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United Cardinal Bloggers roundtable: What should the Cards do about the middle infield?

[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:

Source: FanGraphsRafael Furcal, Elvis Andrus

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.

3 Responses to “United Cardinal Bloggers roundtable: What should the Cards do about the middle infield?”

  1. Brandon Says:

    I am not that high on Stephen Drew. He would probably be an upgrade on even a healthy Furcal, and would certainly be a big upgrade on Koz/Descalso. But Drew comes with his own health concerns, and chronic shortages at SS will likely bump his price up some. Drew would be the big ticket acquisition, and I’d prefer to spread that around on some depth. Of course, if he comes super cheap, why not?

    For me, Andrus is the answer. Keith Law opined the other day that Rosenthal and Adams is “half” of what the Rangers should be asking for Andrus. While I think that’s an oversell, I have no connections to inform me as to how the Rangers value Andrus. I think if it would take both Rosenthal and Miller to get Andrus, I’d probably pass. Rosenthal and Carlos Martinez? Perhaps.

    I do think it folly to count on Furcal for all that much. Even if healthy, he’s no longer a great player, and last year made it obvious that riding either he or Beltran too hard comes with fairly large risks. They can probably win with Koz/Descalso, but if they don’t address the position, they need to admit to themselves and fans also need to acknowledge that this is the situation, and that Kozma’s minor league track record is more informative than that one glorious AB in Washington.

  2. cardinalnation257 Says:

    I’m not sold on Shelby Miller, but I think it would be a huge mistake to let go of Trevor Rosenthal. If they can get him to develop a good changeup to go with that breaker he will be a nasty starter. Honestly this just doesnt look like the year to make a move for a SS for the cards. Even if the Rangers do consider dealing Andrus, he is going to cost way too much with the way the SS market is looking. If the cards went to try to make a deal with the Rangers the Rangers would have all the leverage in that deal and I think it would work out against St. Louis’ favor. As for second base, I think it would be best case scenerio if Matt Carpenter could learn the position and step in. While he is a very valuable bat to have on the bench, I think his bat is too good to keep out of the everyday lineup at this point. Descalso is a little streaky defensively and his bat is anything to write home about. All this being said, the cards are going to have some money to spend with Lohse leaving, but I dont think they need to reinvest that money in arms even though its never a bad idea. There are a bevy of arms including Lynn, Kelly, Rosenthal, and Miller to compete for that 5th spot in the rotation. It will be interesting to see where Craig plays next year, the money could be used to lock down a big 1st basemen or outfielder, even though the cardinals are already pretty deep in the outfield. I like the idea of picking up a stephen drew or trading for JJ Hardy much more than going for Andrus. Andrus will no doubt break our back to get him and the Cardinals aren’t about that anyway. Hopefully a good deal will fall in our laps this offseason! GO CARDS!!!

  3. Ziggy Says:

    I give Matheny a solid A.

    Following the Cards online from a distance on a daily basis (I live in Chicago) and taking in a lot of televised Sox games this year, I had the opportunity to compare and contrast Matheny with Robin Ventura’s maiden voyage as manager.

    Throughout the early part of the season and into the summer, I thought Matheny was trying to out La Russa La Russa with all the lineup juggling and relief pitching strategizing. Meantime, Ventura was putting the same lineup in the field day and after day, and successfully challenging the Tigers, the heavy pre-season favorites.

    What I didn’t get was that Matheny was trying to preserve a lineup of creaky veterans (Beltran, Furcal, Holliday) that included oft injured younger players (Craig, Freese). Despite these efforts, all of the Cards big bats missed significant time due to injury – most missed at least a week and many missed for than two weeks. Otherwise we might be looking at a 100 win team this year.

    What Matheny and the team surely realized (and I of course did not) is that if they could keep the ship stitched together through August, they could bottom feed on a diet rich in Astros and Cubs the last couple of weeks to make a final stretch drive run for a playoff spot. Which they did. The White Sox, meantime, flamed out the last two weeks of the season as their big bats went silent.

    One can argue about Matheny’s game tactics, but his overall understanding of strategy based on the hand he was dealt got a team with very fragile health to within one game of the World Series.

    The team rode the high of the NLDS to a 3-1 lead over a very talented and well managed Giants team. The same crafty pitching, defense and timely hitting (and great coaching) that ultimately did in the Cards in seven games took care of the Tigers in four.

    Matheny helped keep his team bouncing back from gut wrenching, devastating losses all year. He got them into a position where they could extend the season. I can’t imagine who could have taken them further this year after all of the signature losses (Pujols, La Russa, Duncan, Carpenter) from the previous year. He had a truly amazing year, as did his team.

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