The quiet NL MVP race looks like a two-man competition on the surface: Matt Kemp has been the league’s best player, while Ryan Braun has a good case for second best and has put up his numbers for a first-place team. Still, I can’t help but wonder if a third candidate is lurking.
Albert Pujols may yet become the NL MVP if he leads St. Louis to what would be a pretty amazing comeback in the wild card race. The Cardinals have won 10 of their last 12 games and now trail the Braves by just 2 1/2 games with nine left to play (the Braves have eight games remaining).
Pujols has certainly been a driving force while hitting .397 with four homers and 17 RBI in 17 games this month. He’s batting .324/.386/.609 with 18 homers and 46 RBI in 60 games since the All-Star break.
Writers do love their stories, and Pujols provides a better one than either Kemp or Braun. He had maybe the worst two-month run of his career at the beginning of the season, hitting just .265/.335/.412 with nine homers and 31 RBI through June 2. Just after he regained his stroke, he suffered a fractured wrist that was supposed to cost him 4-6 weeks. Instead, he returned after two weeks and never missed a beat. He currently leads the NL with 36 homers and he’s seventh — and climbing — with 96 RBI.
Pujols will have to keep it going in these last nine games to have a chance, and he’ll need the Braves to continue to falter as well. If it all comes together, he could be looking at a fourth MVP award, even as he finishes with what will probably be the lowest batting average and OPS of his career.
The Cardinals have officially signed outfielder Dexter Fowler to a five-year, $82.5 million contract. Fowler will also get a full no-trade clause.
The Cardinals gave Fowler a bigger deal than many speculated he’d get, as some reports predicted he’d get something in the $52-72 million range. His skills, however — he’s a fantastic leadoff hitter who plays a premium defensive position — definitely earned him some major dough. Fowler hit .276/.393/.447 with 13 homers, 48 RBI and 13 steals over 125 games in 2016 for the World Series champion Cubs.
For the Cardinals, this will allow Matt Carpenter to move down to the middle of the batting order and will shift Randal Grichuk to left field. It also takes a prime piece from the Cardinals’ biggest rival. For their part, earlier this offseason the Cubs signed former Cardinal center fielder Jon Jay. So that’s fun.
The Cardinals have always emphasized building from within. In the 2016-17 offseason, however, they may end up being one of the bigger free agent buyers. At least according to some informed speculation.
St. Louis is already in agreement with Dexter Fowler. But Derrick Goold and Ben Frederickson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch write today that the Cardinals “could become more aggressive than previously believed,” with Mark Trumbo and Edwin Encarnacion as “possible pursuits.” Worth noting that separate reports alleged some interest on the part of the Cards front office in free agent third baseman Justin Turner.
The Cardinals are already losing their first round pick due to the Fowler signing, so any other top free agent won’t cost them more than the money he’s owed. And as far as money goes, the Cardinals have a great deal of it, despite being a small market team. They have a billion dollar TV deal coming online and Matt Holliday and Jaime Garcia are off the payroll now. Spending big on a free agent or three would not cripple them or anything.
Encarnacion or Trumbo would be first baseman, which wold fly in the face of the Cards’ move of Matt Carpenter to first base (and, at least as far as Encarnacion goes, would fly in the face of good defense). Getting either of them would push Carpenter back to second, displacing Kolten Wong, or over to third, displacing Jhonny Peralta. If you’re going to do that, I’d say that Turner would make more sense, but what do I know?
Either way, the Cardinals may be entering a pretty interesting phase of their offseason now. And an unfamiliar one as, quite possibly, the top free agent buyer on the market.