St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Rafael Furcal decided Thursday to undergo season-ending elbow ligament replacement surgery.
Furcal, 35, will have Tommy John surgery next week, performed by noted orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews of Birmingham, Ala.
The shortstop missed the end of last season and all of spring camp with the elbow ailment. He saw Andrews on Wednesday, and tests showed he needs the surgery.
Typical recovery time for a position player is six to eight months.
"It's very disappointing," Furcal said from the team's spring-training complex in Jupiter, Fla. "I worked so hard in the offseason to get everything straight, working hard with the doctors, the training team. We did anything we could do to get ready for spring training, ready for the season."
Furcal's absence presents a dilemma for the Cardinals, who already have lose right-hander Chris Carpenter for the season because of ongoing circulation issues in his arm and hand.
The Cardinals have just three other shortstop options: Pete Kozma, 24, veteran Ronny Cedeno, 30, and prospect Ryan Jackson, 24. None seem to be the long-term answer, although Kozma provided a late-season spark when he took over for the ailing Furcal.
Another shortstop, Jake Lemmerman, was acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers in December. But Lemmerman never has played above Class AA.
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said he felt bad for Furcal "knowing that it's not something that he obviously wanted to go through.
"He tried to do everything he could to stay away from this alternative," Matheny said. "Now we just hope everything goes well and he gets back as quick as he can."
With Furcal sidelined, the Cardinals will have their seventh different Opening Day starter at shortstop in seven years, following David Eckstein in 2007, Cesar Izturis in 2008, Tyler Greene in 2009, Brendan Ryan in 2010, Ryan Theriot in 2011 and Furcal last year.
Kozma batted .333 (24-for-72) with five doubles, two home runs and 14 RBIs in 26 regular-season games, showing offensive production the Cardinals weren't certain he possessed, particularly after his .176 average (3-for-17) at the big-league level in 2011.
Kozma batted .214 (9-for-42) in 13 postseason games.
"The way we look at it right now, it's certainly going to be a competition between Kozma and Cedeno, but there's no doubt that given what Kozma did for us in the last six weeks of the season last year that we do have a high level of confidence that he can continue to do that," Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak said.
The Cardinals have been linked to rumors involving Colorado shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. But the cost to acquire the two-time All-Star would be high, as would the price to retain Tulowitzki.
Tulowitzki, 28, signed a 10-year, $157.75 million contract extension with the Rockies in November 2010. He will be paid $10 million this season, $16 million in 2014, $20 million from 2015-19 and $14 million in 2020. There is a club option on 2021, which, if exercised, will pay Tulowitzki $15. There is a $4 million buyout for 2021.
Tulowitzki is a career .292 hitter with 130 home runs and 470 RBIs in 744 games. Injuries limited him to 101 games in 2008, 122 games in 2010 and 47 games last season.
Kozma expressed confidence this winter that he could help the Cardinals in whatever role necessary, even as a starter.
"I feel like I have a fighting chance to make the club and stick around for a little bit," he said. "But (2012) is in the past. It's something I can definitely look back at and say, 'Hey, I did that.' But it's in the past and I have to look forward."
Furcal is in the final season of a two-year, $14 million contract. The Cardinals acquired him from the Dodgers on July 11, 2011, for minor-league outfielder Alex Castellanos. Furcal batted .264 with five homers, 49 RBIs and 12 stolen bases in 121 games last year.
Furcal injured the elbow while making a throw from deep short last Aug. 30 in Washington. He did not want to undergo surgery, and in September, he underwent a platelet-rich plasma injection, which he hoped would speed the recovery.
But Furcal still was experiencing discomfort in the postseason, but Mozeliak said after the season that the ligament was healing and that the team was confident Furcal would be ready to play in spring training.
Mozeliak reiterated before the winter meetings in December that Furcal's recovery was on schedule.
"Right now, he feels like he's going to good to go, so we're excited about that," Mozeliak said in December.
Mozeliak backed off somewhat in January at the Cardinals' Winter Warm-Up when he again was asked about the condition of Furcal's elbow.
"Everything we're hearing from down in Florida is very good," he said then. "Now, you certainly leave yourself some exposure with regard to that, so we have to have contingency plans. That's what we'll work on."