The last couple of years, the Cardinals have been decent at the skilled infield positions. Matt Carpenter has been one of the games most valuable players since 2013 (7th in fWAR). Jhonny Peralta led the team in fWAR in 2014, and while he failed to earn as much as 2 WAR in 2015, that was mostly due to a big loss of value on defense, which can probably mostly be attributed to the nature of our current defensive metrics, which take three years to stabilize. Even at just 1.7 WAR, that is a huge upgrade over our options pre-Peralta, when Pete Kozma and Daniel Descalso combined for over 800 plate appearances at replacement level in 2013.
Kolten Wong had a rough start to his career, with a sub-par 2013 cup of coffee, followed by momentarily losing the competition for the starting second-baseman job in early 2014 to anemic performers in Mark Ellis and Descalso. After a demotion to Triple-A, Wong returned and grabbed the starter's job and held on tight. At this point, Wong is the unquestioned starter, and with four years of cheap control it's hard to imagine it changing any time soon.
While Carpenter, Peralta, and Wong is an established trio at SS/3B/2B, the team hasn't been able to get a usable backup. Things were so bad that the two alternatives, Greg Garcia and Kozma, combined for less than 200 PA on the year:
Garcia actually didn't have a bad year at the plate, posting a 101 wRC+ in a short sample of 87 PA. In the much larger sample size of over 1,200 career PA at Triple-A he's put up a 104 wRC+. That informs his Steamer projection of an 87 wRC+ at the big league level. Kozma of course had an awful year at the plate, failing to even record an extra base hit in his 111 PA. His BABIP was low, which you might think was mostly a fluke, but given the quality of contact Kozma showed last year it wasn't that fluky
Things were bad in 2014 as well, though it was made worse by Matheny's impatience with Wong's results at the start of the season. Mark Ellis (brought in as insurance for Wong), Descalso, Kozma, and Garcia combined for over 400 PA of replacement level performance:
The Cardinals have a long history of making great short-term bets on veterans passed their prime, but they completely missed on Ellis, who's 2014 was so bad that it was his last, as he retired about a year ago today.
Things could have been much worse in 2014 and 2015 if there were any injuries. Replace Carpenter and Peralta's strong production over the last two years with one of these options for several hundred at-bats and the Cardinals' sorry infield back-ups would have been even more apparent. For instance, in 2013 when Rafael Furcal missed all of the 2013 season to Tommy John Surgery, it forced Kozma and Descalso into a competition for the starting SS role. the result was disastrous:
This of course was the impetus to sign Peralta in the first place. But a situation like that still could have occurred, had any of Carpenter, Wong, or Peralta missed significant time. That is until the Cardinals traded for Jedd Gyorko. Gyorko is no star, in fact he's been viewed as somewhat of a disappointment compared to his former prospect status, but he's still quite an upgrade in terms of a utility infielder:
Gyorko came up as a third baseman, and in San Diego moved to second with Chase Headley installed at the hot corner. In 2015, he added shortstop to resume, while the Padres had a gaping hole otherwise at the positon. Being that the same team also for some reason tried Wil Myers in Center field, this wasn't exactly a move indicative of his defensive abilities as much as the Padres apparent lack of consideration for defensive value. But, don't tell the Cardinals, who are relatively confident in his ability to play four infield positions this year.
While his 2014 numbers wouldn't have been very helpful, his 2013 and 2015 years were much more serviceable. As a RHH, Gyorko should not only be able to spell Wong against lefties, but also afford Carpenter and Peralta a chance to actually get a day off or two when they need it. At the same time, while Gyorko shouldn't be expected to step right in for Carpenter and Peralta in the event of injury, he should be quite an upgrade over the options the Cardinals have had in the past.