[The United Cardinal Bloggers have begun their offseason roundtable discussion in which member bloggers take turns posing a question each day to the others. Today's question comes from Kevin at Cards 'N Stuff.]
Play GM and Manager rolled into one for a day and address the Cardinals’ middle infield for 2013 and possibly beyond. Who do you see at SS and 2B (and even utility man?) in 2013 (and beyond?), and how did they get there?
Some have suggested a Tulo trade with Colorado…others, a trade with Texas. Where does Kozma (and Ryan Jackson?) squeeze in…and will they be turning double plays with Wong, Descalso, or *blank*?
Let’s start with shortstop, the position with the most intrigue this winter.
Some are premising the need for a different shortstop on whether Rafael Furcal’s elbow heals. But let’s remember that even a completely healthy Furcal can’t be expected to be all that valuable to begin with (below-average defense and a .290ish wOBA the last two seasons). Since even a healthy Furcal isn’t a super option, if we’re GM, we try to trade for Elvis Andrus first, with Trevor Rosenthal or Shelby Miller as headliner. Failing that, we’d pursue Stephen Drew as a free agent. Otherwise, we head to spring training hoping that Furcal heals and with Kozma or Jackson as our first call-up if Furcal doesn’t.
But why part with such potentially valuable young pitchers? As delightful as Miller and Rosenthal were in October, Andrus — with his 8.8 Ultimate Zone Rating (fourth among MLB shortstops) — makes the existing pitching staff better and despite being only 24, is already proven at the major-league level as a hitter. And, lest we forget in the happy glow of those playoff strikeouts, TNSTAAPP.
Andrus is in some ways the Furcal that the Cardinals never had. And maybe even that the Braves themselves never had. Let’s compare wOBA by age:
Dave Cameron had a reason for naming Andrus in his top 50 trade value list:
50. Elvis Andrus, SS, Texas – Signed through 2014 for $12 million.
After coming up as a defensive specialist, Andrus has continued to make progress as a hitter, and is now one of the best all around shortstops in the game, and he doesn’t turn 24 until August 26th. The combination of youth and productivity at a premium position make him one of the game’s best young players, but the Rangers weren’t able to buy out any of his free agent years when they signed him to a three year, $14.4 million contract last offseason. While he’s young, he doesn’t have enough years of team control to rank as highly as his performance might otherwise suggest, and glove first players still don’t command the types of return that guys who can create runs at the plate can. While Andrus is one of the best young players in baseball, his skillset and short contract serve to keep him at the very end of this list.
Short of Andrus, Drew marks an upgrade on both sides of the ball over any single player or combination that the Cardinals currently have in their organization at shortstop.
As for second base, the team already has two lefties at the position in Skip Schumaker and Daniel Descalso, and Matt Carpenter appears to be part of the equation there, as well. And then of course the team has Wong waiting in the wings. But Wong hasn’t played a day in Triple-A, and didn’t exactly light up the Texas League in 2012 (.348 OBP/.405 SLG), so we can safely count him out until September. We wouldn’t be surprised if the Cardinals moved one of their major-league 2Bs this winter, though Schumaker’s and Descalso’s versatility make them useful insurance as positions (outfield and middle infield, respectively) where they could use it.
Assuming that Carpenter acquits himself as well as Skip Schumaker has, we’d take our chances with him as starter and figure Daniel Descalso as the limited-exposure backup for both of the middle infield spots. Not likely perhaps, but, after all, Schumaker did it.
So best case: Andrus and Carpenter, but without one of the dynamic duo. Worst: Kozma and Descalso, but with both Miller and Rosenthal. And worst probably deserves quotes, since that’s essentially the combination that they used in 2012 to make the playoffs.