Just in case you had any lingering hopes, this won’t be the year that the Cardinals solve their shortstop problem. With the news that they have now hired former Cub Ronny Cedeno to provide some “insurance,” the Cardinals have all but folded on the idea of bringing back the prestige of shortstop.
Of course, with a fairly potent bat at just about every other position around the diamond, the Cardinals can afford to yield some production at shortstop. Besides, every team has to have a worst position, and, moreover, the Cardinals don’t need to spend more than necessary to compete.
Still, with a franchise boasting a proud history at the position (two Hall of Famers, three counting Hornsby’s early career), the recent decline at shortstop doesn’t sit quite right. It’s not like the Cardinals are like the Royals, who’ve never had a decent shortstop (in their history, they’ve had only two manage a 4-WAR season; the Cardinals have had 23, and 14 since the Royals came into existence). The Cardinals seldom go more than a few seasons without quality up the middle.
This current period may actually be the worst streak at shortstop that the Cardinals have had, with seven straight seasons of below-average league ranking in shortstop productivity. Since Edgar Renteria left, the Cardinals have had a revolving door, with an average of five players at the position each year (from 2001-2005, they averaged three).
And with Cedeno, it’s as if John Mozeliak were planning another season of shortstop-by-committee. We don’t have a particular beef with Cedeno, nor even with using shortstop as the designated white-towel position. But the signing does pose a few questions, most notably this: Given Cedeno’s reported $1.15 million contract (which can reach $2 million on performance), and that Stephen Drew, the best free agent shortstop of the winter, signed for $9.5 million, why did the Cardinals not value Drew for effectively only $8 million and change? Now it’s possible that Mozeliak misread the market and was forced to pay more for a solid backup (who also didn’t require everyday playing time) than he anticipated. But $1.15 is reasonable for a veteran shortstop who has averaged $4.8 million worth of WAR the last three years. Our best guess is that Mozeliak is so patient and willing to wait that he’s planning to make a move — via trade — in the middle of the season. It very well may be that if the Cardinals are vying for a wild card, they upgrade at short. The only problem is that the second wild card may entice teams that otherwise might’ve been sellers to hold their shortstops. It may be that Mozeliak will have waited too long.