Cards add Beltran, still favorites in NL Central

Carlos Beltran is bringing his bat(s) to St. Louis. (Frank Franklin II/AP)

The St. Louis Cardinals agreed to a two-year contract with Carlos Beltran worth $13MM annually. The 34-year-old outfielder hit a combined .300 with 22 home runs, 84 RBI and a .910 OPS with the Mets and Giants in 2011. The six-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove winner adds a power bat to the line up, as well as defense in the outfield.

The loss of three-time MVP Albert Pujols obviously stings, but the defending World Series champs are still the favorites in a weak NL Central, and if healthy, should remain a strong candidate to get back to the World Series.

With Lance Berkman, now moving over to first base, Matt Holiday, Rafael Furcal, Yadier Molina, playoff hero David Freese and now Beltran, the Cardinals have plenty of bats. They also have a veteran bunch who know what it takes to win in the postseason. That includes Beltran, who owns a 1.302 OPS with 11 home runs and 19 RBI over 22 playoff games, including his unforgettable 2004 run when he hit .435 with eight home runs, 14 RBI and six stolen bases over 12 games with the Astros, leading them to within one game of the World Series.

With a healthy Adam Wainright, the starting pitching ranks among the best in the National league, as well. Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia, Jake Westbrook and Kyle Lohse round out a terrific quintet. Throw in super-prospect Shelby Miller, a 21-year-old who went 11-6, with a 2.77 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and 170 K/53 BB over 139.2 innings over two leagues in 2011, and the depth is outstanding. Miller has one of the best fastballs in the minors, often reaching the upper 90s with filthy movement.  His change-up is a plus pitch already, and his curve is catching up fast. His mound presence is off the charts, and he should get a shot in 2012.

With the Cubs in a rebuilding process, Prince Fielder almost assuredly leaving Milwaukee and Ryan Braun facing a possible 50-game suspension, the Pirates still being too young, and the Astros far from contending, the Reds may be the only obstacle for the Cardinals in their quest for another NL Central crown next year.

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