What happens with Pujols and the Cardinals now?

Albert Pujols has proven to be a dependable star, playing in 140-plus games every year since 2001. In addition to showing up nearly every game, he has proven very resistant to slumps.

This year, Albert started the year stuck in a prolonged, for him, slump, finally breaking out in June. They he suffering the first major injury of his career, reported as a non-displaced forearm fracture that will keep him off the field of four to six weeks.

This is not the first time Pujols has hit the disabled listed or had a lingering injury.

He did have offseason surgery on his right elbow in October, 2009, with stints on the disabled list in 2006 and 2008 for muscle strains. Pujols has, at times, missed a game because of various minor aliments. He also has suffered with chronic plantar fasciitis in his left heel.

So, while not always in perfect health, he has played through his injuries and been one of the best players in the league during that time.

What does this mean for Pujols?

After his collision with Wilson Betemit, there was quite a bit that took place. You could see Pujols’ wrist, arm and shoulder get bent back. While reacting to the pain, Pujols grabbed his wrist and at one point pointed towards his shoulder. He also was holding his wrist, making it appear there was some instability in the wrist.

After imaging, it was reported Pujols had a non-displaced fracture of the radius, near the wrist. Non-displaced means, basically, it cracked, but the bones are still aligned. Surgery is not needed. I’m still doubtful this is the whole story. Based on the type of injury, receiving enough trauma to break a bone near the wrist and not cause an injury to the remaining complex parts of the wrist seems unlikely.

If this truly is the case, then Pujols should be able to come back fairly quickly with little impact. The wrist takes a good part of the torque generated in a baseball swing. If there is additional damage to the wrist, Pujols’ returned could be delayed, and he could have a drop in his power numbers until the wrist completely heals.

Pujols may come back within the reported time frame, but you’ll want to watch his power numbers. He was hitting like the old Albert in June, but he also had grounded into 17 double plays. An Albert with a drop in his power may hit fewer line drives and more ground balls.

How Pujols comes back is also going to affect his pending free agency. While he has proven to be resilient with injuries, you now have a 31-year-old player who has finally missed significant time to an injury. If you look at Baseball References Similarity Score, number one right now is Albert Belle. This can be a scary comparison* if you want to sign him to a long-term contract.

* It also reminds you how good Belle was at one time. But a lot of those Indians during that period get forgotten, probably because the team never won a World Series. In fact, if you look at Kenny Lofton, he simply doesn’t get the credit he deserves.

Where does this leaves the Cardinals?

The Cardinals are not in that bad a situation. As a right fielder, Lance Berkman makes a heck of a first baseman. Jon Jay can cover for Berkman in right field. While Berkman is not quite as skilled defensively at first base as Pujols, it is not a large drop-off, and Jay is an improvement in right over Berkman.

The Cardinals will not have a huge defensive dropoff and may, in fact, have a slightly better overall defense.

Offensively, you can’t replace Pujols long term, The Cardinals may need to replace only about 180 at-bats (about 35 percent of the season). Jay has produced a WAR* or 0.9 over 179 AB this year, Pujols 2.3 over 318 AB, which means Pujols, this season, was about one win better than Jay.

** WAR numbers taken from Fangraphs

The Cardinals will miss about two wins during this short period of time.

Two wins isn’t bad, but with the Brewers and Reds within three games of the Cardinals, this injury will tighten up the division race.

Losing Pujols is going to put pressure on players to step up, and Tony LaRussa is going to have a juggle the lineup a bit. St. Louis should be able to keep pace in a tight NL Central race. The larger issue is whether the full extend of the injury is being made public. If not, the forecast gets a worse for the Redbirds.

I would watch if the Cardinals look to make a move. If they try to bring in somebody to add some offensive support, it could indicate that more is wrong that just a fractured forearm.

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  1. Derek Ambrosino said...

    My first inclination here is to say that the Cardinals have already been stiffed on the credit they deserve in terms of being shrewd and competing this season with the loss of Wainwright and Chris Carpenter doing nothing to step up. A couiple of important things have gone right for them with the bats (up until now), but just about everything else has gone wrong, from their ace missing the season to their closer imploding shortly out the gate.

    But, most of you who are reading my commentary are probably hoping I’ll say something fantasy-wise.

    If you’re in a keeper league where Pujols is a keep-able player, I don’t see much to do but hold onto him unless you think making that deal is going to be the difference in winning and placing.

    His value may be higher right now than it will be when all the dust settles and all the tests are in, but that’s a chance I think you have to take. Barring anything outrageous, no matter what happens when he returns, most of his value will come back in the offseason. And, if you’re nervous, I would deal him then. That also expands the market, as some teams may not be able to give value for Pujols “on consignment” waiting for him to return from the DL.

    Meanwhile, if you have him in a non-keeper league, I’d at least explore how many cents on the dollar you can get for him. Six weeks is a substantial portion of the remaining season, so even if we assume he’ll be fine when he returns, you’d probaby be wise to take a strong offer.

    On the flip side, if you don’t own Pujols, you might want to try to find out how scared his owner is and what the lowest offer that could net him is.

    All things considered though, I think Pujols’s long term fantasy stock is actually minimally impacted by this, until we actually see something that gives us reason for concern going beyond 2011 – and the contact he gets in the offseason will be a proxy for the overall confidence in his health too. So, we’ll have that go on too.

    Pujols is like real estate in NY – no matter how badly the economy may appear to be collapsing around it, it holds such a long-standing history of proven value, that it’s pretty much insulated from the surroudning trends.

    Make a measured sale if you have to and it makes sense strategically, but don’t make a panic sale because you see some sensationalized headlines. The Pujols value bubble is not about to bust, long term – no matter what the tests say.

  2. Mat Kovach said...

    Additional reporting out there says that Cardinals will be doing additional imaging on Pujols in about 10 days.

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