Rafael Furcal throws to first base in attempt to complete a double-play against Pittsburgh on Aug. 27.
With Opening Day just five days away, the St. Louis Cardinals will break from their respective Spring Training facility in Jupiter, Fla., and embark on a six-month journey with their eye set on reaching the World Series—a feat they came within a game of accomplishing in 2012.
As manager Mike Matheny and general manager John Mozeliak assemble their squad for the 162-game march, spring training busts remain relevant.
A proven shortstop entered camp with hopes of making a comeback from a ghastly elbow injury, while a pair of free-agent acquisitions looked to resurrect their careers—or simply contribute in one way or another.
Reality set in for shortstop Rafael Furcal and incumbent infielder Ronny Cedeño, while Ty Wigginton’s bat remains under lock and key.
Furcal tore a ligament in his right throwing elbow against Washington on Aug. 30, and was sidelined for the remainder of the season and the playoffs. Initially reluctant to have complete reconstructive surgery, Furcal opted for extensive rehab, including a platelet-rich plasma injection and rest.
With hopes of arriving for spring workouts pain free, Furcal’s arm continued to bother him both in the field and at the plate.
The Cardinals ultimately shut down Furcal, who later succumbed to the decision to go ahead with the surgery—a procedure that will shelve him for the 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 also a tough position for the Cardinals, who now must bank on the young and talented Pete Kozma to anchor the infield.
The 24-year-old Kozma enters his third big-league season, but it’ll be just his first full season with the Cardinals. Kozma has but 23 starts at shortstop for the Cardinals, including 22 last season.
In a vulnerable position, Mozeliak reeled in free-agent shortstop Cedeño to serve as a cushion behind the injury-prone Furcal, and the young Kozma.
Cedeño’s bat has never been reliable with a career mark of .247, and the 30-year-old's glove hasn't been Gold-Glove caliber, either. In 22 starts at shortstop with the Mets last season, Cedeño had a pesky 3.29 range factor—Cleveland’s Asdrübal Cabrera led all major league shortstops with a 4.89 range factor in 2012. Cedeño has also struggled in the field. His career fielding percentage of .970 as a shortstop isn't horrible, but it's not great.
Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz recently asked Mozeliak how Cedeño was progressing.
“Um, not great,” Mozeliak responded, courtesy of the Post-Dispatch.
That was when Cedeño was still employed by the Cardinals.
Indeed, Mozeliak took a gamble on Cedeño, and the experiment proved useless. The Cardinals released him on March 19—less than seven weeks after inking him.
Breaking away from the middle-infield dilemma, the Cardinals made a mystifying move over the winter by signing Wigginton to a two-year, $5 million deal.
Wigginton will serve as an all-around utility man, and as a bat off the bench.
Thus far, the 35-year-old veteran has yet to make whole of the Cardinals multimillion dollar investment. And it's certainly justifiable to ponder how the Cardinals think Wigginton will be able to deliver in a late-inning situation with the game on the line. Over the last three seasons, Wigginton is 8-for-48, with three RBI and 17 strikeouts as a pinch-hitter.
Moreover, Wigginton hasn’t hit since 2008—the season in which he smashed 23 home runs and drove in 58 for Houston. He’s done decent against left-handed pitching, with a .242 mark over the last three seasons. Good, but not great. His average is just one percentage point better against right-handers over the last three seasons. Again, good, but not great.
I'm not sure what the Cardinals see in Wigginton to warrant a timely at-bat or two in a crucial situation.
So far in spring training, Wigginton has been virtually nonexistent. In 19 games, Wigginton has managed just five hits in 48 at-bats, with only two extra-base hits.
His glove was less than stellar with Philadelphia last season. He committed a dozen errors in 84 starts.
“I look at my role as being able to help the team win any way I can,” Wigginton said regarding his new post with the Cardinals, courtesy of the Post-Dispatch.
If so, Wigginton needs to somehow rediscover the magic he had five years ago.
All issues aside, there’s no cause for panic … yet. However, these are the Cardinals’ biggest spring training busts of 2013—disappointments nonetheless, but nothing to be overly concerned about.