With Rafael Furcal injured, where is the St. Louis Cardinals' ceiling at shortstop?

The dreamiest of Rafael Furcal's photo-day shots. Not pictured: His right elbow. - Mike Ehrmann

The St. Louis Cardinals' backup plans at shortstop didn't disappoint because they failed to prepare for the worst-case scenario—they disappointed because that's all they prepared for.

When we complain about the St. Louis Cardinals having failed to plan for what looked like an obvious contingency—the loss of Rafael Furcal to injury, whether it was the one he spent all offseason rehabbing or another—I don't think the issue we're pointing out is that the Cardinals have missed an incredibly obvious worst-case scenario.

Like us, they saw the incredibly obvious worst-case scenario, which is that Pete Kozma hits his .226/.284/.328 ZiPS projection for 500 plate appearances and doesn't bring Brendan Ryan's glove with him, and they went out and solved that problem, signing Ronny Cedeño to a one year contract for less than one third of a Wigginton Unit. Cedeño's ZiPS projection is .239/.289/.353—that extra pop has to make you feel good—and since 2010 he's been reliably above replacement level.

What we complain about, then, is that the Cardinals had a chance to do more than cover that worst-case probability while Rafael Furcal tried to build elbow strength, and they didn't do it. I won't go over the list of free agency options better than Ty Wigginton/Ronny Cedeño again, because we-in-aggregate are really complaining about the principle of the thing. We're complaining because we don't know where the Cardinals' upside potential at shortstop is going to come from. Who in the Cardinals' system is going to outplay our reasonable expectations for their shortstop in 2013?

It seems, to me, like the Cardinals went into 2013 with exactly one of those options: A completely healthy Rafael Furcal. A completely healthy Rafael Furcal would play more than 100 games, and he might play better-than-average defense, and he could even improve on last season's hitting, inasmuch as he wouldn't hit .239/.297/.303 in the second half.

Even at second base, the Cardinals' infamous mystery spot, there were and are more: Matt Carpenter taking to the position, Daniel Descalso bouncing up off his 2012 lows, Kolten Wong taking the job a year ahead of schedule. But it's hard to imagine Ronny Cedeño repeating his short career-year with the Mets, or Pete Kozma outperforming not just his projections but Furcal's, or Ryan Jackson ever escaping Kozmanism.

Without really needing to—they had enough money kicking around to sign Ty Wigginton, after all—the Cardinals forced themselves into a situation in which Rafael Furcal was the only thing sitting between them and hovering around a win over replacement level. That's what doesn't make a lot of sense, and it's why all offseason—even at his healthy-lookingest—each new article about Furcal feeling just-about-pain-free was new cause for alarm.

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