The unfortunate news today from Jupiter was that shortstop Jhonny Peralta was seen leaving camp today in street clothes and we soon learned he'll likely be missing extensive time with a torn ligament in his left hand.
Peralta has torn thumb ligament. Headed to St. Louis for exam. #STLCards describe outlook as not positive.— J.J. Bailey (@TheJJBailey) March 7, 2016
This is deflating for the obvious reason in that Peralta is one of the better shortstops in the National League. Since signing with the Cardinals before the 2014 season, his 7.0 fWAR is second only to Brandon Crawford (7.9). And from a team standpoint, only Matt Carpenter has been worth more wins during the same timeframe.
The news is also deflating if you've bought into the idea that what the Cardinals have going for them in 2016 is that they can't possibly have as many injuries to key players as they did in 2015. This morning, beat writer Derrick Goold explained how the Cardinals are becoming increasingly analytical in their approach to injuries. It's a very interesting column and details the newly-established Performance Department which was created to help the Cardinals become more proactive with injuries. Part of the process has been hiring Dr. Robert Butler from Duke University to head the department and to work collaboratively with head athletic trainer Adam Olsen. This is not unique to the Cardinals. As Goold wrote, the Nationals have also created an analytical-driven medical department and Nats GM Mike Rizzo opined that this might be the new "Moneyball."
While not the focal point of the column, the part that most jumped out at me was this:
The Nats lost 1,278 man games to the disabled list in 2015. The Cardinals had 722 man games lost, but their injuries were to centerpiece players, like ace Adam Wainwright and No. 3 hitter Matt Holliday. The website, ManGamesLost.com, calculated the production individual teams lost last year to injury using Wins Above Replacement (WAR) and the Cardinals had 15.88 WAR on the DL. The next closest team was Toronto, at 10.70 WAR. Although the Chicago Cubs had more man games lost (1,001), the impact of those players was significantly less (2.61 WAR). Still, the Cardinals won 100 games.
It wasn't your imagination - no team in both the regular season and the postseason was likely impacted more by injuries than the Cardinals.
If there's a publication that's picking anyone other than the Cubs to win the NL Central in 2016 I haven't seen it. Even after Jason Heyward and John Lackey switched sides, however, there was comfort in knowing the Cardinals could at least count on health. With Yadier Molina's status for Opening Day still unknown, a two to three month loss for one of the Cardinals' main power threats feels like a huge blow to that premise. Especially with it being a ligament injury on his hand which could limit his power even when he returns.
Taking down the Cubs was never going to be easy; taking down the Cubs with Jedd Gyorko as starting SS sounds near impossible.— David Cameron (@DCameronFG) March 7, 2016
Craig Edwards noted earlier today that finding a suitable replacement for Peralta this late in the offseason in not an easy task. Both the Cardinals and Ian Desmond would have likely been fine to agree to a similar one year / $8 million contract that he signed with the Texas Rangers, especially since Desmond would have been able to play his natural position instead of being stuck in left field as is his predicament in Texas. That's obviously no longer an option. MLB Trade Rumors looked at possible replacements for Peralta outside the organization and none are all that exciting. As Craig noted, the team's best options might be in-house with Cuban prospect Aledmys Diaz. Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs just posted a column that supports this view as well.
If there's a silver lining at all it's that Peralta, who is entering his age-34 season, has a month to start healing before the season begins. Whether due to fatigue or reasons unknown (for shortstops in the NL, only Desmond has played more games since 2014), Peralta faded down the stretch in 2015 and hit .243/.306/.325 with a 74 wRC+ in the second half of the season compared to .298/.355/.473 with a 127 wRC+ in the first half. If Diaz, Jedd Gyorko, or Greg Garcia can be a serviceable contingency plan at shortstop for the first few months of the season and the team can stay within striking distance of the top of the NL Central, a fresh and hopefully-healed Peralta for the final two-thirds of the season doesn't sound all that bad.