The entire National League Central has a vested rooting interest in the Cardinals' misfortune.
It’s hard to blame it.
Since the Joe Torre Yankees, there hasn’t been a more dominant organization. None has sustained success better than the Cardinals. None has been better at overcoming the adverse, namely injuries, to continue as one of sports’ prosperous organizations.
So, as I consider the implications of the loss of St. Louis shortstop Jhonny Peralta, who underwent surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left thumb and will be out until midseason, it’s hard to believe it will have much of an effect at all.
While, of course, no National League Central team would actually root for a Cardinals player to injure himself, I don’t think the division is sending its sympathies to St. Louis. It likely knows it won’t deter the Cardinals much.
Few organizations earn the benefit of the doubt. The Cardinals have.
Of course, the Peralta injury can only serve to help close whatever gap existed between St. Louis and the rest of the division. And if you believe the Cubs to be the favorites to win the division, in the case of Chicago, widen it.
The injury, however, might hurt the Cardinals. But it doesn’t jettison them from the race. Obviously, losing Peralta makes St. Louis a lesser team. But it certainly doesn’t make it less of a contender—or any weaker a pick—to win the division.
Perhaps the Cardinals are so successful because of their ability to determine a contingency plan for each and every crisis before it happens—whether created by injury or the loss of a player in free agency.
Just this season, the Cardinals lost key players in outfielder Jason Heyward and pitcher John Lackey, both of whom signed with the Cubs. They likely would have been attractive free agents to Chicago no matter which team each had played for in 2015. But knowing they could hurt the Cardinals in the process of signing both players made Heyward and Lackey look like supermodels.
The team is so adept at drafting, however, that the compensatory draft picks it gets for lost free agents seem like more than a consolation prize. The Heyward and Lackey compensatory picks won’t impact the team this season.
More so, the point is that the Cardinals have a firm understanding of how much money to offer free agents and when to allow them to leave. In turn, they are so good in the draft that the extra picks have more value than they might to another organization.
There is always a capable player waiting in Triple-A, or even someone on the St. Louis bench.
It has helped the team win seven of the last 14 division championships, including the last three. Last year, the team lost ace Adam Wainwright for virtually the entire season. Seven-time All-Star outfielder Matt Holliday played in only 73 games. Yet, the Cardinals still won baseball’s best division.
So, this all brings us to the loss of Peralta.
“I do feel like we have some internal solutions, but my job is to also explore what’s out there, so we’ll just take the next three to four weeks and try to determine what that might look like,” Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said on a Fox Sports Midwest broadcast of a Cardinals spring training game.
That seems like what any general manager may say when put in the same situation. But with Mozeliak, it’s difficult to come to any reasonable conclusion other than that he will make the best decision to make the organization competitive.
It won’t be easy, though. Peralta, an All-Star two of the last three seasons, hit .275 in 2015.
But the team acquired Jedd Gyorko in a trade with the Padres this season, likely for a situation just like this. Gyorko, 27, can play both middle infield positions and third base. Remember what I said about the Cardinals planning for the worst?
Gyorko played 27 games at shortstop for the Padres in 2015. Though Gyorko’s bat isn’t nearly as good, it’s important to remember that Peralta will be back—likely in June. The team doesn’t need a long-term fix; just a two- to three-month stand-in.
Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reported that the Cardinals “have their eye on” Diamondbacks shortstop Nick Ahmed as a replacement for Peralta. The report didn’t suggest the team had entered in any serious trade talks yet.
Based on the report and Mozeliak’s comments, there doesn’t seem to be a rush to make a decision instantly. The organization will make a well-thought-out decision.
I wouldn’t expect anything less from the Cardinals.
History has proven it will take a lot more misfortune to derail St. Louis. If the rest of the division is counting on the Cardinals to hit a run of bad luck, the other four teams better root a lot harder.
Seth Gruen is a national baseball columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @SethGruen and like his Facebook page.