Spring training position battles are a time-honored tradition. And the Cardinals are embracing tradition this spring. Joe Kelly and Carlos Martinez are squaring off for the No. 5 starter slot. Peter Bourjos and Jon Jay are ostensibly competing to determine who will be the starting center fielder. A collection of would-be big-leaguers are vying for a bullpen slot. Even 2013 NLCS MVP Michael Wacha is paying lip service to winning a spot on the MLB roster this spring. And then there's the bench.
The Cardinals had an active offseason. St. Louis traded starting third baseman David Freese and reliever Fernando Salas to the Angels in exchange for outfielders Peter Bourjos and Randal Grichuk. The Cards then signed free agent shortstop Jhonny Peralta to a four-year deal. Lastly, the club signed free agent second baseman Mark Ellis as Kolten Wong insurance.
Matt Carpenter will slide across the diamond and take over at third base. Wong or Ellis will be the starting second baseman with the runner-up probably serving as a platoon partner on the bench. Bourjos appears poised to knock incumbent center fielder Jon Jay from his starting spot and to the bench. Peralta has displaced Peter Kozma, the Redbirds' starting shortstop a year ago.
The Cardinals have more bench players than they do MLB roster spots.
Backup backstop Tony Cruz is a shoe-in to make the 25-man roster as Yadier Molina's caddy. That leaves four spots. One will be filled by either Jay or Bourjos. Another will probably go to Wong or Ellis. Assuming nothing surprising happens (like Wong getting sent to Triple-A to start the season or an unfortunate injury), that leaves two spots to be filled by Shane Robinson, Daniel Descalso, and Kozma (with Greg Garcia also in the mix).
There has been a curious development in the early days of Cardinals camp this spring: No one is talking about Descalso earning a roster spot in camp. It's as if manager Mike Matheny has already determined that Descalso will be on the Cardinals' roster. For the life of me, I can't figure out why.
The stench from Kozma's 2013 hitting was such that it seems to have overwhelmed and caused a lack of appreciation of just how bad Descalso was with a bat in his hands last season. Descalso posted a .238/.290/.368 line. His .284 wOBA equaled an 80 wRC+. That's putrid. Here's the thing, though, Descalso actually had a better year at the plate last season than he did in 2012, when he hit .227/.303/.324, which worked out to a .278 wOBA and 74 wRC+.
Descalso isn't just horrendous at the plate–he's also bad in the field.
Second base is Descalso's best fielding position, but he probably shouldn't ever play there since he's on a team with Ellis, Wong, and Carpenter. Due to poor lateral movement, Descalso is incapable of playing a serviceable shortstop no matter what delusions Matheny operates under. It's safe to say that Descalso should probably not be allowed to play third base, either. (He has a fairly strong throwing arm and that's about it.)
Descalso is the embodiment of the dull Swiss Army Knife utility player. His blade is dull, his file smooth, his scissors worn, and his toothpick dirty. He's good for nothing. Yet the Cardinals agreed to guarantee Descalso at least $1.29 million this season, which may very well be the reason he appears to have locked up a roster spot without a fight (even if it shouldn't be).
Matheny is fond of saying that every Cardinals player is in competition for his job this spring. This refrain is more in service of the philosophy Matheny wants to permeate Cardinals springtime camp than reality. Matt Holliday is the starting left fielder. Yadier Molina will catch as many games as he wants to this season. Adam Wainwright is the No. 1 starter, assuming health. Add to this list Descalso, who appears to have cemented a spot on the 25-man roster in early March.