This morning Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Rafael Furcal, the Cardinals projected starting shortstop, suffered a “significant setback” in his recovery from a torn ligament in this throwing elbow suffered late last season. The following is a breakdown of what is known about Furcal’s condition, the prognosis going forward, and the Cardinals options at the position in the future.
Furcal has two problems with his right elbow. The first problem is a torn ligament suffered last year, and the second problem is a bone spur.
Post-Dispatch columnist Joe Strauss gave some more insight on Furcal’s injury on Twitter. Strauss first tweeted,
"Frankly, the window is closed on Furcal having elbow surgery. He'd be out until mid-Oct. A mess."
Strauss went on to say that the club is in a “Catch 22” between Furcal’s two problems with his elbow,
“The player, club sources say ligament currently not Furcal's issue. A spur is. But removing spur compromises ligament's stability. Catch 22.”
Furcal has now discontinued baseball activities before he even threw a baseball with full force in spring training. Manager Mike Matheny did not sound an optimistic tone in the Goold’s Post-Dispatch article,
"It kind of went in a bad direction. I don't know the severity of it, but it's not good news. ... He's done quite a bit of rehab and to go backward isn't a good sign."
Goold reported that Furcal will get a second opinion this week, and may also get a review from Dr. James Andrews, who is famous for performing Tommy John surgeries.
General Manager John Mozeliak was more cautious than Matheny saying,
“We’re acting like the chapter is written. We don’t even know that yet.”
If Furcal requires surgery for the torn ligament he may miss the entire season since the recovery time is a minimum of four-to-six months, and Furcal’s older age may slow down the recovery process.
At the very least, Furcal is now doubtful for Opening Day, a fact the shortstop conceded in the article.
In discussing what the club did next Manager Mike Matheny brought up the names Pete Kozma and Ronny Cedeno, but did not mention prospect Ryan Jackson. Matheny said those two men will “get the majority of time at shortstop,” but also said, “We don’t rule anything out,” perhaps referring to Jackson.
Kozma has had a good spring so far after providing surprising offensive production for the big league club last fall. Over 17 at bats, admittedly a very small sample size, Kozma has a .353 AVG with a .421 OBP and a .641 SLUG. Kozma has made no errors in the field and turned two double plays. Kozma’s spring numbers are a good sign, but his career minor league numbers suggests he has limited offensive potential.
Cedeno has not had the same kind of start. Over 12 at bats Cedeno is hitting just .167 with a .231 OBP and a .250 SLUG. Cedeno’s career numbers suggest that he may improve on those numbers slightly, but that he is projected to be a below average offensive shortstop. Cedeno has also made two errors even though he is known for his dependable defense.
Then there Ryan Jackson, who just one year ago was considered a decent prospect at the shortstop position for the club. For some reason, still unexplained to the masses, management seems to not consider Jackson a realistic candidate to take over the position. Most scouting reports say Jackson is an above-average defender at shortstop, and he had much better offensive numbers in the minors compared to Kozma. Despite those facts, Jackson has been playing second base in spring training. Jackson has also been struggling at the plate this spring, hitting just .167 with a .286 OBP over 12 at bats.
Finally, news of Furcal’s injury will cause many Cardinals fans to start clamoring for a trade. However, it is the wrong time for a big time trade. The teams with quality shortstops (see Cleveland Indians, Texas Rangers, and Colorado Rockies) will hardly be willing to part with them before a single game is played. At this point, the club can try find someone to play decent defense at the position, pray that Kozma continues his “magical” offensive boom from late last year, and hope that teams like the Rockies and Indians get off to very slow starts.
For more updates and analysis on the Cardinals follow me on Twitter.