How does losing Pujols and Fielder affect the Cardinals and Brewers?

The short answer to this question is that it doesn’t affect them that much. If the Cardinals were willing to spend $22.5 million on Pujols (10 year, $225 million offer) they still have that $22.5 million available to spend on free agent talent. If a win costs $5 million in 2012, that buys 4.5 wins. Pujols was projected to be worth about 5.5 wins. The Brewers would also have the same amount of money they’re offering Fielder available to spend elsewhere should Fielder leave Milwaukee.

While there’s plenty reason to be excited if you’re a Cubs fan, the reality is that if the Cardinals and Brewers are willing to invest the same amount of money elsewhere that it has little to no affect whatsoever. It could have tremendous affect long-term for both teams. Instead of paying Pujols $22.5 million 8 years from now when he’s a league average player, they’ll have that money to spend on someone better than Pujols would be. The same is obviously true for the Brewers.

While it could cost the Cardinals a win, it’s quite possible that they could come out ahead. $22.5 million is a lot of money. If the Cardinals can identify a couple of players who are undervalued they can buy more than 4.5 wins with that $22.5 million. Imagine that the Cardinals find their version of Mark DeRosa or Marlon Byrd. Both of them were undervalued and the Cubs purchased more wins than they paid for.

The Cardinals, or Brewers, might also look to make a trade and perhaps acquire a cost-controlled player with tremendous potential. In this situation they would once again be buying more wins than they’re paying for. Neither route will be easy, but those players exist and if the Cardinals can find them then they can easily spend that $22.5 million better than they would have if their star player returned.

Marlon Byrd and Mark DeRosa were paid $5.75 million in their first years with the Cubs. Combined, they produced 5.2 rWAR. Throw in Ted Lilly‘s $6 million salary in 2007 and his 3.2 WAR and you’ve now spent $11.75 million and acquired 8.5 rWAR. For exactly half the money they’d have spent on Pujols 3 additional wins have been added.

This is where scouting is going to play a huge role. The scouting department would have to spot the undervalued players, or maybe the statistical analysis department spots them. I suspect that both teams will be searching for undervalued players rather than stars to replace their own stars.

While that’s possible, it’s also possible whoever they sign doesn’t pan out. Pujols and Fielder were more known quantities and could be counted on to produce at a certain level. The teams could also refuse to re-invest the amount they had set aside for their own players. The Cardinals and Brewers may have had the plan to re-sign their star players, but after doing so would have to trade a certain amount to make ends meet. We can’t know that.

If the Cardinals were forced to sell $5 million in value after re-signing Pujols, they essentially added only 4.5 wins next year. It’s difficult to know exactly how this will affect each team in the short-term. There are ways in which one or both teams would be better off having failed to re-sign their star. There are ways in which it would break even and that is probably what is most likely. Right now the Cardinals are worse and the Brewers would be if they lost Fielder, but there’s no reason to think the owner is going to pocket all the money and move on. Some, most, all or perhaps even more money than what was set aside for Pujols/Fielder will be re-invested into the team.

The Cubs won’t be facing Albert Pujols when they play the Cardinals and may not face Prince Fielder either, but the reality is that neither team is going to be worse off short-term than they would have been if they brought the player back. At most they’d be a win worse, but it’s entirely possible they’re better off by 2 or 3 wins if they find the right guys.