Furcal injury opens door

“The sky is falling!” That’s been the common sentiment I’ve seen over the last couple days,  since the news came that shortstop Rafael Furcal is still feeling the effects of the elbow injury he sustained last season and has been shut down. News came out yesterday that he’s going to Dr. James Andrews for a second opinion after meeting with the team’s doctor on Monday. Odds are ever increasing that he won’t break camp with the Cardinals and will begin the 2013 season on the disabled list.

The Cardinals were caught with their pants down for failing to acquire a big name shortstop in the offseason. They should have babysat Furcal through the winter to make sure they knew how the arm was. The season is doomed. We need to mash the panic button and trade everyone away for Troy Tulowitzki.

Those have been some of the statements I’ve seen Cardinals fans making over the last couple days. There may be some truth to the statements, but they aren’t all truth. They are worth considering.

I’m of the firm believe that the organization did the best they could. As long as I’ve been following the Cardinals, they’ve been an organization that usually won’t make a deal when they feel like they’re overpaying for the value they’re going to receive. They’ve done it with countless free agents and let their best offer stand against much better ones, sometimes to their chagrin but never to their detriment.

The Cardinals explored multiple options on the free agent market to cure their shortstop dilemma. It was a slim field. Stephen Drew was talked to, but he eventually settled in Boston with a 1 year, $9.5 million deal and an every day job. Two lesser options, Alex Gonzalez and Ronny Cedeno were both talked to, with the Cardinals eventually settling on Cedeno.

As much as we might want to delude ourselves into thinking that the Cardinals ever stood a chance to sign Stephen Drew, think about this. Drew has struggled and is 30 years old. He has a limited number of shots at free agency remaining in his career. Why would Drew, who was looking for a 1-year deal to rebuild value, sign with the Cardinals? When you do that, you want a team that has an opening at your position and not a lot of internal competition because if you struggle out of the gate you could lose your spot in the lineup easily. So with Rafael Furcal and Pete Kozma coming off a smoking hot September, you aren’t going to willingly put yourself in that mix. That scared off any real impact signings.

They touched base on trades. They inquired at the winter meetings with the Rockies about Troy Tulowitzki and there’s belief they did the same with the Indians about Asdrubal Cabrera. But the problem here is that the asking price will start with at least one of your elite pitching prospects. The same prospects you’re relying on to fill two rotation spots this year and maybe two more next year plus a bullpen spot. The pitching staff has too many questions to risk ending up short handed. Then you just traded one problem for another.

The team also had to ask themselves the question about whether Furcal would be healthy enough to play. Think about it now. If Furcal was healthy all year, wouldn’t they have looked stupid for spending $9.5 million on Stephen Drew? Yeah, I think so. And probably the same fans would be complaining about the misspent money about mid-season when another hole made itself known.

The team has decent internal options. Pete Kozma will get a chance to prove that last September wasn’t a fluke. There’s been some talk that Mozeliak is comfortable with Kozma being the team’s starting shortstop. He was also comfortable about Tyler Greene starting at second base last year. To a point, Kozma finds himself in the same situation was Greene. As a former first round pick, the team wants to find value in him. That’s why he gets the slight nod over the next guy.

That next guy is veteran Ronny Cedeno who will get an opportunity to earn the starting position, something he likely eyeballed when he signed with the Cardinals. I won’t suage coat him. Cedeno isn’t going to set the world on fire. He has no upside. His bat isn’t special. He is what he is. And that’s a better defending shortstop than even Rafael Furcal. When you think back to 2011 and the impact of Ryan Theriot versus Furcal at shortstop on the pitching staff, that isn’t a bad thing to have as your safety net.

Mozeliak likes to talk about injuries being opportunities for young players to make their mark and show their stuff. Kozma’s seems like it will continue into April and the field for the present is wide open and the future could be your reward.