After Albert Pujols deserted his Cardinal Legacy in favor of that heavily back-loaded ten-year deal Artie Moreno convinced him to accept, many Cardinals fans (myself included) were hoping 27-year old Prince Fielder would hook on with the World Champions, and help lead them back to another title - 12 in '12, baby!
If the Cards do repeat however, it will be with a lineup featuring former Cardinal-killer-turned-caught looking-in-'06-victim, Carlos Beltran; not Prince Fielder. I understand the economic challenges facing the Cardinals - forking over a couple hundred million to one guy would hinder future efforts to keep guys like Wainwright, Molina, and Freese on the payroll. Makes sense.
Meanwhile, the team that does sign Fielder may have the missing ingredient necessary to reach the post season. I think he's going to stay in the National League - my guess is he'll wind up signing with the Washington Nationals. No doubt, that would greatly improve their lineup; whether or not that would translate to a post season berth in '12 is anybody's guess.
Unfortunately for the Nats, they play in the NL East - a division dominated by the Philadelphia Phillies and their vaunted pitching staff. Also lurking in the shadows are the Atlanta Braves, who will be inspired to prove that last season's September collapse was a fluke. Then there are the vastly improved (except the uniforms) Miami Marlins. If they sneak in the back door and sign Prince, that may lead to extended October play for that franchise. I'm only giving them a 10% chance of making that happen. As if I really know.
There's another team that may come into play in the Fielder sweepstakes - the San Francisco Giants. This is the one team that could benefit the most from having Prince in its lineup; they've got plenty of pitching - not much hitting. With a healthy Buster Posey returning to the lineup in '12, the Giants should be able to average more than the three and a half runs per game they produced last year. Add Prince Fielder to the lineup, and they could get closer to five runs a game. That could be a huge run differential in '12 - and that could make them a premier playoff-caliber team.
Of course, any team that gets into the post season is dangerous. Barring injuries, the Cardinals should be able to make it back again - this time as NL Central champions. None of this wild card nonsense, please. It's too nerve-wracking.