Justin K. Aller
The St. Louis Cardinals are confident that Rafael Furcal is healthy. But they should also be confident that he's Rafael Furcal.
The St. Louis Cardinals have been effusive in their praise of Rafael Furcal's elbow this offseason; they haven't talked about much else. Its greatest quality is not that it's attached to a famous baseball player, or that it's a body-part capable of astonishing, emergent feats like throwing baseballs very hard. Its greatest quality is that it is super healthy and normal and not worth worrying about, really. Most recently there was John Mozeliak expressing relief over Furcal's exam results with Sirus XM. (I linked out to Goold's recap thereof in case you haven't rented a car lately.)
I am very glad Rafael Furcal's elbow is completely healthy. He's the Cardinals' best middle infielder, and every game he plays is a game Daniel Descalso or Pete Kozma won't play at shortstop. But in fielding questions about the Cardinals' infield with rehab progress reports about Furcal, Mozeliak's making a rhetorical dodge that's probably necessary, given his job, but is also pretty easy to spot.
"His ligament looked completely healed," Mozeliak told "Inside Pitch" on Sirius XM radio. "Right now there's no reason to think he won't be ready to go and expect a full year out of him. It's a little bit of a relief for us."
There is, of course, a very good reason not to expect a full year out of him, and it never had anything to do with an MRI of Rafael Furcal's elbow. Since the season ended the most urgent fact about that elbow, the one that says the most about how much he can be expected to play in 2013, is that it belongs to Rafael Furcal. The elbow joins all of Furcal's other body parts in being simultaneously structurally sound and untrustworthy.
Once you notice the trick it's maybe a little too fun to construct new sentences around it, "It is what it is" style.
"Rick Ankiel's wrist sprain looks completely healed. Right now there's no reason to think he won't be ready to go and expect 200 innings out of him."
"His legs look completely healed. Right now there's no reason to think Dan Moore won't be ready to teach his Creative Writing class about enjambment without losing his place in his notes and stammering into an unplanned speech about the touch-yourself verse in Weezer's 'Across the Sea.'"
It's not a surprise that I think the Cardinals need to dredge up another above-replacement middle infielder, and I don't honestly think that John Mozeliak's comments to a satellite radio show have anything to do with the Cardinals' actual plans there. (And I'm glad they don't, because I'm constitutionally incapable of listening to anything but the old-time radio station on satellite radio.)
That's because the questions about Furcal are intuitively unconnected to his most recent issue, just like the Cardinals' infield problems are unrelated to the moment-to-moment health of their starting shortstop. Right now the Cardinals' middle infield is full in the same sense that Rafael Furcal's elbow is healthy. In Furcal and Descalso and Kozma and Ryan Jackson the Cardinals have infielders enough to ensure that they'll always have someone ready to play shortstop. But that's not quite the problem.