I've spent the offseason attempting to shake the uneasy feeling I have about the St. Louis Cardinals' shortstop situation.
It's now the first week of December and I have determined it will not go away.
If Rafael Furcal is the Cardinals' answer at the position for 2013, they're setting themselves up for problems.
Furcal is 35. He suffered a partial tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his throwing elbow Aug. 30 and chose rehabilitation over surgery, which seemed the more logical route.
Furcal had a platelet-rich plasma injection in the elbow Sept. 4 to speed the healing. But in the postseason, Furcal still was experiencing discomfort. Restless nights remained common.
Then two weeks ago, the Cardinals announced an MRI revealed the ligament had healed and that Furcal would be ready in spring training.
It seemed so sudden. Magical. Too good to be true.
I'm not suggesting the Cardinals are being dishonest about a medical situation. I'm just not convinced it's that simple.
Furcal has been brittle the last three seasons. Even when healthy, his production has dwindled.
Can anyone seriously expect his elbow not to be an issue in 2013? Who won't cringe when Furcal goes to his right and makes a throw from the hole? The risk of re-injury seems great.
Unless they're bluffing, the Cardinals are totally at ease. I'm hoping that will change this week at the winter meetings in Nashville, Tenn.
The Cardinals need a shortstop. Not Pete Kozma. Not Ryan Jackson. They must look outside the organization.
Pitching depth is the Cardinals' strength, although to this point, they've displayed no inclination to move any of it.
Their rotation for 2013 appears to be set with Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, Lance Lynn, Jake Westbrook and (maybe) Jaime Garcia. Shelby Miller, Joe Kelly and Trevor Rosenthal also are possibilities, and Carlos Martinez is closing fast.
It seems much of the Cardinals' energy in Nashville will be expended looking for a left-handed reliever. That is an obvious need, given that they have only one in Marc Rzepczynski.
And, of course, General Manager John Mozeliak would like to add production to a bench that was among the worst in baseball last season.
But back to shortstop.
I want to believe that Mozeliak is having discussions with Texas Rangers General Manager Jon Daniels about his No. 1 shortstop, Elvis Andrus, and with Cleveland Indians GM Chris Antonetti about the Tribe's gifted shortstop, Asdrubal Cabrera.
Andrus and Cabrera are believed to be available for the right package, and the Cardinals have pitching, and more, to provide.
The durable Andrus, 24, is signed through 2014 and is coming off a season in which he batted .286 with three home runs, 62 RBIs and 21 stolen bases in 158 games. In four seasons, he's batted. 275 with a .342 on-base percentage and 123 steals.
Why would the Rangers entertain thoughts of dealing Andrus? It's simple: Switch-hitter Jurickson Profar, 19, their No. 1 prospect, is ready to assume the everyday job.
If the Rangers are unsuccessful in their efforts to sign expensive free-agent right-hander Zack Greinke, they could turn to the Cardinals and move Andrus as the key component in a deal for a starter (Lynn?) and a backup to Profar (Kozma or Jackson).
The Cardinals could sweeten the pot by offering first-base prospect Matt Adams, who could be a natural designated hitter.
Lynn, 25, won 18 games last season and the Cardinals remain optimistic about his future despite his need for improved conditioning. The Rangers might be more intrigued with Lynn than a prospect because of the presence of a major-league track record.
Andrus, a right-handed hitter, is affordable for the Cardinals. He is due $4.8 million in 2013 and $6.475 million in 2014. Furcal will earn $7 million in '13.
Acquiring Cabrera, 27, could be a bit more difficult. He's a switch-hitter who ripped 25 home runs and drove in 92 in 2011 before slipping to 16 homers and 68 RBIs last season. Cabrera is under contract for just two more seasons and will make $6.5 million in 2013 and $10 million in 2014.
The Indians also could use starting pitching, and their top two prospects, according to Baseball America, are shortstops Francisco Lindor and Dorssys Paulino. Cabrera is expendable.
Other options for the Cardinals include Arizona Diamondbacks free agent Stephen Drew, who is hopeful of landing a multiyear contract, and Colorado's Troy Tulowitzki, who has been plagued by injuries over the years but still is considered one of the best shortstops in the game at age 28.
Drew's career seems to have taken a downward turn, while Tulowitzki has missed significant time in three of the last five seasons and is due a ton of money ($140 million through 2020) --far too rich for the Cardinals' blood.
The ball is in Mozeliak's court. If the Cardinals are certain Furcal is the answer, they must be ready for the coinciding risk.
Meanwhile, Andrus or Cabrera, along with second-base prospect Kolten Wong, would stabilize the Cardinals' shaky middle infield for the next 10 years.
Why not be bold?