While the stats might not completely show it, the St. Louis Cardinals were put into a tough spot when they placed second baseman Kolten Wong on the disabled list with a nagging shoulder injury following Saturday’s game. The 23-year-old Wong, who saw his batting average drop 55 points from the .283 mark he had on May 28, seemed to be truly affected by the ailment, as he went 4-for-39 during the month of June.
The Cards are expected to turn to 37-year-old Mark Ellis in Wong’s absence, which is troublesome for a variety of reasons. First of all, Ellis is having the worst offensive season of his 12-year major-league career, putting together a .189/.279/.217 slash line thus far with no home runs and 10 RBI. In addition to that, Ellis is less proficient on the basepaths and in the field than Wong. He’s already matched his 2013 steals total with four thus far, but he’s not nearly as quick as Wong, who has swiped nine bags on the year. While Wong has made typical rookie mistakes in the field and has committed five errors on the year, he’s flashed exceptional range. That’s reflected with his 4.53 range factor per nine innings, superior to Ellis’s 4.25 mark.
To an extent, it makes sense that the Cardinals would continue to try to validate the contract they gave to Ellis this offseason, a one-year deal worth $5.25 million. They haven’t reached the All-Star break yet, so they’ve still got the right to let him turn things around. But at a certain point, they’ll have to consider changing things up if Ellis can’t start hitting.
Despite the fact that his numbers aren’t great this year and he only has a .239 career average, reserve infielder Daniel Descalso could be an option to consider. He certainly has experience contributing to successful Cardinals teams, serving as the Cards’ primary second baseman on their 2012 team which went to the NLCS and acting as a key reserve on the 2011 and 2013 World Series teams.
The 27-year-old has been stuck as the last man off the bench for most of the year, and he’s struggled in those limited opportunities, batting .179 in 67 at-bats. The lefthanded-hitting Descalso has been particularly unsuccessful against lefty pitchers, going 1-for-10, so there’s really no reason that he should ever start ahead of Ellis in those situations unless Ellis is hurt or worn out. But against righties, Descalso has been slightly better than Ellis, going 11-for-57 (.193) compared to Ellis’s 12-for-63 (.190) mark.
That small difference in batting average might not seem to be cause to give any extra playing time to Descalso, especially considering Ellis’s previous track record and much more expensive contract. However, Descalso has a better shot at being a solid all-around contributor. The difference is most apparent on defense, where Descalso has a 5.67 range factor per nine this year and 5.41 for his career at second, a much better number than Ellis’s 4.15 mark, which itself is a large drop off from his career 5.10.
When you couple that large defensive advantage with the knowledge that Descalso has put together some great offensive numbers when given an extended chance (.350 average in May and June of 2013, .289 from June to September of 2011), it makes sense to at least give Descalso some starts against righthanded pitchers. At this point in his career, it’s unlikely that he’s ever going to be a reliable everyday player, but for the time in which Wong is out, he probably has about as good a chance of being a successful sub as Ellis does.
Another guy who might figure into the Cardinals’ plans during the coming days is Greg Garcia, who has heated back up at Triple-A and is hitting .282/.391/.308 over his past 10 games following a slump after he was demoted back to the minors in mid-May. The lefthanded-hitting Garcia made his big-league debut earlier this year and went 2-for-10, though his most memorable moment was a walk-off hit by pitch on May 13 against the Chicago Cubs. The Cardinals could return to 12 pitchers and a five-man bench soon, and Garcia would be the most logical addition to the team, considering his recent success and ability to play solid defense at several infield positions.