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St. Louis Cardinals can win with current middle infielders

One of the St. Louis Cardinals’ most talked about needs heading into the offseason concerned who would patrol the dirt around second base next season at Busch Stadium, but they might start the 2013 season and contend for a playoff spot with the same players who did that job in 2012.

DanielDescalso3

The Cardinals ended last season with Daniel Descalso as the starting second baseman and Pete Kozma as the starting shortstop.

Descalso is a light-hitting, strong defensive player who can make great plays in the field and come up with a hit at a critical time. The problem is those moments don’t happen often, and he can usually be counted on to hit near his career average of .245.

Kozma was the Cardinals’ first-round draft pick in 2007 and muddled his way through the minors for much of the next five years before the big club called him up when shortstop Rafael Furcal hurt his elbow Aug. 31 against the Washington Nationals. Kozma capitalized on his first opportunity for regular playing time in the big leagues by hitting .333 in the final month of the season while playing solid defense.

However, the Cardinals were reluctant to have Descalso and Kozma as their starting second baseman and shortstop for next season. Club officials have repeatedly expressed hope and confidence that Furcal’s recovery is going well and he will be ready to be the everyday shortstop at the beginning of the season. They also told utility man Matt Carpenter to come to Spring Training prepared to play second base.

Neither of those moves show much confidence in the duo that manned the middle infield as the Cardinals played their way to within one win of a World Series appearance, especially considering rumors the team has been looking to sign or trade for a middle infielder from other organizations.

The Cardinals have been linked to rumors about players such as Cleveland Indians shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, Texas Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus, Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Dee Gordon and free agent utility player Scott Hairston.

Whether or not the Cardinals make a move to bring in a new middle infielder, their current options should be good enough for the team to compete for a playoff spot and the National League Central Division title. No, the middle infield might not have a great impact on the lineup, but all of those players are solid to above-average defenders, and defense was one of the poor aspects of last year’s team.

The Cardinals have plenty of power in their lineup with Matt Holliday, David Freese, Allen Craig, Carlos Beltran and Yadier Molina. They don’t need their second baseman and shortstop to hit .280 with 10-15 homeruns and 60 RBIs. Sure, that would be nice, but this team is built to withstand a couple of lineup spots that produce less-than-average numbers.

Even if Furcal doesn’t come back healthy, the Cardinals have a good backup option at shortstop with Kozma, who has for some reason been undervalued during the offseason. Yes, his numbers in the minor leagues were awful, and the Cardinals nearly cut him from the 40-man roster more than once in 2012, but he showed he can play at the major league level. Even if his future numbers aren’t as good as what he did last season, the Cardinals will have a decent shortstop.

On the other side of the base, the Cardinals know what to expect from Descalso. He won’t hit much, but he will play exceptional defense, which is something that will be a question mark if Carpenter wins the job in Spring Training.

In any case, the Cardinals will be in fine shape if they don’t acquire another middle infielder before the 2013 season begins. And with all of the young pitchers in the system, they will have leverage to make a move during the season as the trading deadline approaches at the end of July.

Although they haven’t made a sexy move in the offseason that leads to the obligatory hand-wringing from a segment of fans who think offseason headlines lead to championship-caliber seasons., the Cardinals could start play in April with their current roster and compete with the top teams in the National League.

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