season, only to fall in the playoffs, and then in 2006, made it in with just 83 wins, and won the entire shebang. How do you think the NL Central is won this year and who do you consider the favorite? Especially after last year’s pitching heavy Giants World Series win, do the Cardinals fans look at it like their team is just as good as anyone else’s in the National League?
C70: I think a lot of Cardinal fans think that the Cardinals are about as good as anyone in the Central, though even that contention has been shaken in the light of the Wainwright news. The Central is a mix of pretty good but not great teams, so it could be a bit of a scrum at the top.
The Reds go in as the favorites, I believe, because they are defending the title. The Brewers did a very good job shoring up their major weakness, which was pitching. Both of those teams could be considered favorites.
The Cubs are never going to get too much of their due from Cardinal fans, but the addition of Matt Garza should help their team out somewhat. I still think their offense isn’t going to be enough to keep them seriously in the race, but they should be on the outskirts of it.
Pittsburgh and Houston are in rebuilding mode. They may contend in a year or so, but right now they don’t seem to be players in the 2011 race.
GG: If you could add one single player to the team today to shore up a weakness, who would that be? Who would be the perfect player not wearing Cardinal red today to add to the team?
C70: Interesting question. Beyond the obvious options, such as Roy Halladay or Evan Longoria, I think the weakest portion of the team might be at second base. Skip Schumaker has some wonderful qualities, but defense and extra-base power really aren’t two of them. If you are just completely dreaming, Chase Utley would be a great fit for the team. He’d give offense, defense and I think might fit in with the general ethic of the team as well.
GG: Fantasy baseball question: Save for Pujols, Colby Rasmus, Matt Holliday, and Carpenter, who do you think will put up big numbers that not too many others will have their eyes on?
C70: Assuming he stays healthy, something the Cardinals desperately need, David Freese is an interesting option at third base. He’s shown plenty of power in the minors, but that was a little slow to come last season before the injuries that ended the season. He was just starting to get adjusted then, though, so in a shallow third base pool, he stands out as a medium-sized fish.
Of course, Jaime Garcia will step back a little this year, just because his rookie season was so good. Even with that, though, he’s a good mid-rounds pick for a starting rotatation.
Finally, you have to like the chances that Lance Berkman will rebound and become part of a strong offense. I’d like him better if he was hitting second instead of fifth, but even so his power bat should make for numerous RBI.
GG: Prediction time: Where do you think the Cardinals ultimately end up in their division and what do you think about their playoffs hopes?
C70: If you can’t be optimistic in the spring, there’s something wrong with you. I still think the Cardinals have enough talent to win a closely competitive NL Central. I expect that they’d only win by a couple of games over the Brewers and a couple more over the Reds.
That said, even if they get into postseason, they could have a short stay. I think there’s a good chance they’d face Philadelphia in the first round and, if so, the Cardinal rotation doesn’t seem to stack up well against The Four Aces. I don’t know that they’ll go deep into the postseason–they probably won’t–but if they can even make it there with the loss of Wainwright, it’ll be a successful season.
GG: Now let’s come back full circle on this thing. We started with Pujols and I want to end with Pujols. When does he resign? And do you believe him when he says they’re not negotiating during the season?
C70: First, let’s put to rest one of the talking points of the team, the fact that they have an exclusive window from the end of the season until five days after the World Series. While true, let’s be honest: if Pujols was going to sign in that time frame, there’s no reason why he wouldn’t have signed before the season starts. Nothing is different in that span of time than there was a couple of weeks ago, unless Pujols has a down year and thinks the market is going to be less than what the Cards are offering.
I do believe that Team Pujols, as it were, will not be doing any negotiating during the season. If the Cards came to them June 1 and said, “Look, we’ve thought about it, here’s all you asked for,” then I think they’d sign the deal. That’s not going to happen, of course, so I think Pujols will go through the year and file for free agency after the World Series.
That is not doom and gloom at all. I’m perfectly fine with him filing free agency to see what the market is for him. Because at the end of the day, I think he comes back to St. Louis assuming they don’t do anything like ridiculously low-ball him, which I don’t think they’ll do. Albert is a man of faith (a great new book on that came out recently, entitled Pujols: More Than The Game), and part of that faith has been starting the Pujols Family Foundation and running numerous charitable programs through it. His foundation is headquartered in St. Louis and a large part of the funding comes from St. Louis and Cardinal fans. He’s got a restaurant in St. Louis, the proceeds of which all go to the Foundation. His family is in St. Louis. There are a ton of ties to the community, ties that would be difficult to replicate other places. In St. Louis, Albert is a hero, an icon, “one of us” and that helps in fundraising. Other places, he’s a hired gun and the connections would take a while to establish, plus he may have burned some bridges with his current money base.
Part of my thinking on the Pujols deal is that he’s holding out for the most money so he’ll have more money to fund his foundation with. This is his last big payday and he wants to be a philanthropist for a long time after he’s out of baseball. He’s going to need money to do that, money that can go quickly when you start setting up baseball leagues in the Dominican, for example.
I think he signs around December 20, after he’s had a chance to see what the market will offer and give the Cardinals a chance to do it. I would not be surprised if some ownership percentage is given out as well. All in all, though, if they are playing baseball in 2012, I expect Albert Pujols to be in Cardinal red when the season starts.
GG: And there you have it. I want to thank Daniel for going back and forth with me through e-mail for a few days. Don’t forget to check out his blog C70 At The Bat for your daily St. Louis Cardinals news.
Photo of Chase Utley shared via Wikipedia and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.