When Albert Pujols made his decision to join the Arte Moreno family, also known as the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, the first baseman broke the heart of many a St. Louis Cardinals fan.
A year later, after a subpar Angels debut and off-season knee surgery, the wisdom of Pujols’ mammoth contract is being questioned more and more often. No longer is Pujols generally considered to be the best player in the game. In fact, with the emergence of Mike Trout, he may not be the best player on his own team. Nine years of potential second-guessing remain ahead.
Many of the St. Louis faithful continue to carry the torch for the man they hoped would someday become his generation’s Stan Musial. Others moved on from Pujols quickly, perhaps fueled in part by his wife’s parting shot that the Cardinals offer was insulting.
What few people yet realize, however, is that a current Cardinals phenom would most likely not be a member of the organization had Pujols not signed with the Angels.
Last June 4, the following was announced live on MLB Network:
“With the 19th pick of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft, the St. Louis Cardinals select right-handed pitcher Michael Wacha of Texas A&M University.”
That 19th overall selection had been that of Moreno’s Angels, forfeited as a result of the Pujols signing. Along with that pick, the Cardinals also received a compensatory round selection, 36th overall, used to select Stanford’s Stephen Piscotty.
The Cardinals’ own first-rounder was the 23rd pick. There is no guarantee that Wacha would have still been on the board by then.
This spring, Wacha is the most talked-about new player wearing the birds on the bat. Though his chances of making the major league roster out of camp remain very slim, no prospect has made a greater impression. 2 2/3 scoreless innings on Monday extended Wacha’s Grapefruit League line to 11 strikeouts and one walk over 7 2/3 frames. He has yielded just four hits and an unearned run.
In receiving the extra draft selections, the Cardinals were extremely fortunate in their timing.
The organization had no idea when signing Pujols to an eight-year contract in 2004 that 2012 would become the final year of the old compensation rules tied to Type A and B free agents. Starting in 2013, no longer will first-round picks move from one team to another.
In addition to the Pujols selections, St. Louis received two other supplemental first round picks in the 2012 draft in return for the departures of pitchers Octavio Dotel and Edwin Jackson. Patrick Wisdom and Steve Bean became Cardinals as the 52nd and 59th players drafted overall.
For as long as Wacha and Piscotty may become contributors to the future success of the Cardinals, fans should remember to offer thanks to Albert Pujols.