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Cardinals have options when Jhonny Peralta returns

Jhonny Peralta is on a rehab assignment, and when he gets back, the Cardinals have plenty of options for playing time.

Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Jhonny Peralta is currently in Peoria getting himself back up to playing speed. A thumb injury can be difficult to come back from and getting the necessary strength to swing a bat with authority does take time. Rehab assignments can last up to 20 days for position players, and it appears that Peralta will get much of that time to get himself back. Once he does return to St. Louis, how playing time will be apportioned is not yet determined, but the emergence of Aledmys Diaz does provide options.

Before the season began, the Cardinals had Kolten Wong at second base, Jhonny Peralta at shortstop, Matt Carpenter at third base and Jedd Gyorko as a potential right-handed option for Wong and occasionally Carpenter as well as a few games here and there at shortstop to spell Peralta after he wore down at the end of last season. That plan didn't get very far as Peralta was injured in spring training. After plans B and C fell through the Cardinals went with option D in Aledmys Diaz, and he took the position and ran with it.

While much has been made of Diaz's adjustment period to playing baseball in the United States after a long layoff, very little has been made of how much he has been playing this year. Making the adjustment from Cuba to the U.S. was surely a big challenge, but making the adjustment from minor leagues to major leagues is also a big challenge. Since Diaz came on in the eighth inning on April 8, he has appeared in every game but one. He has started every one of the last 15 games and finished all but one of them. Of the last 28 games, Diaz has started 26. All this despite not making the Opening Day roster.

Diaz could use a bit more rest as he goes through the grind of his first big league season. The reason Diaz has played so much is that he is playing so well, but to expect him to continue to do so asks for too much. Diaz has improved his projections to roughly league average, and that has a lot of value, but injecting another good player like Jhonny Peralta into the mix should prove beneficial. Then there is the other reason Diaz is playing so much: Ruben Tejada.

Tejada has not really done enough with the Cardinals to know if he can contribute. What we know right now is that Mike Matheny does not really have a lot of faith in him contributing. Tejada has started just seven games with the Cardinals with just one start in the last 15 games. Tejada, once positioned to be the starting shortstop for the Cardinals potentially through the All-Star Break, hit the disabled list before the season started, lost the job to Aledmys Diaz and now finds himself in the tenuous position of being the 25th man on the roster.

I thought Tejada might have been in danger of losing his spot when Tommy Pham came back:

The Cardinals could decide with Diaz's solid play and Jhonny Peralta due back that the insurance Tejada provided at the time of his signing is no longer needed. Tejada passed through waivers with the Mets, but he was making more than twice as much as he was now, and it's possible a team might claim him and the rest of his salary or that after passing through, the Cardinals might find a trade partner. Assuming some team wants him even if the Cardinals release him, they will probably only end up paying him around one million dollars.

While I was wrong about Pham, who was optioned to the minors, the same still holds true for Tejada. The only things that have changed is that Peralta is closer to a return and Tejada is playing even less than he was then. The Cardinals could option Hazelbaker, but that would leave the team with just one center fielder, unless you want to count Stephen Piscotty. Insurance policies are generally best if you don't have to exercise them. That has been Ruben Tejada's tenure with the Cardinals.

While playing time could be tough to sort out, there should be plenty of opportunities due to position flexibility. In just about every week, six games are played and there are plenty of opportunities between all four infield positions. The Cardinals could conceivably split shortstop at the three games apiece and then give one game to Peralta at third base and one game to Diaz at second base or another game at shortstop if they want him to focus his efforts there. That might give Peralta a few more games at third.

The effect of putting Peralta back in the lineup is that somebody has to lose starts. Aledmys Diaz is the most likely candidate, and although he is playing well, playing him four games a week might be the best thing for his career right now. The other playing time casualties are likely to be Brandon Moss and Matt Adams. While both players have had their moments this year, neither player is as good of a hitter (or likely fielder) as Matt Carpenter. Jhonny Peralta would help shore up the left side of the infield defense regardless of the position he plays, and assuming the Cardinals are patient with his rehab, he likely projects to be roughly as good on offense as both Adams and Moss.

Peralta coming back creates issues, but it does not cause problems as getting more good players on the team should only be beneficial. The Cardinals defense has suffered this season with the sure-handed presence of Peralta. While he might not be as good defensively as he was two years ago, his level of play would still improve the Cardinals defense overall, likely a welcome sight for the groundball pitchers on the staff.