ST. LOUIS -- Players know better than anyone that baseball is a business. They see it firsthand. Yet Albert Pujols' ex-teammates were nonetheless caught off guard upon learning that the three-time National League Most Valuable Player is moving on.
"I was surprised," said Matt Holliday, who decided to remain in St. Louis after a highly publicized free agency two years ago. "I recognized that this was a possibility, but I think when something like this happens, you're always going to be surprised that it didn't work out."
Several players made sure to note that they don't begrudge Pujols in the slightest for pursuing the opportunity that his talent and the rules of the game afford him. Pujols was a free agent for the first time in his career after 11 seasons with the same team.
"It's part of the business," outfielder Jon Jay said. "It's what happens. Albert's earned the right to pursue free agency, and that's where he decided go."
Cardinals players know they have a tougher row to hoe without the 10-time All-Star in their lineup. There's no getting around the fact that the lineup looks a great deal different without Pujols, even if Allen Craig steps up in a full-time role. Yet one Cardinal after another expressed resolve, and they cited previous times when the club has had to do without -- such as when Pujols was on the disabled list in past years, and when Adam Wainwright was forced to miss the entire 2011 season due to injury.
"You don't understate what Albert brings to a team and what he's brought to this organization," Holliday said. "You never understate or diminish what he's done. He's a guy that, when you put him in a lineup, it changes things. With that said, we have a good team and depending on how things go the rest of the offseason, I don't know if [general manager John Mozeliak] will try to reallocate that money or not, but we have Adam Wainwright coming back. We have a strong rotation. We have a bullpen that really came together last year. We have capable players. We've got a good lineup.
"Even without Albert, we still have a very deep lineup, I think, that will have tough outs from one through eight, and that's a recipe for a winning team. I think we have a team that has a chance to win. But we're going to miss Albert."
Kyle McClellan, a native St. Louisan as well as the club's union representative, took a matter-of-fact tone while acknowledging that the absence of the superstar will surely be felt.
"It's definitely going to be different," McClellan said. "You don't know if you ever could imagine him in another uniform. But that's the way it goes. He's a free agent. He has a decision to make and that's part of the game. He's going to do just fine over there. He's going to look fine in that Angels uniform after everyone gets over the shock of it looking so different."
Even as players understood the move, though, that doesn't mean it wasn't jarring.
"To be honest with you, all along I thought the Cardinals had the upper hand," said Skip Schumaker. "Just because of what he's done for the city, what he's done for our organization, two World Series titles. He's an absolute icon, a god in St. Louis. So I thought there was a strong chance he was going to come back. But you never know because of the free-agent market and how much a team really wants somebody."
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.