Cardinals ponder life without Pujols

2011-10-25T09:10:00Z 2011-11-03T01:45:58Z Cardinals ponder life without PujolsBY JOE STRAUSS • > 314-340-8371

ARLINGTON, Texas • The Cardinals are bracing for a hectic winter condensed by the team's protracted postseason run. The issue awaited general manager John Mozeliak when he appeared at a news conference Monday afternoon before Game 5 of the World Series.

Mozeliak referenced the pending free agency of first baseman and three-time NL Most Valuable Player Albert Pujols, and manager Tony La Russa's mutual option for 2012.

Asked about the possibility of Pujols' defection after 11 years of historic production with the franchise, Mozeliak said, "Clearly, we still think we have a lot of core players, elite type players, who are part of this organization. One of the things we've tried to really focus on over the last four or five years is really making sure that our minor-league system is going to be able to produce some everyday players or middle- to top-of-the-rotation-type starters. So, happy to say, we believe our pipeline is very strong. So if this is an Albert-less club in the future, we still think we have a lot of positives coming."

The Cardinals have devised an alternative blueprint should they be unable to retain Pujols. With Lance Berkman signed to a one-year, $12 million extension as possible insurance at first base, Allen Craig projects as an alternative in right field. To compensate for Pujols' defection, the club may seek a significant offensive upgrade at either shortstop or center field, which could lead them to pursue a trade for a player such as Los Angeles Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp if the Dodgers seek to dump salary.

Club chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. and Mozeliak have stated in the past week a desire to maintain payroll at its current level - about $110 million. That would suggest the club is unlikely to dramatically enhance its January bid for Pujols of nine years for $198 million to $205 million, or a yearly average of $22 million to $22.75 million.

"There's no doubt he's been the identity of this organization for the past decade," Mozeliak said, "and trying to push just one button or try to say you're not going to feel that loss would be very difficult to say, especially in this environment."

Before reopening talks with Pujols, the club must determine whether La Russa plans to exercise his half of a mutual of an option for next season. Both sides must state their intention within 14 days of the World Series' final game.

Mozeliak refused to engage in "handicapping" the probability of La Russa's return, "but obviously having a manager in place and that (coaching) staff in place would probably be something we need to do right away."

Mozeliak indicated last week having a sense of La Russa's leaning. Though he has remained coy about his future, La Russa insisted Monday that he would give a decision long before the option's deadline.

"It won't be nearly that long," he said.

Pitching coach Dave Duncan is signed through next season; the remainder of the coaching staff has received no indication that La Russa intends to walk away after this season.

Jay out, Schumaker in

La Russa on Monday addressed a slumping member of his lineup by sitting center fielder Jon Jay in favor of Skip Schumaker.

Jay endured a 0-for-three Game 4 to drop to 0 for 15 for the Series and eight for 51 (.157) for the postseason, prompting La Russa to start Schumaker for the first time against the Rangers.

Jay's struggles are magnified when facing a series of tough lefthanded starting pitchers. Schumaker also hits lefthanded but got the nod based on a six-for-11 postseason that included only one strikeout. Jay has been struggling to push the ball from the infield.

"He's starting to pull his hair out because he's just not right at the plate," La Russa said about Jay, who is in a one-for-29 (.069) stretch. "It's not affecting his defense at all. He's a good offensive player, and I'm going to give Schu a shot because Schu is a really good player, can play the outfield and can come in with a fresh stroke. Then we'll see about Game 6. It's more Jay is just not himself. There's no reason to bury him."

The start was Schumaker's first in center field since Game 5 of the NL division series against the Philadelphia Phillies. He last started there in the regular season Aug. 15.

Et Cetera

La Russa contemplated moving Rafael Furcal out of the leadoff role but allowed him to remain despite a .185 postseason average that included a .125 mark (two for 16) against the Rangers. "I just see over-the-top effort," La Russa said. Furcal entered Game 5 after a run of at-bats in which his swing had lengthened and he appeared less willing to take a line-drive approach. "He wants it bad. And the harder he tries, sometimes the more he gets in his own way," La Russa said. "The players get up and say, ‘Just let the game come to you. Don't force it.'" Furcal helped himself and the team with a third-inning bunt single after being robbed of a first-inning hit by third baseman Adrian Beltre. ... Former closer Ryan Franklin remained in town for a second day as Mozeliak's guest. Franklin visited the Cardinals' clubhouse and mixed with media on field before the game. He spent time behind the batting cage with La Russa as well. After saying Sunday he was torn about attempting to play again next season, Franklin gave a stronger indication Monday that he is leaning toward retirement.

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