Short Stop Down – Can The Cards Recover?


August 27, 2012: Pittsburgh, PA, USA: St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Rafael Furcal (15) leaps to make a throw to first base against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Pugliese-USA TODAY Sports

The Cardinals general manager,  John Mozeliak,  has been nothing short of bold during his tenure.  He’s drawn both criticism and respect from the droves of redbird fans,  and been to the biggest stage in all major league baseball,  and saw success there too.   With the loss of ace pitcher Chris Carpenter and their mighty short stop in Rafael Furcal, the Cardinals now are forced to fall back on 30 year old Rodney Cendeno, who is average at the position to say the least, and the 24 year kid, Pete Kozma, who impressed last post season with his clutch infield play and production filled bat.  So break it down — who gets the start?

A New York Met for the 2012 season, Cedeno went 43/166 (.259) on the year, with 22 RBI’s, 4 HRs and had an on base percentage of .332 in 78 games.  His field percentage at SS is .970 lifetime, however last year he posted a .972.  Oddly enough, SS is the one position where his fielding percentage suffers the most.  At third base he’s a perfect 1.000, and at second, he’s .981 lifetime.  Cedeno doesn’t have gaudy numbers in any one statistical column, but he does post better lifetime field percentage numbers at the SS position than Furcal who currently holds a .966 FPCT.

Pete Kozma was a breath of fresh air in the post season for the injury plagued Cardinals during 2012.   The kid’s glove looked like it was golden as he hoovered up nearly everything hit his direction.  Kozma played 25 games for the redbirds last year and during that run hit .333 (24/72), posted an OBP of .373 and drove in 14 RBIs.  His glove, which recent history will show, has not been reliable.  Since he began playing ball in the minors, Kozma has registered 143 errors in 659 games.  Yep, that is over 1 error per every 5 games played…in the minors.

Oct 22, 2012; San Francisco, CA, USA; St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma (38) turns a double play against San Francisco Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford (35) during game seven of the 2012 NLCS at AT

The 2012 post season was insane for Kozma because he was outstanding.  He earned serious, legitimate consideration for the short stop position in doing so and because Furcal continues to show no interest in surgically repairing that elbow, young Kozma is situated just right to go off and become that top SS in St. Louis.  The chatter about his inconsistencies defensively need to quieted by Kozma.  He needs to silence the critics by giving his all so that he’s water tight at the 6 spot.  Then, and only then, will his offense make him a tried and true asset to this front office that seems  willing to reward those who reward Cardinal Nation.

For Furcal, and for Cardinal fans all over, the frustration continues.  Unwilling to go under the knife to correct something that could be season ending in just one throwing motion, Furcal seems to be in denial about just how critical the ligaments in the elbow are for people who throw objects for a living.  Outside of the elbow injury, other questions loomed like age and range.  Furcal possessed one of, if not the best, throwing arms in the game at short stop, but he’s 35.  He started 2012 like a missile, but gradually declined throughout the season, really showing some age.  Add to that the fact that he’s lost a step and no longer can get to those balls on the edge of his zone, and I’m not certain we were only hoping and wishing 2013 was going to be solid anyway.

Summing up the 2013 season (in March) in one word, I would go with “green.”  Not that the team lacks senior leadership, but there are many, many hungry young men that want a spot on this team more than anything else in their lives.  For the short stop position, despite it looking like a mess at face value, the Cardinals have some serious talent at the position.  It may not be fine tuned just yet, but give Kozma a bit of time and then come back and see where we’re at.

Kozma has played in the minors with Daniel Descalso where the two of them have turned some double-plays.  With time on his side at 24, and some serious sweat equity, Kozma could prove to be more valuable than people know.  If the kid can keep that bat going and right the wrongs in his glove, the middle-infield for the Cards could get really stingy, really fast.