To the relief of a large segment of Cardinals Nation, St. Louis finally cut ties with former starting shortstop Pete Kozma.
St. Louis was forced to stick with the hitless Kozma throughout the 2015 season because he was the only guy in the organization who could adequately field the shortstop position if Peralta were to be injured and out for an extended period.
But the total lack of offensive production from Kozma caused a hero of the 2012 postseason to become a whipping boy in 2015.
Now the Cardinals not only need to figure out who will replace Kozma as the defensive backup at second base. It would be a good time to think about the long-term future of the shortstop position.
Jhonny Peralta’s range has shrunken noticeably since he was signed a free agent. There’s no one close in the system to replace him when his contract is up after the 2017 campaign.
Aledmys Diaz, who disappeared in the Cardinals minor leagues for a year and a half after signing with the club as a Cuban free agent, will get some consideration as a utility player thanks to a strong second half of 2015 in the minors. But his problems staying healthy and the fact that his four-year deal is half over without a single major league at bat, give me trouble envisioning him as a prospect to be a starting big league shortstop.
Remember, the knock on Diaz was that he didn’t have the range to be an MLB shortstop, he profiled more as a second baseman or utility player. That’s why other teams passed and the Redbirds were able to sign him so cheaply.
Maybe the Cardinals should take a run at free agent infielder Asdrubal Cabrera to fill the gap.
Cabrera has played short, second and third at the big league level and at one point his former team, the Cleveland Indians, seemed ready to install him as a starter at first base.
Not only could the 29-year-old infielder cover shortstop if Peralta got hurt, he’d be a decent bat to have in the lineup on a regular basis. He hit .265 last year with Tampa Bay, launching 15 home runs, a good total for a middle infielder.
The negative is that he’s not a high on-base percentage guy. He’s got a .329 career mark. But it’s propped up by his early career stats. The last three years he’s only got on at only a .307 clip.
Not great. But it would be much more production that the Cardinals got from Kozma.
Cabrera also hit 28 doubles in 2015 and has a respectable .430 slugging percentage to offset some of his negatives.
It goes without saying that Peralta could use more time off in 2015. He fell on his face in the second half and couldn’t recover even when manager Mike Matheny tried to give him several days off at the end of the regular season.
If Cabrera started at short two times a week, played second against lefties and took some time at third and first and took on some pinch hitter and double switch responsibilities, he could easily log 500 at-bats.
Another option is that Cabrera could take over at short permanently, pushing the slowing Peralta over to third base and solving St. Louis’ production problems at first base by sending Matt Carpenter back to a spot he played successfully in 2012 when Lance Berkman couldn’t stay on the field.
At issue is whether the Cardinals could convince a player in his prime to accept a potentially part-time role. If another team comes along with the promise of a starting job, at shortstop he could be tough to reel in.
But the Redbirds have shown interest in Cabrera in the past when they allegedly tried to work out a deal to acquire him in trade. So they must like him to a certain extent. And it is much more appealing to sign a player for cash than it is to have to trade talent to get him AND still have to pay his salary.