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Shorstops in short supply

What can the Cardinals do about shortstop? Anything?

Christian Petersen

A few things worth mentioning for those of you who come via VEB Daily:

  • The latest installment of Legopiece Theater is out. Yes, Virginia. There is a lego Santa Claus.
  • Future Redbirds finished its top 20 prospect list.
  • Before you move on, read this piece by Derrick Goold since that's what sparked today's post. It's a few days old but it does a good job comprehensively covering the shortstop market.

Rafael Furcal will be 35 entering next season. He's coming off of a significant injury and is going to be asked to play the most demanding physical position outside of catching. 2012 was actually a modest resurgence for Furcal who appeared in the most games since 2009.

Furcal was acquired (for Alex Castellanos) from the Dodgers and signed to a 2-year deal to fix the Cardinals mid-term shortstop woes also known as "Get Ryan Theriot out of shortstop". Despite Furcal playing reasonable well, he's a marginal player at his age according to the metrics.

Not every team can play Elvis Andrus or Jose Reyes as their shortstop but a lot of teams have sacrificed on defense to play a more significant bat at the position. The Rays gave 47 games to Ben Zobrist at shortstop. The Dodgers traded for Hanley Ramirez to play at shortstop. The Indians committed to Asdrubal Cabrera for a full season which produced above average offensive results but some woeful defense.

The market is thin for shortstops and some teams are pursuing less formulaic options because ... well, because they don't have any other options.

That's what makes it so hard to completely dismiss the idea of players like Ryan Jackson or Pete Kozma. The threshold for shorstops is low. Rafael Furcal's return in 2013 may not be the boon that it is perceived to be though. Among "shortstops" who qualified for the batting title, Furcal ranked last in fWAR. Ease the filter back to 400 at bats and Furcal remains in last among the 25 players pooled.

As a whole, and this is heavily influenced by the possessed late season performance of Pete Kozma, Cardinal shortstops were middle of the pack in terms of OPS ranking 13th with a .698 aggregate. Furcal gets a year older, Pete Kozma plays like minor league Pete Kozma and it's hard to see how that performance gets replicated.

Despite that, the options are remarkably limited. Goold lays out the players that Cardinals GM John Mozeliak has been in on this year: 37 year old Marco Scutaro, poor defender Asdrubal Cabrera and (lack of dismissive adjectives) Jed Lowrie. A list of possible back-up utility style players follows and it is scary: Ronny Cedeno, Mark deRosa, Alex Gonzalez. No one on the list is someone that the Cardinals want to see significant time at shortstop and it's hard to see the difference between the veterans and slick-fielding Ryan Jackson as a backup.

This isn't an immediate problem for the Cardinals. Their middle infield has been bad for years and they've regularly made the playoffs and won a World Series during that time. But this is a problem that will have to have another band-aid applied next offseason after Furcal's contract expires. Goold lays out some options there and ... well, I'm thankful we're entering 2013 and not 2014. Stay healthy, Furc.

(Happy holidays. I'm opening Christmas presents with family tonight, suckers!)