For the Cardinals, the Opening Day starter at shortstop is pretty well assured. That would be Rafael Furcal. A mid-season addition at the trade deadline for the Cardinals in 2011, Furcal provided a significant upgrade to the defense at shortstop for the Cardinals. It was a steadying glove when the Cardinals needed one most.
The oft-injured Furcal was in the final year of his previous deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Furcal had a $12 million club option on his contract for 2012 that could automatically vest with 600 plate appearances. Since he ended up with just 356 between the Dodgers and the Cardinals, the Cardinals’ declined the option and made him a free agent. Eventually, they brought him back as their first post-Pujols deal for 2 years at $7 million a piece.
This could be a very short preview post. You see, because of the injuries that Furcal has suffered over the last 4-5 years, it’s hard to get a good read on what kind of player the Cardinals’ can expect Furcal to be.
Second base looks to be one of the more interesting positions in 2012. The perceived incumbent, Skip Schumaker, is looking at more of a utility role than in years past while both Daniel Descalso and Tyler Greene have been mentioned as potential starters by Cardinals’ GM John Mozeliak. It certainly looks to be the only real positional battle for the Cards entering spring training and it will be one that will have clearly defined battle lines.
Greene, 28, is one of the most polarizing young Cardinals. In fact, a few of us bloggers were discussing him on Twitter today. A few thinking he is the breakout Cardinal of the year while myself and a couple others still question just what type of player he is.
A former first round pick, most of the interest in Greene has been created by the numbers he’s put up the last three years in the minor leagues. What happened three years ago, he turned 25, the age where you start taking the “prospect” tag away from a minor league player. If he hasn’t shown up by then, will he ever? Going into the 2009 season, Greene’s career line in the minor leagues was a paltry .254/.323/.414. His defense is below average at what people would call his “natural position,” short stop.
The Cardinals made it official this morning that they have signed infielder Alex Cora to a minor league contract with an invitation to Spring Training. According to Derrick Goold, the move is not only for competition, but to help provide some coaching for the younger players. Cora’s playing days are pretty much up, but he has an interest in coaching.
Cora, 36, hit .224 with 0 home runs and 6 RBI in 91 games for the Washington Nationals last season. He spent time at every infield position for the Nationals through the course of the season as well. In his 14 year career he has spent most of the last 7 as a utility infielder off the bench for the Indians, Red Sox, Mets, Rangers, and most recently the Nationals.
The move on the surface is nothing more than depth for the Cardinals as they enter spring training, just in case one of their players gets injured. However, I think there might be more of a potential for Cora to make the major league squad than we expect.
While his bat certainly won’t light the world on fire with his three-year line of .232/.296/.292, he gives the Cardinals something that the other infielders don’t. Who else plays at least a league average shortstop on the Cardinals roster? Rafael Furcal. Behind him? Tyler Greene‘s career numbers at shortstop stack him closer to Ryan Theriot than Furcal. Daniel Descalso took some time there last year and showed potential, but needs more playing time to adjust to the position.
Cora’s glove will be the second best defensive shortstop in Cardinals camp in a few weeks. I can’t be the only one who realized what effect a better shortstop had on the Cardinals pitching staff. For example, Jake Westbrook‘s ERA after the Furcal acquisition was about half a run lower than it was before the trade. That’s big. Depending on how much value the Cardinals think it might have, could end up getting interesting.
Less than two weeks away from pitchers & catchers reporting. Can’t wait.
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