Tom made a good point yesterday, in the course of trying to answer the Jon Jay question: If there's something wrong with him, there's really nothing left for the Cardinals to do about it between now and the Oscar Taveras Era. Granted: That's mostly because it's a really short time horizon; the Oscar Taveras Era could probably start any time after he returns from the disabled list, if they needed it to. It's academic, in that sense; it's mostly a way to start a comment thread about whether Tommy Pham might be ready, or whether anybody knows how Jay and Adron Chambers caught the same BAbip-eating virus.
But it's also the kind of debate that flows organically from off-months like the one the Cardinals just escaped. The broader question isn't about Jon Jay, it's about whether this team has any more in-house solutions to whatever is ailing it. It's another variant in every fanbase's endless quest for "dry powder."
It's novel enough to not need a short-term solution at second base that I still feel a little wrong-footed by the Cardinals' success this year—why worry about anything else, really, if the Cardinals have turned Skip Schumaker Mk. II into Robby Cano?
But for all its success, this is a team that's already leaning heavily on players who weren't supposed to play major roles this year. Pete Kozma's chief among them; it's easy to forget, but it was earlier this year that we were all thinking about Rafael Furcal on a regular basis. After a surprisingly adequate start, he's graduated into a problem himself; replacement level, with his sub-.600 OPS, is in sight, but maintaining it requires a valuation of his defense that might at least be mildly optimistic.
The duct tape's held better elsewhere, especially in the bullpen—Edward Mujica's approximating Jason Motte, and Seth Maness Edward Mujica, and Trevor Rosenthal's done an excellent job of playing himself, and behind all of them the Cardinals have gotten solid innings from the likes of Keith Butler and (especially) Kevin Siegrist. On the infield the Cardinals have gotten a performance from Daniel Descalso that would have earned him a starting job if Carpenter had played second base like a third baseman.
The best solution for center field remains waiting patiently for Jon Jay to hit .280, which—much as I love Tommy Pham—is probably not a bad thing; moving to "fix" an 84 OPS+ from an above-average hitter at a position this far along the defensive spectrum is the kind of fidgeting that might move Evgeny Morozov to write a book decrying baseball solutionism. He's at replacement level in spite of uncharacteristically bad performances at everything he does; Shane Robinson might caddy for him more often in the meantime.
At shortstop, meanwhile—well, Ryan Jackson's season has tracked Pete Kozma's just closely enough to prevent a fandom coup at the position; he's cooled off along with Kozma, such that he's now hitting a good but not Tyler Greene-ian .306/.384/.410.
That's far enough away from his career numbers—and in a PCL that's still got a league OPS of .769—that it's worth noting their rest-of-season ZiPS are distressingly close/bad. Kozma: .229/.282/.320. Jackson: .246/.296/.331. Unless Kozma's offensive collapse falls through its current floor, Jackson's defensive reputation—wherever it sits internally—will probably make the difference, though Descalso's reappearance at shortstop over the last month might already suggest some impatience.
Among the pitchers—well, the full run Lance Lynn's added to his ERA in his last five starts has been enough to get Joe Strauss teasing pitching moves, but his peripherals over the same time period (30 strikeouts, 13 walks, and two home runs in 31 innings) don't leave me itching for change on a team that's already had to consider the integrity of its rotation in the wake of an injury to John Gast.
Of course, when you're working with such tiny quantities—a couple runs in either direction, a couple weeks of regular playing time—quantum prospect weirdness comes into play. It's important to remember that last year's most successful short-term solution was Kozma himself, who was called up as a terrible hitter and is now a terrible hitter but, when the Cardinals needed a shortstop, hit .333/.383/.569 for 26 games.
Which would be reason enough not to worry much about this, if we weren't baseball fans in constant need of stimulus over the course of 162 games. It's rare that our chosen solution both gets a chance and performs like we hope he will, but that's hardly the point of obsessing over the rough edges of the 25 and 40-man rosters, if we're being honest with ourselves.