Replacing Rafael Furcal

Rafael Furcal has not played 150 games during a single regular season since 2009, and that was bookended by seasons in which he played 36 and 97 games. Last year was the first time Furcal had played more than 100 games since that 2009 season in Los Angeles, and even last season his playing time was curtailed by a torn ligament in his elbow.

In short, Furcal is not exactly Miguel Tejada in his prime when it comes to durability. Thus, it is not particularly shocking to read about Furcal’s elbow still giving him trouble. This time, it is a bone spur keeping him off of the field. It is not clear whether this will affect Furcal’s ability to start the season as the Cardinals’ shortstop. It is obviously troubling, given that St. Louis has its eyes on a return to the playoffs. The options if Furcal cannot go are not very appealing. But are they bad enough to force the Cardinals’ hand?

Furcal’s Opening Day status is currently unknown. His record, as seen above, does not inspire confidence. The Cardinals’ current options if Furcal goes down are last year’s Bo Hart, Pete Kozma (master of the great interview) and Ronny Cedeno. To put it kindly, none seem all that great. If Furcal does miss significant time, how much will it hurt the Cardinals’ chances at the playoffs?

Kozma had some big moments last year, but we are all familiar enough with sample size issues these days to not get worked up over a .333/.383/.569 (153 wRC+) line over just 82 plate appearances. Nothing in his minor league track record indicates he could do anything like that, and even the Fan Projections, by far the most optimistic, currently see him hitting for a .299 wOBA in 2013. That might make him about an average player if he could play good defense at shortstop, but most of the other projections have him at about a .280 wOBA. That works for a bench player, but not a full-timer, at least not one who isn’t the second coming of Adam Everett.

Cedeno was a pretty decent infield prospect about seven years ago, but that was, uh, seven years ago. He had the best batting line of his career in 2012, hitting .259/.332/.410 (107 wRC+) for the Mets. Again, though, that was in a small sample (186 PA). For his career, Cedeno has his .247/.290/.357 (68 wRC+) over almost 2500 plate appearances. He just turned 30, so a big breakout probably is not around the corner.

Neither Kozma nor Cedeno are starter material. But would they really be much of a drop-off in quality from Furcal? Furcal has definitely had some good seasons at the plate. As recently as 2010 he hit .300/.360/.466 (126 wRC+). Age seems to have caught up with him over the last two seasons, though, as he hit .264/.325/.346 (87 wRC+). His age itself (Furcal is 35) is discouraging enough. One might also want to consider how injuries might have effected his ability to produce as a hitter and a fielder. Steamer and ZiPS both project him for about a .310 wOBA, while Oliver and the Fans seem him as more of a .300 wOBA hitter.

So how much worse are Kozma and Cedeno? If Furcal (optimistically) is a .310 wOBA hitter and we take the low-end of Kozma Cedeno projections (.280 wOBA), the difference comes out to about 15 runs difference over a full season. That assumes equal baserunning and fielding. (It is not clear to me that Furcal has an advantage in those areas at this point in his career, but I will leave that issue aside for the sake of simplicity.)

Still, is the difference enough for the Cardinals to make a move? A real answer to that question requires looking at a number of factors beyond the scope of a simple blog post. Instead, I will just try to put things in perspective. One factor is how much time Furcal might miss. If he misses the full season, that is one thing. However, it is not clear at this point that he would miss the whole season. Say he misses half of the season. That would still be a lot of time missed. Still, assuming the projections above, that would probably only cost them one win in the standings at most. One win could be the difference between making the playoffs, and the Cardinals project to be right on the bubble, so it should not be dismissed. Yet it is not a disastrous loss.

Even if he does miss the full season, that would project to cost them two games at most. That is significant, but also pretty pessimistic. Moreover, it is not clear whether it would make it worth it for them to make a trade for a shortstop. After all, they could always spend their assets (whether in talent or cash) to make a marginal improvements elsewhere that would not be as costly as finding a “real” starting shortstop. In a worst-case scenario, Cardinals fans might also want to recall that the Brewers won the 2011 Central with Yuniesky Betancourt as their starting shortstop.

This is not to say that the Cardinals shouldn’t make a move to improve at shortstop if the opportunity arises. Obviously, right now the they are waiting to see just how bad the injury is. The general point is simply an old one worth reiterating: the loss of a starting player usually will not cost a team as many wins as one might think. This is especially true in the case of a non-elite player like Furcal. Furcal’s elbow problems are bad for St. Louis, but even at worst they are unlikely to be devastating.




