What has become of the NL Central? With Pujols out, Fielder likely out, and now Braun seemingly out for 50 games (regardless of whether you think Braun was guilty of taking PEDs, he was guilty of failing the test and no one has ever won an appeal, so don't expect to see last year's MVP until sometime in June), the NL Central appears to be wide open. The Reds have talent but can't seem to put it together, Houston is still in full rebuilding mode, the Cubs and Theo Epstein will likely be patient in their pursuit of long term excellence and not just chase a chance at being a bad division winner, and then there is Pittsburgh.
If the Pirates could somehow build off of their first half last year (41-40) and completely forget about the second half (31-50), there might be something there. The problem? Even with some young talent, the small payroll will make it very difficult to compete for an entire season. The odds catch up eventually, and they are currently stacked against the Pirates. It's still way too early to make predictions, but look for St. Louis to get creative and figure a way to remain in the hunt into September.
Pujols is an Angel. CJ Wilson is an Angel. But the Rangers aren't dead yet (they still have talent AND money to spend). As for the Cardinals, they are significantly worse than the were two days ago, but they are also better off in the longer term as a team with a mid-size budget that can't afford to overpay any player 8, 9, or 10 years into a contract.
In a game without a salary cap, it's tough to judge the value of a deal because for some teams, there is always more money following bad money, so the risk is less. For the Cardinals, the risk became too great for the reward. The Marlins, who were reportedly offering more money to Pujols than the Angels but not allowing for a no trade clause, their perceived risk was offset by the potential to unload the last few years to another team if the contract was no longer the value hoped for.
As for the Angels, they felt $254 million over 10 years was worth it to upgrade the offense, compete with the Dodgers in LA from a marketing/popularity stance, and give the team a marketable presence with a legitimate chance to win a title or two along the way. Could success have been accomplished in a cheaper way? Possibly, but the option available to the Angels at the time was overpaying for the best player in baseball (and then again overpaying for a decent pitcher in Wilson). They took the chance, so kudos to them and in the long run, I expect to see the Cardinals remain competitive in the NL Central while the Angels have moved a couple steps closer to winning the AL West again.
This year's Hall of Fame ballot was distributed to writers yesterday, and the notable name this year is Barry Larkin. The stats help Larkin's cause, but anyone who watched baseball in the '90s knows that Larkin helped usher in the combination of a shortstop worthy of a prominent spot in the lineup along with stellar gold glove defense. Before Tejada, Garciaparra, ARod, and Jeter, there was Cal Ripken and Barry Larkin. Larkin may not have had quite the longevity of Ripken, but his dominance was present throughout most of his career and there was no doubt that Larkin was elite at his position - elite enough to be in the Hall of Fame.
Tim Raines is still eligible, and despite some opposition for his inclusion, I still stick by my comments in February that Raines deserves to be in and is one of the best leadoff men in the history of the game.