Albert Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals celebrates an out during Game Six of the MLB World Series against the Texas Rangers at Busch Stadium in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Albert Pujols is heading to the West Coast, likely for the rest of his career -- far from the NL Central. What will the division look like without him?
The Milwaukee Brewers won the NL Central in 2011 with a club-record 96 victories. They will be losing Prince Fielder; we don't yet know where he will end up, but it won't be in Milwaukee -- GM Doug Melvin says the Brew Crew has moved on. So the Brewers are likely to be a somewhat less powerful offensive unit in 2012 and beyond, although they still have many good hitters, led by Ryan Braun and Corey Hart.
One man we do know will not be returning to the NL Central is Albert Pujols, who just signed a $250 million, 10-year megadeal with the Los Angeles Angels. The first effect of this on the NL Central is, obviously, the Cardinals not having him at first base and in the middle of their lineup. In Pujols' 11 season in St. Louis, the Cardinals made the playoffs seven times, played in three World Series, and won two championships.
The likely replacement for Pujols in the Cardinals' lineup is Allen Craig, whether it's Craig at first base, or Craig in the outfield and Lance Berkman at first base. And that's after Craig recovers from knee surgery performed Dec. 6 that will likely keep him out until May.
I don't know Allen Craig, but he's no Albert Pujols, and if St. Louis has to go down yet another step to replace Pujols in their lineup, they will be a significantly worse offensive team than they were in 2011, when they led the NL in runs scored with 762.
Those two NL Central teams both won 90 or more games and made the postseason in 2011, and both will be teams with less offense in 2012. That alone would help the fortunes of the four (and in 2013, only three) other teams in the division.
More importantly, with Pujols now in the American League, none of the NL Central teams will have to face him this season (the Angels' interleague games are against the NL West). Pujols' career numbers against NL Central teams are as follows:
Astros: .311/.402/.569, 42 HR, 112 RBI in 655 AB
Brewers: 329/.424/.616, 42 HR, 140 RBI in 636 AB
Cubs: .302/.405/.616, 53 HR, 135 RBI in 632 AB
Pirates: .365/.451/.681, 48 HR, 145 RBI in 633 AB
Reds: .350/.430/.641, 46 HR, 143 RBI in 652 AB
Conveniently, that's about one full season's worth of AB against each team. And that's an MVP-type season against each of them. You can probably hear the contented sighs of NL Central pitchers, knowing they won't have to face Pujols more than perhaps one series every three years. It should put the division up for grabs; both the Cardinals and Brewers should have somewhat worse offenses in 2012 -- unless the Cardinals decide to use some of the money they had earmarked for Pujols to sign Fielder. That's a longshot, but then, so were the Angels' chances of signing Pujols a couple of days ago.
All five of the other teams in the NL Central, then, should be quite happy that Albert Pujols has taken his talents to Laguna Beach. All, that is, except:
The poor Astros, indeed. They'll see him again 18 or so times a year, starting in 2013, when they move to the AL West. As for the rest of the NL Central, they'll all hope the next time they face Albert Pujols will be in a World Series.