The news over the weekend about Rafael Furcal was obviously not good. He’s been shut down and will not undertake any baseball activities until he has had his elbow examined further. Clearly at this point Opening Day is in jeopardy. Here’s a look at how the shortstop position could play out if Furcal begins the season on the disabled list…
* Based on what I’ve seen down here, I’d install Pete Kozma as the favorite to start in place of Furcal. He and Ronny Cedeno have gotten the bulk of the playing time there and Mike Matheny said today that will likely be the plan moving forward as well. The Cardinals advanced to Game 7 of the NLCS with Kozma handling shortstop in September and October so the team knows they can win with him out there. There are legitimate questions about how he would handle more exposure but those will be answered, at least to some extent, if Furcal isn’t ready at the start of the season. Kozma never hit much in the minors but Matheny will prioritize defense first in the absence of Furcal. Heck, Furcal was brought in primarily for the defensive upgrade – his offense was just a bonus.
* Cedeno is more of a known commodity than Kozma and I think that works against him. I say that because what we know about Cedeno is that he’s not much of a hitter and he has lapses with his defense. That was evident this past Saturday when he made a pair of throwing errors. He’ll need to hit a bit better and be much more consistent to earn more playing time, unless Kozma struggles.
* One name we haven’t heard a lot of is that of Ryan Jackson. Even a couple of years ago the word I got from people in the Cardinals’ organization was that Jackson was “already” a Major League caliber defender at shortstop. Well, he’s not gotten many looks there so far this spring and based on what Matheny said this morning it doesn’t seem like that’s about to change. He’s been getting work all over the infield, seemingly to prepare him for a utility role in Memphis, and more than a few of us have found that to be confusing. The word on him has always been that he’s an excellent fielder and his offensive numbers in the minor leagues were significantly better than Kozma’s. There must be something the Major League staff prefers about Kozma, perhaps his overall athleticism or strength advantage over Jackson.
* Matheny was asked if they would give Daniel Descalso some time at shortstop with the news of Furcal being shut down but he indicated that wouldn’t be a high priority. Both Kozma and Cedeno are better suited, physically, to playing short because they have better range. Descalso seems to be more of an emergency option at short than anything else.
Now, with all of that out of the way, let me lay some things out regarding Furcal and his absence.
One, surgery for his elbow was NOT recommended by doctors. I’ve gotten a lot of questions about why they didn’t take care of this back in the fall and that would be reason #1.
Two, even if Furcal had required surgery back then it would have been Tommy John surgery (based on the fact that we were talking about a ligament) and he would have missed the 2013 season anyway.
Questions about surgery are irrelevant on both fronts.
There have also been questions about why the Cardinals didn’t “do more” about the shortstop position in the offseason. Again, the answers are pretty simple…
One, Furcal was under contract for $7 million. You’re going to give that guy a chance to rehab and recover if doctors say that course of action is called for.
Two, which impact shortstops did the Cardinals miss out on? None that were available. The big name guys stayed put.
Three, trading for a high-end shortstop is a costly option and while it might end up being the right thing to do down the road, it was not the right thing to do while there was still a chance that your $7 million shortstop would be available to start the season.
Finally, making a trade for an impact shortstop RIGHT NOW is not a likely option. Teams generally don’t trade impact players in Spring Training. Troy Tulowitzki and Asdrubal Cabrera aren’t going to be dealt in March, if at all. Elvis Andrus isn’t going anywhere, nor is Jurickson Profar.
There may be an opportunity to make a big deal later in the season when teams see where they are headed and the trade market heats up but until then the Cardinals can get by with what they have. All they need is a shortstop who can catch the ball. With Jon Jay, Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday, Allen Craig, Yadier Molina and David Freese – plus Matt Carpenter, Oscar Taveras and Matt Adams waiting in the wings – the Cardinals should not have much trouble scoring runs.
All they need is a shortstop who can catch the ball and throw it with consistency.
They advanced to Game 7 of the NLCS with Kozma playing in October and there’s no reason they can’t continue to play well for a period of time – perhaps even an extended one – with Furcal sidelined. If they lose Furcal it will hurt, no doubt, but they’re really only replacing their 7th or 8th hitter when it comes to the offensive side. As long as someone can pick it out there I just don’t see this as a crisis.