The one benefit we've gotten, as St. Louis Cardinals fans, from the news that Rafael Furcal would miss the rest of the season after undergoing elbow surgery: From Ryan Jackson's defense to Greg Garcia's final position, we've learned just how wrong we were about how the Cardinals viewed each of his understudies.
As benefits go it's closer to dental insurance than, say, a bigger suite during away games; it hurts to use, and I wish I didn't need it. But the Furcal injury has led to a cascade of updates from John Mozeliak (and keeper of Baseball America prospect wisdom Derrick Goold) about how the Cardinals actually feel about their possible replacements. As it turns out, we've been working on some outdated information.
That they actually like this guy. Here's John Mozeliak on Ronny Cedeno's spring, having recently finished his copy of Brian Cashman's Incendiary GM Comments For GMs:
On my 101 ESPN radio show I asked Mozeliak how Ronny Cedeno was looking this spring. "Um, not great," he said.
That's from this great Bernie Miklasz quick-hits column, which we'll be referring back to later. It looks increasingly like Ronny Cedeno wasn't Rafael Furcal insurance so much as Pete Kozma insurance—an above-replacement-level veteran the Cardinals could keep on the bench if Kozma, say, hit his ZiPS projection in April.
But he's also a veteran who has failed to meet expectations—high ones and low ones—on multiple occasions, and so far it looks like the Cardinals aren't even convinced he's capable of backing up their backup. His crashing stock has reminded me of the reaction Jenifer Langosch—who covered the Pirates before joining Cardinals.com—gave the deal.
@johnmarecek You probably don't want to hear my assessment of Cedeno, as someone who watched him play every day for 2 1/2 yrs in Pittsburgh— Jenifer Langosch (@LangoschMLB) January 28, 2013
More recently, the following exchange:
@langoschmlb First time you've ever typed that?— B.J. Rains (@BJRains) March 2, 2013
@bjrains Um, no. It came naturally.— Jenifer Langosch (@LangoschMLB) March 2, 2013
Since Jenifer Langosch does not call herself "The Tsunami," it's probably worth listening she goes out of her way to give somebody a less-than-stellar review.
That his presence on the 25-man roster is guaranteed. Speaking of—
Better said: Cedeno's contract not guaranteed.— Joe Strauss (@JoeStrauss) March 2, 2013
At the time I don't recall this being reported anywhere—in fact, the contract is a combination of what we thought was guaranteed money ($1.15 million) and plate-appearance incentives that top it up to a possible $2 million. "Split" contracts, with major- and minor-league salaries, aren't uncommon, but they're usually reported as such. (Luckily, the internet's own Will Leitch already asked about it.)
But the broader question is worth asking, if the negative reviews continue; the Cardinals aren't going to leave Ronny Cedeno on the roster if they don't think he's going to contribute, whether they'll owe him the money or not.
For all that, I do think he'll start the season on the roster, because I'm not sure who'd take the spot (and the backup at-bats at short) in his place. Because it increasingly seems like it won't be...
That the Cardinals think he's a plus(-plus?) defender. From Derrick Goold—just before the Furcal shut-down turned into the Furcal surgery—came this interesting note in a live chat. (Hat-tip to bgh for tweeting it.)
The review of Jackson's defensive play in Memphis and his work at the plate was not as hearty as it was for Jackson coming out of Springfield. There was some thought that his range was not enough for the position in the majors and that the speed of the game was going to limit him. Seems to me he wasn't given much of a chance to show one way or the other, and now Kozma has surpassed him. That last part of the explanation is important. Jackson may not have dropped in the Cardinals' estimation. Kozma just surged ahead of him.
If Jackson doesn't have the range for shortstop, I'm not sure what his function is in the major leagues—his track record as a hitter is better than Kozma's, but it's not good. In any case, it'll be hard for Jackson to show one way or another in 2013, because of...
That he's maybe not a shortstop. Meanwhile, back to that Bernie Miklasz piece—Greg Garcia, who was a defensively fringy on-base threat last season, is now the Cardinals' starting shortstop at AAA, having leapfrogged Ryan Jackson.
Now about the shortstop prospect: Greg Garcia has turned some heads, and Mozeliak indicated that Garcia has moved ahead of Ryan Jackson in that he's projected to be the starting shortstop at Class AAA Memphis
If Greg Garcia is a cromulent shortstop, the Cardinals' depth at the position suddenly looks much different. Batting left-handed and getting on base means he's already an interesting utility-man, but if he's an actual shortstop that projected .328-ish OBP would look pretty nice.
If Garcia's defense isn't an issue, he goes from sleeper prospect to actual prospect in a hurry. The Daniel Descalso question still lingers, as it does for all left-handers with breakout seasons at Springfield, but if he can get on base and play a passable shortstop he's another cheap, average, suddenly complete product in the Cardinals' lineup.