Albert Pujols

Albert Pujols and how the best players ever through age 31 performed from age 32 on

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Perhaps the only thing everyone can agree on when it comes to Albert Pujols leaving St. Louis for the Angels and $250 million is that his Cardinals career was amazing.

Pujols debuted on April 2, 2001 after surprisingly making the team out of spring training as a 21-year-old with just three games of experience above Single-A and performed at an MVP-level for 11 straight seasons.

Based on Baseball-Reference.com’s Wins Above Replacement calculations Pujols was worth 89.1 more wins than a replacement-level first baseman in 11 seasons with the Cardinals, which is the seventh-highest WAR total in baseball history through age 31:

Ty Cobb           112.5
Mickey Mantle     101.1
Rogers Hornsby    100.9
Babe Ruth          96.8
Hank Aaron         90.2
Alex Rodriguez    89.7
ALBERT PUJOLS      89.1
Lou Gehrig         86.9
Willie Mays        86.9
Mel Ott            86.8

Obviously that’s some ridiculously amazing company, but seeing Pujols on that list did make me curious about how those other guys fared after age 31. Here are the Wins Above Replacement totals for those same players from age 32 on:

Babe Ruth          75.2
Willie Mays        67.8
Hank Aaron         51.4
Ty Cobb            46.9
Lou Gehrig         31.5
Rogers Hornsby     26.9
Mel Ott            22.5
Mickey Mantle      19.1
Alex Rodriguez     15.2
ALBERT PUJOLS      ????

It’s tough to find too much meaning in those numbers given that most of those careers finished decades ago–and the one recent player, Alex Rodriguez, is still adding to his total–but clearly the odds are stacked against Pujols being worth anywhere near as much from age 32 on as he was from 21-31. In fact, the highest WAR total in MLB history after age 31 belongs to Barry Bonds at 86.5 and even that’s lower than Pujols’ mark through age 31.

Cardinals, Dexter Fowler agree to a five-year, $82 million deal

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 02:  Dexter Fowler #24 of the Chicago Cubs reacts during the seventh inning against the Cleveland Indians in Game Seven of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on November 2, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Getty Images
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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.

Are the Cardinals about to go on a free agent binge?

John Mozeliak AP
Associated Press
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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.