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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.


51 Responses to “Replacing Rafael Furcal”

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  1. Oliver says:

    Just give us baseball geeks something to chew on for the next however many years and trade Taveras for Profar (or Andrus) à la the Pineda/Montero or Garza/Young trade. It fits the needs of both teams really well in the long term and short term.

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    • semperty says:

      No, just no.

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      • Oliver says:

        Give one good reason, besides real baseball not being fantasy baseball. St. Louis needs a shortstop of the future more than it needs an outfielder, Texas needs an outfielder more than it needs a second all-star shortstop. They’re both very highly regarded prospects, with no obvious immediate loser for either team.

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        • Oliver says:

          (Or are you rejecting the made-up trades thing in general? Because if so, yeah, I’m fine with that)

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        • semperty says:

          St. Louis need an OF of the future just as badly as they need a SS of the future, I’ll admit that. With that said, though, St. Louis has 2 or 3 guys that could provide enough value over 2-6 years to fill gaps until we can find a long term solution at the position. We don’t have another OF option, and after Beltran leaves/retires we’ll be down to Holliday/Jay/Carp (or Craig, either option is decent). But Holliday’s time is limited in his ability which leaves Craig/Jay/Carp, which is a much lesser option. If we can fit Jay/Taveras in the OF and get a few seasons here and there from Jackson, Descalso, Lemmerman, and company it will be worth the wait.

          We have major league caliber SS (not good major league caliber, but major league caliber), but we don’t have major league caliber OF outside of Taveras.

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        • Quadstriker says:

          And Craig goes to right field in 2014 (or whenever Beltran breaks down) and it opens up the spot at 1st for Matt Adams.

          Not saying I would do the deal you suggest, but it’s at least interesting to think about.

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        • rotowizard says:

          I have something called a “Clint. Barmes” to sell you! I’m not sure what it is but I know it plays shortstop!

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    • Cooley says:

      Trading Taveras is the most illogical thing that anyone could say in answer to filling the need at SS. Just say no, dude!

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  2. semperty says:

    What I don’t get is why the Cardinals (or the writers) seem to be ruling out Ryan Jackson as an option. He was supposedly the SS of the future in St. Louis, and got called up before Kozma did. In fact, the only reason Kozma got called up to start was because Jackson had been on the Major League roster in a bench role for two or three weeks; it was a situation where he was too advanced to benefit him.

    The Cardinals clearly have more faith in Jackson than they do/did in Kozma (otherwise I would only hope Kozma would’ve been on the bench instead of Jackson). I’m not a fan of Cedeno simply because he’s used material. He’s failed to stick to the Cubs, Pirates, and Mets (three losing franchises) so I don’t get why a team with World Series asperations would look to their sloppy seconds for help.

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  3. Bryce says:

    Making marginal improvements elsewhere seems a lot harder. Even before Furcal’s latest injury, I think there was consensus that the middle infield was the spot on the Cardinals’ roster ripest for upgrade.

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  4. M says:

    Trade Matt Adams for Stephen Drew.

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    • Jeffrey Lage says:

      No where close to worth the money he is getting paid.

      He doesn’t fit the Cardinals needs, isn’t much different then Daniel Descalso, and he is getting 9 million because shortstops cost a premium.

      Matt Adams is worth more being a non-versatile first basemen with 6 years of control and blocked.

      That says something.

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  5. Uncle Randy says:

    What do people think Tulo would cost?

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  6. Jeffrey Lage says:

    I have long been a supporter this off-season of trading for Nick Franklin of the Mariners.

    He seems MLB ready (or close) and they still have Brendan Ryan under contract and have Brad Miller coming up behind him.

    Cardinals have a surplus of young pitching that could be moved, Franklin has six years of control. And while he may not be an upgrade this season, he would be a longer term solution for them. Some believe he will only be a utility player, but I’m optimistic.

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    • semperty says:

      Why would we dump our arms that we’ve stock piled? Over the last 2 years we’ve had 4 different major injuries to someone in our starting rotation. It might just be me, but as a team I’d rather have guys ready sitting in AAA than trade someone off now and getting screwed later.

      If we were going to dump a young arm for a SS we would have Asdrubal Cabrera right now, and wouldn’t even be having the discussion on Furcal.

