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Why Cardinals can afford to spend big on a shortstop

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The shortstop position has taken a special place in Cardinals fans' hearts ever since Ozzie Smith dazzled fans in the 1980’s, but the club has been unable to find a long term replacement for “The Wizard” since Edgar Renteria departed via free agency in 2005. In 2013, the St. Louis Cardinals appear committed to Rafael Furcal as their shortstop. However, Furcal’s contract expires at the end of 2013, and his age and injury history make a resigning unlikely. Therefore, at some point the Cardinals will need to find a long term answer at the position, and that need may come even sooner if Furcal suffers another injury. There are many reasons to suggest that the Cardinals can and should spend big to find nail down the position for the next five to ten years.

The Potential Acquisitions

There are multiple ways for the Cardinals to answer their shortstop need, but all of them require money. Last week, a number outlets suggested that the St. Louis Cardinals may pursue Cuban defector Aledmys Diaz. The most credible information came from Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Dispatch, who reported that the Cardinals plan to attend Diaz’s workout in the coming weeks.

Viva El Birdos gives a detailed scouting report on Diaz. At minimum Diaz appears to be an average defensive shortstop with the potential to contribute at an above average level offensively at his position. Diaz is sure to garner a large contract if he can impress scouts. Last year Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes garnered a 4-year, $36 million contract from the Oakland A’s. Diaz is not nearly the offensive player as as Cespedes, but Diaz plays a more valuable position on the field.

Even if the Cardinals do not go after Diaz, they could acquire a big name shortstop like Asdrubal Cabrera or Troy Tulowitzki via mid-season trade. After the trade, the team would then try to woo the player with their fan base and negotiate a long-term contract as they did with Matt Holliday after his trade from Oakland.

The Payroll Flexibility

Of course none of these potential acquisition matter unless the Cardinals have the ability to acquire them and pay their contracts. The good news is the team is well positioned to add payroll, particularly at the shortstop position.

This year the Cardinals already got Kyle Lohse (paid $11.9 million in 2012) and Lance Berkman (paid $12 million in 2012) off the books. The Cardinals will likely see more large contracts expire at the end of 2013, including Rafael Furcal ($7 million average annual value), Jake Westbrook ($8.73 million AAV), and Chris Carpenter ($10.5 million AAV). Added together, that is over $50 million, or nearly half the team’s total payroll.

Given the young starting pitchers the Cardinals now have ready to pitch at the Major League level (see Trevor Rosenthal, Shelby Miller, and Joe Kelly), the resigning of Carpenter and Westbrook appear doubtful. As mentioned earlier, Furcal is not a likely resign either.

The Cardinals will probably pay more to Adam Wainwright in a contract extension and there are four arbitration eligible players (Edward Mujica, Jason Motte, Mitchell Boggs, and Marc Rzepczynksi) who will all receive significant raises this year.

Still, even accounting for those new commitments the Cardinals should easily be able to spend $10 million, or possibly even $20 million a year to a new shortstop and still stay under their current payroll of $107.7 million in the future, not even accounting for an inflation.

The Case for Spending Big

Finally, the Cardinals also have good reasons to spend a lot on shortstop.

First and foremost, there is no obvious answer at the position in the Cardinals’ farm system. None of the Cardinals top 10 prospects are shortstops. Pete Kozma filled in admirably at the end of last year, but he is not viewed as a high-end prospect and is more likely to return to his relatively poor offensive mean next year over a larger sample size of plate appearances. Ryan Jackson has shown more offensive potential in the minors, but Cardinals executives played Kozma over him when Furcal went down last year, which suggests that management is not very high on Jackson either.

The Cardinals have do have quality prospects at other positions like third base (Matt Carpenter), second base (Kolten Wong), first base (Matt Adams), and corner outfield (Oscar Taveras). The team has rights on centerfielder Jon Jay for at least two more years and catcher Yadier Molina is under contract until 2016.

Simply put, nearly every other field position is covered for the long term, and the strongest part of the Cardinals’ farm system is their young pitching so that area is projected to be filled as well. The one missing piece on the team in the long-term is a quality defensive shortstop who can also contribute offensively. Given the savings acquired through young players at other positions, and the pitch-to-contact philosophy of the team, committing big money to a shortstop would seem to be a wise investment.

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