The Cardinals dug themselves into a hole at the shortstop position this past offseason.
Rafeal Furcal tore a ligament in his right throwing arm on Aug. 30 last year, and missed the final two months of the season, including the playoffs.
However, Furcal was reluctant to undergo surgery to repair the damaged ligament, vying instead for rest, extensive rehab and a platelet-rich plasma injection.
Plan A turned into a full-blown disaster.
The 35-year-old Furcal arrived at the Cardinals spring training facility in Jupiter, Fla. in early February to test his rested and rehabbed arm. Exhausting every possible alternative to surgery, the pain returned.
After playing the waiting game once more, Furcal caved in, opting to undergo Tommy John surgery—a procedure that will more than likely shelve him for the entire season.
“It’s tough for me to say that I have to lose a whole year,” Furcal said, courtesy of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “It’s a tough situation for me. It’s tough to decide to get surgery. It’s a very tough situation, I want to keep playing. … It’s not complete damage. The only way I can fix it is to have surgery.”
Quite frankly, the Cardinals can only blame themselves for this series of unfortunate events. Chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. and general manager John Mozeliak handcuffed themselves by investing a large some of money in Furcal’s services when they signed him to a two-year, $14 million contract in 2011.
Health aside, it was assumed Furcal would be the No. 1 shortstop heading into this season, which ultimately handicapped the Cardinals from landing a free agent over the winter.
The Cardinals also gauged the temperature on Colorado’s Troy Tulowitzki. However, Scott Wurz, of Yahoo! Sports, deemed the price tag too risky for the would-be buyers, who would’ve certainly had to include one or more of their highly coveted prospects—Oscar Taveras, Trevor Rosenthal or Michael Wacha—in a package deal in exchange for Tulowitzki.
On the other hand, Cardinals beat writer Derrick Goold said the rumors about Tulowitzki were "ripple effects from the winter meetings."
With Furcal out of the picture, the Cardinals are vulnerable. However, Mozeliak has a few alternatives to choose from.
Pete Kozma will likely end up with the starting job. Kozma, 24, was taken in the first round of the 2007 Amateur Draft out of Owasso High School in Oklahoma.
Kozma spent the better half of the last six years seasoning his game in the minors before being called up in May 2011 for a brief stint with the parent club. The next season proved favorable for Kozma after he was brought in following Furcal’s injury.
Kozma’s late-season performance was encouraging, as he managed a surprising .333 average in 72 at-bats, with two home runs, 14 RBI and 11 runs scored.
If Kozma's success in late August and September weren’t enough to garner the attention of the Cardinals coaching staff, then his heroics during the National League Divisional Series against Washington sufficed. Kozma jacked a three-run home run in Game 3, which saw the Cardinals thump the Nationals, 8-0 for a 2-1 series edge.
Kozma has played in 42 regular-season games for the Cardinals, and has held his own with a .303 average, .373 on-base percentage and .506 slugging percentage.
Age and experience could prove problematic for Kozma, especially if he encounters a prolonged drought at the plate. If that’s the case, the Cardinals could turn to journeyman Ronny Cedeno, whom they signed to a one-year, $1.15 million contract in late January.
Cedeno is simply an option, nothing more, nothing less. The 29-year-old Cedeno batted .259 with four home runs and 22 RBI last season for the Mets. His career mark of .247 is pedestrian, to say the least.
The early word on Cedeno’s progress in camp is discouraging. Bernie Miklasz, of the Post-Dispatch, caught up with Mozeliak last Thursday, and asked how Cedeno was looking in camp thus far.
“Um, not great,” Mozeliak replied.
Another alternative would be sliding Daniel Descalso—the projected second baseman—over to shortstop to spell Kozma or Cedeno.
The 26-year-old Descalso can play every position in the infield. He made 25 starts at shortstop for the Cardinals last season.
It’s not as if the Cardinals lack alternatives, but with Furcal likely out for the season, filling the void becomes more complicated.
“I think going into this we always knew this was a plausible outcome,” Mozeliak said, courtesy of the Post-Dispatch. “Having said that, when you think about all of the things that could have been done this offseason there was never really an opportunity that was going to make the impact that changed how we were looking.”
Despite not signing a free agent shortstop or trading for one over the offseason, Mozeliak is fully confident in Kozma to fill the void left by Furcal.
“There’s no doubt given what Kozma did for us in the last six weeks of the season last year we do have a high level of confidence that he can continue to add that energy and be that type of player we saw last year,” Mozeliak said, courtesy of the Post-Dispatch.
If not, then the Cardinals will be in an even deeper hole.
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