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  7. Jeffrey Lage says:

    Ryan Jackson and Greg Garcia both deserve to get a shot btw in my mind.

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    • Bad Bill says:

      They both deserve a look, IMO, but it would be unrealistic to expect much of either at this time. Garcia is still a bit green (although he might yet ripen into a major-league-ready bat) and may not be adequate on defense — hard to tell so far — and Jackson’s bat is suspect. Both should get spring-training chances to overcome the doubts, without any expectation that they will do well enough to shoulder Kozma and/or Cedeno aside.

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  8. Baltar says:

    The win difference between Furcal and Kozma or Cedeno is not relevant to whether the Cardinals should make a move to replace Furcal. The win difference between whomever they can get and Kozma/Cedeno, and the cost they would have to pay in salary and players to get whomever are the relevant numbers.

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  9. Stanton Sweep stakes says:

    Matt Carpenter and Descalso up the middle in my humble opinion

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  10. Dan Ugglas Forearm says:

    Kozma adds a significant amount of value in making pop-ups to the outfield appear as infield flies.

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  11. Walter Guest says:

    The Cards should ask the Giants about Arias. He’s a quality SS at minimum pay.

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  12. O's Fan says:

    JJ Hardy? O’s have Machado, would need a 3B replacement, but could use guys like Flaherty or Valencia there short term until Schoop is ready…

    Maybe for Kolten Wong? O’s could use a decent 2B prospect…

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    • semperty says:

      The Cards also need a 2B prospect. We could use Carp for a season at 2B, but I doubt he could be a long term option there. With Holliday only having 2-3 years left of good play, we’ll need to keep Carp/Craig/Taveras on the roster to replace them. Plus 2B prospects like Wong don’t roll over all that often. I’d rather risk it on Wong than Hardy.

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    • Baltar says:

      Hardy hardly seems likely to be available, since the O’s signed him to an extension last season.

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  13. Antonio bananas says:

    Uggla and Pastornicky for Wong. Maybe a bad trade for STL and maybe I’m overvaluing Wong and undervaluing Uggla because I’m a Braves fan living in Springfield MO.

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    • chuckb says:

      There’s no way in hell the Cards make that trade. It would be an awful trade for the Cards to make.

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      • BenCross says:

        There’s no way the Braves make that move… That would be an awful trade for them. They wouldn’t have a second baseman, and Wong wouldn’t be ready for a full time job for solid year or so at least. Contracts don’t really seem to match up. Also, do you give up an All-Star second baseman and at the least a servicable middle infielder for one unproven prospect at least a year away from a full time starting job….. I wouldn’t

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  14. Highball Wilson says:

    Trevor Rosenthal or Shelby Miller for Asdrubal Cabrera.

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    • semperty says:

      Yes…let’s get rid of 33% of our possible rotation right now for an overrated SS. Sounds like a great plan!

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      • rotowizard says:

        I don’t really think a guy with a 112 RC+ at SS can really be considered ‘overrated’. Sure his defense is mediocre at best, and sure his base-running is barely considered average, but come on! 112 RC+! (and 118 in ’11).

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    • rotowizard says:

      Actually the Indians are so starved for pitching that you could probably get Cabrera and you choice of any pitcher in their organization for Miller.

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    • Cooley says:

      Yeah, trading SP away at this point sounds reasonable!

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    • chuckb says:

      Let me guess…you’re an Indians fan, right?

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  15. jdbolick says:

    A guy in one of my fantasy leagues just traded a third round pick for Ronny Cedeno. *facepalm*

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  16. Matty Brown says:

    The Yankees of the NL don’t need offensive output from shortstop. Just put a plus glove guy there to save runs and help Matt Carpenter adjust to second base.

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  17. Antonio bananas says:

    A low level raw guy like Jenkins and one of the 3 guys close to the majors for Profar or Andrus?

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  18. Matt says:

    I think the BEST bet internally is Wong at 2nd and a platoon of Descalso and Jackson at SS.

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  19. larry o says:

    you dont give up pitching in spring,if you in race and need that extra push then deal

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  20. Austin says:

    As a cardinal fan I don’t believe trading away Miller or Rosenthal and with Wacha’s spring he deserves to stay. Does anyone remember when we traded Shumaker for nothing? When we coulda added a middle tier prospect with him and got Dee Gordan who has so much potential it’s scary. Two years ago he was considered a “shortstop of the future” With Hanley taking over at short and Cruz at third Dee Gordan is left out.

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