Feldman: Effect of Kolten Wong on Cards middle infield

Feldman: Effect of Kolten Wong on Cards middle infield

Feldman: Effect of Kolten Wong on Cards middle infield

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by Brian Feldman / Baseball StL

KMOV.com

Posted on January 17, 2013 at 5:48 PM

Updated Friday, Jan 18 at 10:12 AM

(Baseball StL) -- Take a look at the Cardinals lineup across the board.  With the exception of shortstop and second base it’s arguably the best six spots in the game.  You’ve got power.  You’ve got guys that can flat out get on base.  You’ve got those who take just hellacious at-bats. 

And even those who don’t figure to be around for very long (Carlos Beltran) have replacements lined up and ready to go (Oscar Taveras).

But what about that middle infield?  That’s probably what is holding this offense back from being put over the top.  35-year old Rafael Furcal had a very strong first half to 2012 - a .275 average with a .337 on-base percentage - but followed that up with a downright horrendous second half - .239 avg/.297 OBP.  He ended up hurting his right elbow and missed the last couple months.

Second base isn’t much better.  Daniel Descalso was supposed to be, at the very least, the short term answer there.  He gives among the toughest at-bats of anyone on the team and plays very nice defense.  But, overall, he didn’t put up the offensive numbers that would usually warrant an everyday job.  Descalso’s .227 average surprised many.  He was supposed to be a lot better.

Well, while Matt Carpenter will work at trying to become at least an option at second base, it would seem Descalso will retain his starting job for now.  And given Furcal’s contract (he’s got one more year) he gets 2013 here as well.

But what about the future?  Everyone focuses on shortstop as a position the Cards need to go out and get a bona fide star.  Elvis Andrus makes for the obvious addition because he’s young (24) and plays for a team (Rangers) that has a blue-chip prospect (Jurickson Profar) ready to take over the position at some point.

At the very least, a plus bat and a plus defender is what many in Cardinal Nation would prefer. 

Here’s my take though.

We all know the Cardinals do not like getting into bidding wars.  We all know they’re not going to overspend for something that has a value far less than what it’s commanding on the open market.  So unless they find a way to draft the next Troy Tulowitzki or sign a shortstop version of Oscar Taveras in the international market, that complete offense/defense shortstop isn’t coming to St. Louis.

But that’s okay.  And here’s why. 

Kolten Wong.

If the Cards first round pick in 2011 out of Hawaii evolves into the hitter they believe he can, he’ll change the complexion of this offense.  He’ll take that top six we were discussing before and turning it into a top seven.

You’d have literally every spot in the lineup except shortstop as a legitimate offensive threat.  That’s 1-7 you’d have to be scared to pitch to.

How does that affect shortstop?  Easy.  GM John Mozeliak might be less willing to go out and overspend for someone simply because of their need for offense.  You see, historically, the Redbirds have used shortstop as a defense-first position.  When you’ve got a ground ball staff, you need a guy out there who makes every single play.  An elite defender, if you will.

Wong’s ability to hit - and therefore make this lineup deep one through seven - could allow Mozeliak to go after a shortstop who may not hit, but field better than anyone.

They’re much cheaper and slightly easier to find.  Think Brendan Ryan but not Brendan Ryan.  He had a personality that did not jive within the clubhouse and had to be traded away.  It’s sad because Ryan is quite possibly the best defensive shortstop in the game.  He’d be perfect.

But since that’s not a possibility the Cards will have to find someone else.  Fans may not like that from a batting average or on-base percentage standpoint.  They may want to see more hits, more home runs and more stolen bases. 

However, when that individual is saving Jake Westbrook with a diving play in the 8th inning of a one run game, fans will see the importance of defense at shortstop.

It’d be nice to see Mozeliak find another Troy Tulowitzki as the replacement for Furcal but we all know that’s highly unlikely.  The offense will be handled by the Matt Hollidays, Allen Craigs, David Freeses, Yadier Molinas and Kolten Wongs of the world.  Someone’s got look after the pitchers.

Should be interesting to see what happens there over the next year.

 

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