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Deal the Cards: An unhappy ending to the Cardinals' once-promising season is right over the horizon. But there are forces at work that make it tough to look at what happened to this team as just One of Those Years.
"I look at that team, and I don't get it," said one NL exec. "At the end of the day, they've got two aces in the rotation [Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright] and a third guy [Jaime Garcia] who could be the rookie of the year. They have the best player in the game [that Albert Pujols dude]. … And it's hard to find a better group in the 3-4-5 holes than Pujols, [Matt] Holliday and [Colby] Rasmus. They haven't had their key guys hurt. So they're just not clicking on all cylinders, and I'm not sure why. I don't get it."
What makes this troublesome is that this is going to be the structure of the team for years to come, assuming they give Pujols his $300 million to stick around. He, Holliday, Carpenter, Wainwright and Garcia would then be signed, and in place to serve as the core of this team, through at least 2012.
So considering that just those core players could be raking in close to $80 million a year by 2012 among the five of them, the best description the same exec could come up with for this roster template -- especially for a franchise with a 2010 Opening Day payroll of $93.5 million -- is "top-heavy."
"If you're locked in at those dollars for those guys, you've got to win with that," he said, "because it's going to be them and a surrounding cast built with a lot of low-dollar guys. So you're at the mercy of those guys performing and staying healthy -- because if they go down or don't perform, you can't replace them."