Life After Pujols: Freese New Face of St. Louis

By Craig Phelps

St. Louis, Mo – Since the departure of Albert Pujols from St. Louis, his restaurant has offered free angel food cake, a church began taking donations of Pujols jerseys to give to the homeless, and the once beloved first baseman has been ridiculed by fans as just another money hungry athlete.

With so much negativity surrounding Cardinals fans right now, it might be helpful to look towards the future.

Following the initial shock of losing one of the best players in team history, St. Louisans should begin the process of looking for the new face of their hallowed organization.   Please note that the following only looks at players whom were on the Major League roster during the 2011 season potential future big leaguers like Shelby Miller and Matt Adams are left off of the list.

Matt Holliday is a .315 career hitter averaging 29 homeruns and 110 RBI’s with All-Star appearances in each of his two full seasons playing under the Arch; Holliday has played in five All-Star games in his career.  With a contract through the 2016 season and a club option with a $1 million buyout for the 2017 season guaranteed if he finishes in the top 10 of MVP voting, Holliday certainly has a “star” contract that matches his career performance.  Holliday comes under some unjust criticism from Cardinals fans because the 31 year old outfielder was acquired via trade so fans are still warming up to number seven.  Despite this

Lance Berkman has quickly gone from “Cardinal killer” to “Cardinal favorite” since his arrival in the Gateway City.  Berkman exploded onto the scene this year with 24 homeruns and 63 RBI’s in the first half of the season including 8 homeruns in April/March, 9 in June, and 8 in July.  His joyful approach to the game and his light-hearted humor in the clubhouse along with his veteran presence was just what the doctor ordered for the Cardinals this season.  While Berman jerseys could be spotted on the back of Cardinals fans throughout the ballpark this year, the Puma’s numbers in the latter part of the season began to fluctuate with a slightly negative tendency.  The soon to be 36 year old former Cardinal rival hit a lowly two homeruns in August and just one in September/October.  While Fat Elvis added a sixth All-Star appearance to his belt this season and finished seventh in MVP voting at seasons end, Berkman is not a proper portrait for the face of the franchise due simply to his age.

Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainright, and Jamie Garcia can be lumped into one basket that sits under the Dave Duncan tree of success.  While these three pitchers are individually capable of greatness, nearly all credit must go to the master of the pitch.  Since the Cardinals are hoping to sell jerseys and tickets for years to come off of a player’s success and reputation, a pitching coach like Dave Duncan is out of the question to be the face of the franchise.  At the same time, Chris Carpenter did not age gracefully this past year with his lowest win total since his 2001 season in Atlanta.  With that being said, Death Carp threw the second most innings of his career this season with a rather lackluster defensive team behind him and still managed to acquire double digits wins during the regular season; this is not even mentioning his post-season heroics.  Unfortunately, Carpenter will be going on 37 years of age come the end of April so he falls into the same boat as Berkman.  Wainright and Garcia, on the other hand, are a young one-two combination that is likely to cause teams trouble for years to come.  Wainright has already proven himself to be a yearly Cy Young Award contender and Cardinals fans can expect an incredibly versatile and crafty Garcia to be in the race as well for years to come.  m

For some unknown reason, ladies of all ages love to see a plus sized catcher hustle down the base paths at the astonishing pace of a snail.  While his powers to make the ladies swoon at his feet have many males within the Gateway City at a loss of words and rather jealous, there is no doubt that Yadier Molina is already a face of the Cardinals franchise.  Building a career as the best defensive catcher and game caller in the Major Leagues today is no easy task.  Consider the fact that not only are players bigger, faster, and stronger than ever before, but that batters now use video to review and critique every pitch that comes from the mound; this means that being a truly superb defensive catcher is more difficult than ever before yet, Yadi still reigns supreme.  He has a knack for calling the right pitch at the perfect time that throws hitters into a roller coaster of a plate appearance.  One only has to look at Molina’s caught stealing percentage of 44 percent over his career and compare that to the league average 28 percent to get true appreciation for this defensive masterpiece; as a note, Molina has finished with the third best caught stealing percentage in the league in three different years.  The defensive cannon behind the plate showed off a little with the bat this year as well, throwing up career marks across the board with a .305 batting average, 14 home runs, and 65 RBI’s with 55 runs scored.  This four time Gold Glove winner and three-time All-Star could and should be the face of the franchise, but there’s one slight problem with him.

David Freese is the hometown boy.  While it’s tough to paint a player who barely has over a full regular season of games under his belt (184 games played since his 2009 debut) as the face of such as historic franchise, this Lafayette High School graduate stole the hearts of Cardinals nation this year.  While he’s faced his fair share of injuries during his time in the big leagues, Freese has still managed to put up a career .298 average including 10 homers with 55 RBI’s and 16 doubles during the 2011 regular season.  The Wildwood, MO native astonished the world by winning both the NLCS and World Series MVP awards.  The 28 yeard old right hander tore through the Brewers swinging for a .545 average with 3 homeruns and 9 RBI’s in the NLCS.  Freese then topped off the Cardinals historic post-season run by hitting .348 in the World Series with 7 RBI’s, 5 drawn walks, 1 game tying triple, and one of the most dramatic home runs in Cardinals history.  Assuming he can stay healthy and can continue to improve or, at the very least, remain at his current level of production through the remainder of his career, he will truly be a special player.

David Freese is poised to be the next face of the Cardinals.

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