The St. Louis Cardinals enter the offseason looking to build on the success of last year’s National League Championship Series appearance. Most of the team is likely to stay the same, but there may be some changes in the starting rotation, the bullpen, and middle infield. As the offseason progresses, I will be doing a deep of each position on the Cardinals’ roster looking at both the present and the future. The breakdowns will culminate in a projection of the Cardinals 2013, 2014, and 2015 starting lineups. We now turn to shortstop, arguably the most important defensive position outside of catcher.
- Rafael Furcal – 81 starts (50%)
- Pete Kozma, Daniel Descalso, Ryan Jackson, and/or trade acquisition – 81 starts (50%)
Analysis: No one questions Rafael Furcal’s ability when healthy. Last year Furcal had an OBP above .380 and an OPS over .800 in May, both very impressive numbers, particularly for a shortstop. When healthy Furcal also displays dazzling defensive ability. His range has decreased with age but he more than makes up for with an impressive arm.
The problem with Furcal has, and remains, the “when healthy” part of the equation. Furcal’s numbers went down dramatically toward the end of 2012. In August, Furcal had an OBP of just .250 and an OPS of .568. Then Furcal suffered an elbow injury in September, and would not play for the rest of the year.
The Cardinals are optimistic that Furcal can return in 2012. Furcal has thus far avoided surgery on his right elbow, which would require a more lengthy recovery.
The team has to be optimistic with Furcal, as he is signed for approximately $7 million through 2013. However, history suggests that the elbow or something else will put Furcal on the disabled list for an extended amount of time in 2013. Since 2008 Furcal has played an average of 98 out of 162 regular season games. In 2008 Furcal played only 36 games, and in 2011 he played only 87. In 2012 Furcal did rebound a bit to play 121 games, but as mentioned earlier his production declined in the later months
Some may consider my games played for Furcal (82) to be pessimistic, but given the facts above I actually relatively optimistic.
If Furcal is not able to play the Cardinals options are limited from that point forward. Pete Kozma was a wonderful story last September and October. Kozma’s solid defense and .952 OPS helped the Cardinals get into the playoffs, and his clutch hits in the NLDS were key in getting the Cardinals past the Nationals.
However, Kozma’s minor league numbers suggests that he is not the long term answer at the position. In 2011 Kozma had just a .569 OPS over 448 plate appearances in AAA (.214 OBP and .289 SLUG). In 2012 Kozma’s OPS only improved slightly to .647 (.292 OBP and .355 SLUG) over 500 plate appearances in AAA. These larger numbers are likely more representative of Kozma’s potential than the limited sample size of Kozma’s 82 plate appearances in September of last year (glorious as those numbers may be).
Daniel Descalso could be used occasionally to spell Furcal as well. But like Kozma, Descalso offers very limited offensive potential, producing just a .627 OPS last year over 426 plate appearances. Descalso also does not have ideal range for shortstop.
Finally, there is Ryan Jackson. Jackson is rated as the club’s #19 overall prospect on MLB.com. Many scouting services rave about Jackson’s defensive abilities, but there are still considerable questions about Jackson’s ability to hit. Last year Jackson had just a .334 OBP in AAA over 403 plate appearances. Jackson did display some power, with 10 homeruns and a .396 SLUG over that same time.
However, there is clearly some hesitation within the organization to give the starting job over to Jackson. When Furcal went down with his elbow injury last year many assumed Jackson would take over, but instead it was Kozma who got the large majority of playing time even though Kozma had significantly worst numbers in the minor leagues. Assuming the best, Jackson would be an above-average defensive shortstop with limited offensive potential at the Major League level.
At this point if the Cardinals find themselves in need of shortstop next year the most likely solution will be a mid-season trade. The Cardinals were rumored to be in on trade negotiations for Cleveland Indians’ shortstop Asdrubal Cabera this offseason as well as Los Angeles Dodgers’ shortstop Dee Gordon. For whatever reason, those trades did not pan out, but the Cardinals and other teams may be more willing to make concessions next year. There is a good chance that the Cardinals late season shortstop for 2013 may not even be on the team’s roster yet.