Kiss 'Em Goodbye is a series focusing on MLB teams as their postseason dreams fade—whether in September (or before), the League Division Series, League Championship Series or World Series. It combines a broad overview of this season from Buster Olney, a take from Baseball Prospectus, a look toward an immediate 2011 move courtesy of Rumor Central and Kevin Goldstein's farm system overview. You can find all the teams on one page by going here.
Now, it's time to kiss the St. Louis Cardinals goodbye.
It was a strange year for Tony La Russa's team, because the Cardinals' great players mostly did great things. Albert Pujols competed for the Most Valuable Player Award again, Adam Wainwright was among the league's best pitchers, and Matt Holliday's final numbers were excellent—but St. Louis collapsed in the last six weeks of the season.
After sweeping Cincinnati in a three-game series in early August to move into first place, the Cardinals proceeded to tumble in the standings while losing constantly to bad teams like the Pirates and Nationals. By season's end, the St. Louis roster looked very thin, with holes at third base, second, right field, and the back of the rotation, and La Russa appeared to bench Colby Rasmus at a time when the Cardinals desperately needed offense.
There were positives. Jaime Garcia probably isn't going to win the National League Rookie of the Year Award, but he was probably the front-runner for most of the season. Pujols, who is now a year away from free agency, continues to post numbers that earn him a place in the statistical neighborhood inhabited only by the likes of Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, Hank Aaron, and Barry Bonds. At least so far, the cash spent on Holliday is paying off.
Once again, La Russa's contract is set to expire, and he and the Cardinals need to decide whether they want another year of what has sometimes been a tense relationship. But La Russa's teams almost always compete, and he is less than two seasons away from passing John McGraw for second place all time in victories for a manager—and in the last week of the season, the odds seemed better than 50-50 that La Russa would return. The Cardinals need a couple of inning-eaters for the back of their rotation, and they need to deal for or develop another offensive threat; too often, the Cardinals had too little support of Pujols and Holliday. —Buster Olney
Baseball Prospectus' take
What went right: Pujols had another MVP-caliber season with a .344 True Average, though he is unlikely to win the award this season because of the Cardinals' late-season fade. Holliday lived up to his $120 million contract as he has a .324 TAv. Wainwright, Carpenter and rookie left-hander Garcia combined to provide an outstanding top of the starting rotation.
The key number: 80 percent. That's the amount of the Cardinals' offensive value that Pujols, Holliday and Rasmus have accounted for this season, according to the Baseball Prospectus metric called value over replacement player (VORP).
What went wrong: Talented center fielder Rasmus' attitude came into question as he clashed with La Russa and asked to be traded at one point. Brad Penny suffered a season-ending torn latissimus dorsi muscle in May and the Cardinals were never able to make up for his loss in the rotation. After sweeping a three-game road series from the Reds in early August, the Cardinals collapsed and Cincinnati won the National League Central going away.
What won't happen again: Ryan Franklin has gotten by as a closer since midway through the 2008 season despite not having the ability to blow away hitters. He has struck out just 5.71 per nine innings this year. However, there will be a passing of the torch next season as Kyle McClellan is likely to be promoted from setup man to closer. —John Perrotto, Baseball Prospectus
Rumor Central: 2011 options
Infield Woes: Aside from another MVP-caliber season from Pujols, the Cardinals' infield has failed to produce at the plate, with the rest of the group—at second base, shortstop, and third base—combining for just 21 home runs and 174 RBI at this writing. If GM John Mozeliak wants to erase the deficit the Reds have placed between the two clubs this season, a big move for an infielder may be necessary. The Cardinals have less than $70 million committed to their roster for next season, which may allow Mozeliak to be a player on the free-agent market. Orlando Hudson, J.J. Hardy, Brandon Inge, or Ty Wigginton could serve as major offensive upgrades, though Brendan Ryan's defense at short may be valued too much to replace him with a short-term risk such as Hardy. If the Diamondbacks were to make Stephen Drew available, however, the Cardinals may be a player. Adrian Beltre may be too pricey an option, but if the Florida Marlins have problems inking Dan Uggla long term, they may be able to swing a deal for the slugger and play him at second or third.
Rotation support: Aces Carpenter and Wainwright will return next spring complemented by left-hander Garcia. But with Brad Penny and Jake Westbrook hitting the open market and Kyle Lohse battling back from injury, the Cardinals lack security at the back end of their rotation, a problem that hurt them this season as much as anything else. Westbrook has pitched well since coming over from Cleveland and could be offered a deal to return, but he won't come cheap. One interesting idea for the Cards might be current Yankees right-hander Javier Vazquez, who will be a free agent this winter and has always excelled in the National League. Carl Pavano, Jeremy Bonderman and Ted Lilly could also be options, but will have numerous suitors for the Cardinals to beat out for their services. —Jason A. Churchill, ESPN Insider
Daniel Descalso has proved to be a capable third baseman during his brief time in the big leagues, but second base is his more natural position, and also the one where he's more valuable. He's hardly the next big thing, but he plays the position well, makes consistent contact with gap power, and is just one of those guys who helps more than he hurts. He's at least an upgrade over Skip Schumaker, but with the latter holding the title of "one of Tony La Russa's guys," Descalso's hurdles to overcome are higher than they should be. —Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus
A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider .