For those of you who consider yourselves to be “big”Cardinals fans, I have a challenge for you: Name the Cardinals’ starting shortstops over the past 4 seasons. It doesn’t sound like a hard question, but I myself could not come up with all of them without doing a little research. It’s not a trick question, I’m not including any one-day minor league call-ups here, I’m simply asking for the names of the players who’ve been given a legitimate opportunity to claim the starting job as their own. I’ll give you a hint: since World Series MVP David Eckstein left town following the 2007 season, there’s been EIGHT of them…and that’s exactly what makes the question so hard to answer. Eight different starting shortstops over the past four seasons for a franchise that had only four different starters at that position over the previous 25 years: Ozzie Smith (’82-’96), Royce Clayton (’96-’98), Edgar Renteria (’99-’04), and David Eckstein (’05-’07). It’s hard to believe, really.
We’ll get to the answer of the question in a little bit, but first I want to look at a different question: “Who is going to be the Cardinals’ starting shortstop in 2012?” There are plenty of options, and some are better than others, but for a team needing some stability up the middle, it’ll be interesting to see who gets the job. Let’s take a closer look at some of the options.
Rafael Furcal battled through injuries most of the season, but provided a big jolt to the Cardinals’ offense. He had a disappointing World Series at the plate, but had several key hits in the Cardinals’ frantic playoff run and in the NLDS and NLCS. Furcal just turned 34 years old, and has seen his stolen base total plummet over the past four seasons. Furcal is exceptional in the field defensively, and though his batting average was only .231 this year, he typically hits around .280 and draws a decent amount of walks. He also blended well with the other Cardinals’ players and helped the team to a World Series title. It remains unclear whether the Cardinals plan on keeping Furcal, who’s now a free agent.
Jimmy Rollins is the most interesting free agent shortstop on the market now that Jose Reyes has signed with the Miami Marlins. Defensively, Rollins is sound like Furcal, committing just 7 errors last season at short. Rollins is a year younger than Furcal, and also brings a little more power to the plate… but those numbers have faded a bit, and it’s important to keep in mind that Citizen’s Bank Park is one of the friendliest hitter’s parks in the league. Rollins carries a .268 career batting average, and has never hit .300+ for a season. The perception is that Rollins will be the most expensive shortstop on the market, so it’s unclear whether the Cardinals’ management team thinks he’d be worth significantly more money than Furcal
Theriot is a decent hitter who brings a little power and didn’t strike out much last season, but his he has to hit better than .271 to make up for his deficiencies on defense. Theriot had 17 errors in just 91 games last season, and doesn’t have the range that Rollins and Furcal have. Theriot will be 32 years old heading into the 2012 season.
If Tyler Greene is the starting shortstop for St. Louis next season, I will be shocked. Is he an inexpensive stop-gap while the team looks for a long term solution at short…yes… but he has done nothing at the big league level to show he’s ready to take over the everyday starting job. Greene’s defense and offense have struggled, and at 28, he just may not be everyday big league material.
By all accounts, the Cardinals send one of these players out to play between second and third on Opening Day next season, but none of them appear to be long term solutions (though Rollins would likely sign for a few years). With that in mind, it’s time to go back to our original question: “Can you name all eight of the Cardinals’ starting shortstops over the past four seasons?” We’ve already named three of them in Furcal, Theriot, and Greene. We’re missing Brendan Ryan, Julio Lugo, Felipe Lopez, Cesar Izturis, and Khalil Greene. If you knew them all off the top of your head, I’m thoroughly impressed. Let’s just hope this question doesn’t become even harder in the years to come.