The truths are self-evident:
In 2013 Cardinals shortstops, notably Pete Kozma and Daniel Descalso, ranked 29th out of 30 teams in batting average at .222, ahead of only the New York Mets’ shortstops at .215.
Cardinals shortstops were 28th in on-base percentage at .280 and 28th in slugging percentage at .303.
For more than half the season, this was working.
Kozma was hitting .255 in mid-June and, even in late July, was batting .241. But he finished with only four runs batted in (total) for August and September and hit .164 after July 24 to wind up at .217.
The lefthanded-hitting Descalso, who made some starts at third base, was at .286 on July 4. The rest of the season, he hit .199 to finish out at .238. That tandem also hit just .148 in the postseason.
National League teams can’t afford to have two outs in a row at the bottom of the lineup — the Cardinals’ pitchers don’t hit very well either — so the club will have to look outside the organization to fill the shortstop position for next season and presumably beyond. The Cardinals invested heavily in shortstops in the June draft, but the earliest one could expect any fruition would seem to be three years.
Casting a look elsewhere, the Cardinals are more apt to try to dabble in the trade market, with the only free-agent shortstop of note Stephen Drew of the world champion Boston Red Sox.
Drew is very familiar with the Cardinals, having spent some summers here as a teenager while his brother J.D. was playing outfield for them, and Cardinals infield coach Jose Oquendo often was hitting grounders to young Drew.
Drew, 30, hasn’t been the same since he suffered a broken ankle a couple of years ago but he hit a respectable .254 this season with 13 homers and 67 runs batted in while committing only eight errors.
But his postseason performance was alarming in that he was four for 51 before homering in the last game of the World Series. Also keep in mind that Scott Boras is his agent and that Drew won’t come cheaply.
The top offensive shortstop for years has been Troy Tulowitzki of Colorado, who hit .312 with 25 homers and 82 runs batted in but has played more than 126 games only once in the last four years and has a staggering contract that will pay him $14 million in 2014, then $20 million for each of the next five seasons after that and then $14 million again in 2020.
The Rockies would want a top-flight young pitcher, a lefthanded-hitting first baseman/outfielder and another prospect for him and the Cardinals probably could comply in each category, but does the reward outweigh the risk?
In the past, the Cardinals have inquired about the 29-year-old Tulowitzki and also Asdrubal Cabrera of Cleveland, Elvis Andrus of Texas and Alexei Ramirez of the Chicago White Sox.
Cabrera, 27, slipped to .242 with 12 homers and 64 RBIs this season, two years after hitting 25 homers and driving 92 runs. He will be in his last year before free agency and will make $10 million in 2014.
Andrus could be available if the Rangers want to go with 20-year-old Jurickson Profar at shortstop. Andrus is a legitimate leadoff man with 42 steals in 50 tries this year and he drove in 67 runs while hitting .271. But, given that the Rangers have signed Andrus through 2022, it appears they may want him around a while. Andrus, 25, will make $6.475 million next season and then $15 million for the next six years after that before dropping to $14 million for his last two years.
Ramirez is 32 but he stole 30 bases in 39 tries last season while hitting .284. He also hit a career low six homers and drove in just 48 but he is more reasonably priced at $9.5 million for 2014 and $10 million for 2015.
Los Angeles Angels shortstop Erick Aybar batted .271 with six homers and 54 RBIs. Aybar, who committed 15 errors, is 29 and is signed for three more years at $8.5 million a year.
Yunel Escobar, a 31-year-old Cuban who made only seven errors for Tampa Bay this season, drove in 56 runs while hitting .256. His contract has team options for this year and next year at $5 million for each year, if the Rays pick that up.
OLDIES BUT GOODIES
Philadelphia veteran Jimmy Rollins played in 160 games at age 34 although he hit just .252 with six homers and 22 steals. He is signed for $11 million for next year with a vesting option at the same figure for 2015.
TAKE A CHANCE
Everth Cabrera stole 37 bases for San Diego in 95 games this season and made the National League All-Star team. His low game total resulted from a 50-game PED suspension at the end of the season. He made just $1.28 million last year and is arbitration eligible.
WOULD THEY REALLY DO THAT?
The Chicago Cubs didn’t get much mileage out of Starlin Castro this year as he hit .245 with 10 homes and nine steals, although his error total of 22 was the lowest of his four-season career. The Cubs have Castro, 23, locked up for six more seasons, with the salaries ranging from $5 million to $11 million.
And the division rival Cubs and Cardinals aren’t likely to make a trade at the premier player level. But, don’t you think Oquendo could help make Castro the player he was supposed to be?
The Cardinals’ next shortstop may not be in the group of aforementioned names. But chances are, he is.