JUPITER, FL. (KMOV.com) -- With the news Monday of Cardinals shortstop Jhonny Peralta’s thumb injury, focus now turns to the team’s strategy moving forward. Much of the decision-making will be guided by the prognosis gleaned from Peralta’s secondary exams in St. Louis, and how long the veteran power hitter will be out of commission.
“Depending on the outcome of the second opinion, it could dictate if we have to look outside,” said GM John Mozeliak Monday. “If we’re talking worst case, and we know we ultimately have to do something for a couple months, I think it’s all hands on deck. Unless there was an outside solution we could consider.”
In the worst case scenario, Peralta’s torn UCL would keep him out 2-3 months, meaning he wouldn’t return until the end of May at the earliest. That span covers more than 50 games.
The Cardinals undoubtedly feel like their reliving 2015’s nightmare. Last season the team lost key members like Matt Holliday, Adam Wainwright, Matt Holliday and Randal Grichuk to injury at various points, along with Yadier Molina at the end of the year. The high-profile injuries don’t just hurt morale, they cost wins. Using WAR projections from mangameslost.com, the team had 15 wins above replacement sucked up by the DL last year.
Peralta’s injury continues the trend. According to Steamer, the 33-year-old had a projected WAR of 2.2 for this season. Meaning his offense was worth two more wins than a replacement player. The two infielders projected to make the 25-man roster who could replace Peralta, Jedd Gyorko and Greg Garcia, combine for a projected WAR of 0.7.
Over 50-plus games, that gap can be the difference between a division title and a Wild Card game, so Mozeliak’s comments about perhaps looking externally certainly make sense. But finding a solution via trade will be difficult. The Cardinals have Peralta for this year and next at a price of $22.5 million. Unless he is part of a deal (or the team makes a surprise restructuring move), whoever comes via trade would have to be good enough to start over Gyorko, Garcia and Aledmys Diaz, but be comfortable with a bench role once Peralta returns. That seems unlikely. There are no free agent shortstops currently on the market, so the most probable outcome is the job is filled in house.
Looking at the existing options for St. Louis, Gyorko, whom the Cardinals traded Jon Jay for and will pay more than $20 million over five seasons, is the leading candidate to step into full-time duty. The big-swinging infielder has worked diligently with Jose Oquendo this spring and started at short for Monday’s game against the Mets. But the 27-year-old, signed as a likely utility man, has played only 29 games at shortstop, and admitted in January that of the three infield stations he plays, shortstop is the most challenging for him.
Garcia, who also figured to make the team as a utility infielder and bench bat, has 331 games at the position, but less than 15 of those were in the majors. Also in the mix is Cuban minor-leaguer Diaz. The 25-year-old vaulted up from Double-A to Triple-A last season and came into camp showing improvement in nearly every area. He has a stronger arm, is smoother in the field, and his bat has drastically improved. Still, he has no MLB exposure outside of spring and is unlikely to break camp with the team as an everyday player.
Peralta has been extremely proficient with the glove, finishing third in shortstop fielding percentage in the NL behind JJ Hardy and Andrelton Simmons. Though his range isn’t as prolific as the position’s elite, he has a steady mitt. The Cardinals could likely get serviceable defense to replace him out of their internal options, but replacing Peralta’s bat is another challenge.
Among NL shortstops, he led in batting average and on base percentage, and finished second in slugging. He had the third most home runs (17) and the second most RBI (71).
Gyorko certainly has the power, hitting 49 homers over the last three seasons, but has a career average of .236 and an OBP 38 points lower than Peralta’s. Garcia has only 105 plate appearances in the majors, with two home runs and 20 hits. He’s a .282 hitter in the minors, but does not have the pop to fill the void left by Peralta’s big bat. Diaz is still a good distance away from being MLB ready. He has a month to adjust to elevated pitching, but is still developing at the plate.
There will be growing pains no matter which avenue the team takes. Gyorko could be a sacrifice of defense for offense, Garcia could be the inverse. Diaz, while perhaps the most intriguing long term solution, could bring the most headaches of the three as he learns the league while on the job. The best outcome is a favorable report from St. Louis after Peralta's exams. The shorter his stay on the DL, the fewer ulcers for the franchise.