According to Major League Baseball’s official Twitter account, Furcal is set to undergo elbow surgery next week:
BREAKING: @cardinals SS Rafael Furcal to undergo Tommy John surgery on his right elbow next week.— MLB (@MLB) March 7, 2013
Furcal missed time at the end of last season with a strained ligament in the same elbow, and instead of immediately opting for surgery, the 35-year-old shortstop decided to rehab the injury.
He was determined to return this year, but it looks now like surgery would have been a better option, as he's expected to miss the upcoming season (per ESPN).
With Furcal on the shelf last season, the Cardinals were forced to turn to 24-year-old Pete Kozma, who played surprisingly well in his 26 games with the team. Despite a poor showing in the playoffs, the former first-round pick proved his worth in the regular season, posting a .333 average in 72 at-bats.
Kozma didn’t live up to his potential in the minors, never even coming close to eclipsing the .300 mark at the dish. Still, the No. 18 selection in the 2007 draft is just 24 and has the potential to continue developing; perhaps an extended stint in the majors will be what he needs to continue improving.
While Kozma may not be the ideal option to replace Furcal, the Cardinals did sign Ronny Cedeno to a one-year deal as another potential option. Cedeno batted .259 in 78 games with the New York Mets last season, but he has much better range than he has offensive prowess at the dish.
The Cardinals may still be able to trade for a better replacement, but for now it seems Kozma and Cedeno will have to be the stand-ins to replace Furcal. Neither seems like a great option, but Furcal hasn’t exactly been the most dominant offensive player in recent years.
How badly will the loss of Furcal affect the Cardinals this season?
In 2011, Furcal batted .231 with eight home runs and 28 RBI. Last season, those numbers only increased slightly (.246/5/49) and he played 34 more games.
Though the 35-year-old has some gas left in the tank, he hasn’t played like the near-.300 hitter he used to be. Replacing his offensive production shouldn’t be a monumental task.
That said, Kozma and Cedeno will have a hard time living up to Furcal’s defensive production. Despite not being impossible to replace, Furcal has always had exceptional range and a strong arm. Both replacements can be quality defensive shortstops this season, but neither will quite be able to match what Furcal can do on the field.
With a lineup that includes Yadier Molina, the resurgent Carlos Beltran and an always-solid veteran bat in Matt Holliday, the Cardinals are still in good position to return to the playoffs this season—even without the veteran leadership of Furcal.
It’s hard to replace a starter, but St. Louis shouldn’t struggle to find similar offensive production elsewhere.