Perhaps one of the most underrated defensive shortstops in the National League, Kozma at $490,000 provides reliable defense at the crucial shortstop position and adds a respectable batting average. By Dilip Vishwanat
ST. LOUIS, MO - MAY 29: Pete Kozma #38 of the St. Louis Cardinals misplays a ground ball against the Kansas City Royals at Busch Stadium on May 29, 2013 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images) By Dilip Vishwanat
(BaseballStL) - When Rafael Furcal went down for the year in spring training, the Cardinals had little choice but to turn to October sensation Pete Kozma, a guy who had nearly been released on multiple occasions a year earlier.
The thinking at the time was clear. Kozma would get every chance to take the job and hold onto it as long as he performed well. But the second that didn't happen, well, change would likely be in order.
To many people's surprise out of the gate, Kozma actually picked up where he left off in 2012. His batting average was only a pedestrian .259 in April yet with runners in scoring position he was around the .400 mark. And his defense was more than adequate to boot.
It got to the point where shortstop wasn't necessarily a huge need anymore. Or, at least, GM John Mozeliak didn't have to treat addressing the position like an emergency. Kozma had it in good hands for the time being. And he did. For a while.
Then the dog days of summer hit.
Kozma hit just .209 with a .226 on-base percentage in June and so far is hitless in July. That's just not going to cut it. Ask former Cardinal shortstop Brendan Ryan. It doesn't matter how good you are defensively, you have to be able to hit just a little.
And at the beginning of the season Kozma was giving the Cardinals terrific at-bats in clutch situations - i.e. runners in scoring position - despite not having a great all around average. That just has not been the case lately.
If he was someone more established, like Carlos Beltran or Matt Holliday for instance, he'd get the benefit of the doubt. But he's not. Kozma was such a disappointment in the minor league level he was nearly released multiple times. It was out of desperation that he was given a shot in the big leagues.
A few months of success were nice. But it isn't long enough to make people forget about the player he's been for the last six years.
Kozma is struggling. But the problem is options are limited to replace him. AAA-Memphis shortstop Ryan Jackson could be given a chance but, for whatever reason, the organization seems reluctant to use him. There also is not much out there on the trade market.
GM John Mozeliak may have to get creative over the next month.