WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 30: Rafael Furcal #15 of the St. Louis Cardinals walks off the field with manager Mike Matheny and trainer Greg Hauck during the sixth inning against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on August 30, 2012 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
Cardinals shortstop Rafael Furcal left Thursday night's game clutching his upper right arm. Man who knows whereof he speaks Cal Eldred commented after the game that Furcal reacted just the way Eldred did when his UCL tore.
Now, Joe Strauss reports that Furcal is flying back to St. Louis for an MRI confirmation of an initial diagnosis of a UCL tear.
The UCL or ulnar collateral ligament is a ligament that stretches across the elbow. UCL tears and strains are extremely common in baseball, although somewhat more common among pitchers than position players, due to heavier abuse of the elbow among pitchers.
The common treatment for a full tear is Tommy John surgery, so called because the UCL looks like a tiny Tommy John made of human connective tissue. Recovery for position players is shorter than for pitchers, running about 6-9 months. That range would leave Furcal appearing late for spring training or missing the first 2 months of the season. Furcal's advanced age (in baseball terms) probably suggests the longer end of that recovery period.
It's hard to deny that, if the diagnosis is confirmed, this leaves the Cardinals in a bad spot. The Tyler Greene trade left the Cardinals with one fewer option, even of you believe he was just a stopgap. Ryan Jackson is a legitimate option at shortstop, although his bat is in question. Daniel Descalso can stand in between second and third, but he's hardly a good option as anything but a backup shortstop. Pete Kozma hits atrociously but probably wouldn't shame us defensively at short. Greg Garcia is longshot depth at shortstop for next year.
The trade market, both now and in the offseason, is pretty dreadful for legitimate shortstops. In the short-term, I wonder if those hoping for Matt Carpenter to make more appearances at second base may get their wish, as the club tries to sort out a suddenly thin middle infield. I suspect a patch job of internal options is more likely than a major trade or signing.
[edit - resident smart poster about these things scoot says 6 months is very normal as a recovery period, and the 9 month end of the recovery period is very conservative. resident mysterui pasted a tweet suggesting that Pete Kozma is flying to join the club.]