When news broke Sunday morning that St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Rafael Furcal had been benched indefinitely due to further elbow complications, the team's middle infield issues reached critical mass.
Furcal, who has been plagued by injuries for quite some time, was first sidelined in August when a small tear was discovered in one of his elbow ligaments. After numerous doctor visits, it was determined that his course of treatment would be rest.
That decision is being re-visited this week by team doctors as they determine what it will take to get Furcal to the point where he can play.
Technically speaking, that translates into likely surgery.
Before people start screaming, it's entirely possible that, as a shortstop, a postseason surgery might still have left him out for 2013. Even though position players often bounce back from Tommy John surgery much faster than pitchers, a shortstop is a different animal. What is expected of a shortstop is very similar to a pitcher and can make those comebacks more difficult.
Given Furcal's age and injury history, the reasoning may well have involved that he could never have come back from the surgery. It's possible that played into the decision.
But, as Randy Travis said, hindsight's 20-20.
Furcal may have already played his last game as a Cardinal.
The competition for shortstop for the Cardinals looks like this: Pete Kozma, Ronny Cedeno, Ryan Jackson and Daniel Descalso. While Kozma ended the season on a high-note, the numbers he posted are simply unrealistic to expect him to put together for an entire season.
While he would make a fine backup, I'm still not sold on Kozma as an everyday shortstop. Teams only had a limited look at him in 2012, but as an everyday shortstop he could be at risk of quickly becoming overexposed at the plate.
Cedeno, who was brought to camp knowing that backup would be his main role, is not an everyday shortstop at this point in his career—offensively or defensively.
Ryan Jackson, once touted as the organization's top shortstop prospect, saw limited playing time last year when he was called up. Little has been said about what changed the organization's stance regarding Jackson, but the chance of him getting the job is slim at best.
Descalso could handle the position defensively, but his bat is more that of a utility man than an everyday player. The Cardinals have a solid list of backup shortstops, but no one who will be a difference maker on a playoff contending team.
Remember all of those rumors during the offseason about Stephen Drew, Asdrubal Cabrera and Troy Tulowitzki?
The shortstop doomsday scenario is the exact reason the Cardinals were mentioned in those discussions, and it may be coming to fruition. Thanks to a thin shortstop market, the cost was steep.
If it's determined that St. Louis needs to look outside of the organization for help, the cost will likely be even higher.
Given the desperation the current situation could turn to, that cost is going to be even higher. Backed into a corner is not the recommended way to shop, but it may be the option the Cardinals are left with.
The question remains whether the Cardinals are willing to make a move for an impact shortstop or if they will take a gamble on what they have.
For the entire middle infield (Kozma and Matt Carpenter) to be part of an experiment is a big risk.
While Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak is in an awkward position at the moment, he has a way of finding a diamond in the rough to pull through when his team is in a jam.
I'd be willing to bet that he's 'mining' today, but is that diamond elsewhere or already in the organization?
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