Before we get started let's knock out a few honorable mentions:
Jim Edmonds-This time period would have been the end of Jimmy Ballgame's career in St. Louis, but he still helped them to the 2006 World Series and also brought back David Freese, 2011 World Series MVP and hero, in a trade from the Padres. My favorite Edmonds moment as a Cardinal came outside of the past decade by a year.....
Scott Rolen- Rolen's good year's as a Cardinal ended the day that Hee Seop Choi ran him over at first base in 2005, but he was still a good player and made contributions to the 2006 World Series team. Still he was past his prime by the time that 2005 rolled around and was traded to the Blue Jays for Troy Glaus in 2007. Favorite Rolen moment happened outside of this countdown.
Carlos Beltran- Beltran was a postseason monster for both the Mets and Astros against the Cardinals. The team signed Beltran after Albert Pujols signed with the Angels hoping Beltran would finally get a ring. During his two years in St. Louis, Beltran helped the Cardinals get to the National League Championship twice, winning in 2013, and advancing to the World Series. The Cardinals lost and Beltran is still without a ring. My favorite Beltran moment comes from this era, but he struck out in the highlight.
Here's the list.....
5. Adam Wainwright
Wainwright's career with the Cardinals spans the entire length of time covered by this post. He came up with the Cardinals for a brief cup of coffee in 2005. He stayed on with Cardinals in 2006 as a relief pitcher and ended up closing out games for the club in the 2006 playoffs which ended with the Cardinals closing out the Tigers in five games. Striking out Brandon Inge was huge, but I still love the last curve ball to Carlos Beltran. Sorry to repeat, but this is a thing of beauty.
Wainwright became a starter in 2007 and has two seasons of 20 wins and two seasons of 19 wins. His 119 career wins, all as a Cardinal, already rank him 8th on the team's list of all-time winners. He should have no problem moving up to third on the list, passing Bob Forsch at 163, with another good couple of years. He is also already in 2nd place all-time in strikeouts, but with more than 1800 strikeouts between him and Bob Gibson, he is likely stuck in second. If you are a fan of WAR, he currently sits sixth, and should have no problem getting up to second place. Gibson is out of reach.
Some other Wainwright accomplishments include: Three top 5 Cy Young Award finishes, 3 All-Star appearances, and a pair of Gold Gloves. Wainwright has a World Series ring from both the 2006 and 2011 teams, but did not play during the 2011 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in Spring Training. Always a fun pitcher to watch when he is on, Wainwright makes my list at number 5......
4. Matt Holliday
Holliday came over to the Cardinals in a trade with the A's during the 2009 season. The Cardinals resigned the left fielder in the off season and he's been a Cardinal ever since. Holliday is not a Hall of Famer, but I could put him in a category just below a Hall of Famer. He a really good baseball player, just not a really great baseball player. People pick on his defense and there is some perception that he is not clutch, but that's all simply not true when you look at the numbers. First, he's a very average fielder. Also, he's very clutch unless your name is Miguel Cabrera. Then he's slightly less clutch.
In six season with the Cardinals he has posted a .300/.386/.505 line which is actually not too far from his line in Colorado. The slugging is off a bit, but he hits less home runs in Busch. Throw in almost 150 home runs and an OPS+ of 143, and again, you have got a very good player.
Holliday was on the 2011 World Series Championship team, the 2013 National League Championship team, and has only missed the playoffs with the Cardinals one season (2010) during his stay in St. Louis. Numerous All-Star games and lots of really, really hard hit line drives. This was my favorite Holliday hit from this season. Just smoked.
3. Chris Carpenter
It is hard to talk about numbers with Chris Carpenter. I am not going to tell you how many games he won for the Cardinals during his time in St. Louis. I do not care very much. I do not know how many strikeouts Darth Carp had either. Here's what I know about Carpenter. The first year he pitched for the Cardinals in the postseason (2006-he was injured in 2004) he helped the team win a World Series. The 2006 World Series run included a dominating performance out of Carpenter in Game 3 when he went 8 innings, struck out 6, and used just 82 pitches leading the Cardinals to a 5-0 blanking of the Tigers.
Carpenter's real postseason gems were during the 2011 World Series run. Game 5 NLDS against the Phillies was one of the great playoff games of the wild card era.
He won a total of 5 games during the 2011 postseason including the Game 7 clincher against the Rangers. The real question with Carpenter on my list is this: How much are rings worth? I rank Carpenter third. Two rings are huge.
2. Yadier Molina
I am not going to argue that Molina is a Hall of Famer, or anything crazy like that, but I might revise that statement in a few years. I am not sure sometimes if people appreciate how great of a defensive player Yadier Molina is for the Cardinals. He's not Ozzie Smith, but he definitely changes the game. Again, like Carpenter, not a matter of numbers with Molina. Unless you are counting Gold Gloves. Yadi has six. Seven shortly?
He throws out 45% of would be base stealers for his career and already ranks amongst the all-time leaders for catchers in defensive runs saved. There is also the 52 base runners he has picked off during his career. I am not sure where the official list is for catchers, but I am not sure who is really even close to Yadi. Cardinals fans know...left handed batter, lead gets a little too big on first....
At the beginning of his career Molina was a terrible hitter, but that really only describes a few years at the very beginning of his career. I would even go so far to say that 2011, 2012, and 2013 Molina was an elite offensive player for a catcher. During those three seasons Molina posted OPS of .814, .874, and .836. Add in home run totals of 14, 22, and 12 and you have good output for a "defense first" player.
Yadier Molina also has two World Series rings and a National League Championship clinching home run off of Aaron Heilmann to put away the Mets in 2006. Don't let the reputation of the other two Molina brothers weigh down your opinion of Yadi.
1. Albert Pujols
Like it could be anyone else. Musial is the best left-handed hitter in Cardinals history and Pujols is the best right-handed hitter. The Machine is the best Cardinals player that I have seen in my lifetime and it's not even really close. His career began before my window (2005-2014) for this post, but his prime was smack dab in the middle of it. Basically, Musial leads every major offensive category for the Cardinals (minus steals) all-time and Pujols is second. Albert would have passed Stan in a few things, like home runs, if he had stayed and finished his career as a Cardinal.
How good was the prime of Albert's career? Here's my take. Pujols already ranks as the second best first baseman of all-time behind only Lou Gehrig. He posted a WAR just above 3 this year and is about 15 points behind Gehrig. I am not sure if he will catch him, but it will be close. Pujols also took home two National League MVP awards, two World Series rings, and a whole bunch of Silver Sluggers, a Gold Glove or two, and an All-Star Game appearance every year he was a Cardinal.
During his time as a Cardinals Pujols posted 30 or more home runs, a .300 batting average, and 100 RBIs every season expect his last in St. Louis when he hit .299 and only drove in 99 runs. He was not only great, but consistently so. While I am a little peeved that Albert did not close out his career as a Cardinal, the team seems to do just fine without him. The Cardinals have 17 playoff wins since Albert left in 2011 while he is still looking for his first postseason victory as an Angel.
Favorite Pujols moment has to be the home run off of Brad Lidge in the 2005 National League Championship series.