Last week, Jon Heyman of CBS tweeted that the St. Louis Cardinals had expressed interest in former Cleveland Indians shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera. Long before that, in September, the Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo wrote about the Cardinals' interest in Korean shortstop Jung-ho Kang, who at that time had not yet been posted for MLB bidding by his team, the Nexen Heroes. As covered in this space last week, there are varying degrees of interest that a major-league club can have in a player. The Cardinals were not the winning bidder for the exclusive bargaining rights with Kang, losing out to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Cardinals have already added two infielders this offseason, signing free agent Dean Anna to a major-league deal and trading for Ty Kelly. Anna can play anywhere on the infield, including shortstop, while Kelly has played second and third base as well as the corner outfield positions. Given the fact that the Cards have already brought two infielders into the fold (in addition to organizational incumbents Jhonny Peralta, Matt Carpenter, Kolten Wong, and Greg Garcia), why are the Redbirds interested in Kang and Cabrera?
The answer is depth. Cardinals general manager has consistently demonstrated an interest in layering as much depth as possible in the upper minors as well as the major-league roster. It goes all the way back to his first offseason as GM. After Brendan Ryan took advantage of the opportunity he was given with St. Louis during the injury-plagued season of 2007 by showing promise, Mozeliak inked veteran shortstop Cesar Izturis to a one-year deal that relegated Ryan to Memphis and the major-league bench during the 2008 season. Why paint yourself into a corner with the youngster when you can sign a veteran to create depth and options?
The Cardinals did the same thing entering 2011. Rather than relying on rookie Daniel Descalso as the club's utility infielder on the bench, Mozeliak signed veteran free agent Nick Punto to a one-year contract. Of course, Punto was plagued by injuries during 2011, which left Descalso as the primary fill-in at third base after David Freese was hit by a pitch, fracturing his hand, but Descals was Plan C at third behind Freese and Punto entering the season.
The pattern continued during the 2011-12 offseason, but with a twist. The Cardinals re-signed veteran Skip Schumaker to be a utility player. The Cardinals anointed Descalso as the primary second baseman. Schumaker was the veteran Plan B at the keystone. St. Louis also promoted Matt Carpenter to fill the role of utility man. Descalso foundered, Schumaker hit well, and Carpenter thrived during the 2012 season, a turn of events that spurred a completed different course of action during the 2012-13 Hot Stove.
The Cards traded Schumaker to Los Angeles in exchange for organizational depth in the middle infield, receiving Double-A Dodgers shortstop Jake Lemmerman. With incumbent shortstop Rafael Furcal's ulnar collateral ligament an open question mark, the Cards inquired about free agent Stephen Drew but, because St. Louis was unable to give assurances of playing time, as reported by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Derrick Goold, Drew opted to sign with Boston. The Cardinals also promoted Carpenter to starting second baseman and demoted Descalso to a pine-pony infielder. Late in the season, the Cards promoted top infield prospect Kolen Wong, giving the club yet another infield dimension.
After the club's World Series run, Mozeliak again retooled the infield, dealing Freese to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in exchange for outfielders Peter Bourjos and Randal Grichuk. Mozeliak also signed free agent shortstop Jhonny Peralta. But St. Louis wasn't done. The Cards signed free agent veteran Mark Ellis as a bench infielder and also added free agent Cuban shortstop Aledmys Diaz later in the offseason for organizational depth in the middle infield in addition to Pete Kozma and Descalso, who the club used as its primary backup shortstop in 2014.
All of this is to say that, even after adding Anna and Kelly, the Cardinals inquiring about Cabrera and bidding on the exclusive negotiating rights for the MLB-ready Kang is not surprising. With Mozeliak as GM, it would be more surprising if the Cards were not inquiring about infielders that would add to the organization's depth.