Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports
The St. Louis Cardinals' starting shortstop is still not throwing or hitting without pain. Was this really the plan?
Shelby Miller is cleared to throw, exactly like the St. Louis Cardinals said he'd be. Being a baseball fan, on some level, is always worrying over nothing, but a special part of baseball fandom is worrying about the possibility that the team itself is less worried than you are. Miller shut down, but only for a few days? Our fandom reptile brain demands to know whether the Cardinals are gullible or just liars.
Rafael Furcal missed 41 games last year, 75 the year before that, and 65 in 2010. In November, his "ligament looked completely healed." On February 16, his arm only hurt a little bit. On Thursday "it still [hurt] a lot." So far he's set to miss some Spring Training games, and he's not yet cleared to throw as hard as he can or hit left-handed.
I believe the Cardinals believe Furcal will still be ready to play on Opening Day, and I believe they're more likely to know whether he will than I am. I don't think they're gullible or liars. But I can't begin to know why they've taken the risks they've taken in enshrining Furcal as their only average option at shortstop.
The continued saga of his elbow is just the elaboration of a much more basic problem—no matter how good Rafael Furcal looks in February, he goes into the 2013 season a 35-year-old shortstop with one full year in his last five who went out of the 2012 season with a nasty elbow injury.
At no point in the offseason did the Cardinals appear to address that, which is where this parts from the Shelby Miller scare. They locked Randy Choate in for three years; they paid Ty Wigginton nearly as much as the Oakland Athletics paid Hiroyuki Nakajima; they traded for a shortstop, but he was Jake Lemmerman. Finally they signed Ronny Cedeño for about the difference between Wigginton's contract and Nakajima's.
It could be that the Cardinals think very highly of Ronny Cedeño; it could be, also, that they have some internal reason to believe Rafael Furcal will play more than 120 games in 2013, and will play better than he did in 2012. But it's hard to take their word for it on this one. I know nothing about Shelby Miller's shoulder except what I'm told, and if they say he's fine and he says he's fine I'm inclined to believe it until he doesn't look fine.
But Rafael Furcal isn't a reliable starting shortstop, no matter how well his rehab appeared to have been going in November; successful rehab and subsequent reinjury are the defining fact of his career since 30. If they know something we don't, it would have to do with his whereabouts for the 300 or so games he appears to have missed since 2007.