The 2011 season has already seen several significant injuries to superstar players, and yet another one took place this past weekend when St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols suffered a fracture in his left forearm.
With his current contract set to expire at the end of the season, Albert Pujols could become the biggest fish to ever venture into the free agency pool. Yet a strange collision in Sunday's game with Royals infielder Wilson Betemit has thrown a wrench into both Pujols' current and future ventures. Official word from the Cardinals this afternoon indicates that Pujols will miss 4-6 weeks with a small fracture in his left forearm.
For Cardinals' fans and Pujols fantasy owners, today's news is both comforting and problematic. Pujols' initial reaction following the collision was painful to watch and quite a few fans and writers speculated that his season could be finished. Still, there will be widespread concern that if the injury does not heal properly, we could witness long-term ramifications for the most consistent slugger of the current generation. Plenty of power hitters have seen their strength sapped by wrist and hand injuries, so I'm inclined to believe St. Louis will be cautious in bringing Prince Albert back into the fold.
The 4-to-6 week timetable positions him for a return somewhere in the vicinity of the July 31st trade deadline. It seems unlikely, however, that the Cardinals will make a major move given the relatively short projected duration of the injury. Plus, the Cardinals have several "in-house" players who can partially fill the void in the interim, namely outfielder Jon Jay, who has seen increased amounts of playing time as the season has progressed and posted a .313/.364/.436 slash line in 163 at-bats. He can only play the outfield, but his presence in the lineup allows Tony La Russa to move Lance Berkman to first base.
The injury bodes well not only for Jay, but Colby Rasmus as well. The 24-year old outfielder is mired in an 18-for-100 swoon and has seen his average plummet from .318 to .258. With Matt Holliday recently back from a DL stint and the hot-hitting Jay forcing his way into the lineup, Rasmus was set to lose a significant chunk of at-bats. But the Pujols injury moves Berkman into the infield and allows Holliday, Jay, and Rasmus to man the outfield. In a division devoid of a clear frontrunner, the Cardinals have the depth to hold their ground until Pujols returns.
Additional help will arrive next week when the Cardinals visit the Orioles in a 3-game interleague series. Opening Day third baseman David Freese is set to begin a rehab stint at Triple-A Memphis tonight, and, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, will take approximately 25 at-bats before rejoining the big league team in Baltimore. Before his injury in early May, Freese was on a torrid pace, hitting .356 with 14 RBI in 25 games. If all goes well in Memphis, his return will provide a lift to the Cardinal offense. Light-hitting Daniel Descalso has taken the overwhelming majority of at-bats at the hot corner since the injury to Freese. His .242/.299/.354 line in 178 at-bats will not be missed.
If the Cardinals do feel the need to add a versatile bat at a relatively inexpensive price, they could make a deal with their cross-town rival, the Kansas City Royals. With much-celebrated third base prospect Mike Moustakas now seeing full-time duty in the majors, Wilson Betemit is out of a job. A career .268/.336/.443 hitter, Betemit is having one the finest seasons of his career but is the victim of a position crunch in KC. He can play three different infield positions and would be a clear upgrade over the Cardinals' current bench options. Plenty of teams are inquiring about his services, so the Royals will have a slew of different offers to consider. Third baseman/Outfielder Allen Craig will be returning from the DL for St. Louis in 4-6 weeks as well, but Tony La Russa has never been afraid to bring in pieces who he feels can make a difference for his ballclub.