Last September, with shortstop Rafael Furcal out and fill-in Pete Kozma excelling beyond anyone’s expectation, the St. Louis Cardinals eked out the last wild card spot and came to within one win of the World Series.
Fast forward six months and the club is in almost the exact same situation with its middle infield. Furcal’s elbow still has him sidelined indefinitely. Kozma remains in the mix to take his place, with the only change the addition of Ronny Cedeno. The latter takes the place of traded Skip Schumaker – in roster allocation, at least.
At second base, the offense of 2012 starter Daniel Descalso was viewed to fall short of expectations as did the defense of Schumaker. The club came up with the idea of trying third baseman Matt Carpenter at second, an experiment for which it is still too early to draw a conclusion.
Based on their action in the market this past off-season, the Cardinals did not appear satisfied with their in-house options. While connected via trade rumors to shortstops such as Asdrubal Cabrera and Troy Tulowitzki, no one knows how serious these discussions were.
Marco Scutaro, with experience at second and short, disclosed he turned down a two-year, $18 million free agent offer from St. Louis. Instead, the 37-year-old returned to the San Francisco Giants.
The Cardinals’ inability to attract other free agents may have been limited by the uncertainty about Furcal’s health and the potential loss in playing time by the signee if Furcal was proven healthy. Prospective Cardinals had to consider the possibility of either sitting or having to move to second base. Not everyone might be willing to accept that risk, especially if regular playing time was more assured elsewhere.
Then, the Cardinals tried a low-budget route. They reportedly offered 36-year-old Alex Gonzalez a make-good contract in December before the shortstop accepted more guaranteed money to return to Milwaukee. As part of the negotiations, Gonzalez said he was queried by the Cardinals as to his willingness to potentially play second base, perhaps in a job-share with Descalso. Gonzalez told the club he wanted to be an every-day player.
By the end of January, the Cardinals apparently had continued down the list of available options and Cedeno was signed. Initially, the 30-year-old reportedly said no other teams wanted him, but later asserted several other clubs had shown interest.
Irregardless, right now, hope for an incremental improvement over the 2012 middle infield is dependent on the Carpenter experiment plus the presence of Cedeno together offering more than Schumaker.
That is essentially the only difference from how the Cardinals middle infield ended the 2012 season – a situation their actions over the winter clearly indicated they wanted to improve.