The St. Louis Cardinals reached an agreement to bring infielder Ronny Cedeno to the club yesterday. The 29 year old will be paid just over $1.1 million on a one-year deal, with a chance to gain another $800 in performance incentives as well. On the surface, it is a depth move; a chance to add a veteran presence to a club that has multiple questions about the condition of its middle infield. However, is there more to it than that?
The team’s hand was forced nearly all of last year at shortstop. Rafael Furcal played a high volume of games by his standards (his 531 plate appearances were his most since 2009) in large part due to lack of comfortable depth behind him on the roster, and in the system at large. When he was finally curbed by a back injury, then finally by the elbow injury that seemed to necessitate surgery (but he has avoided to date), the team was forced to scramble to fill his void. Both Pete Kozma and Ryan Jackson were plugged into action, despite neither being considered a strong candidate for the fill-in. Jackson never really worked out, but Kozma rode a hot bat that made him a viable everyday option in September. He hit .333 in 72 at-bats, and played a serviceable shortstop.
However, the postseason brought out the inexperience in him on the highest level. His bat dipped to a .227 clip, much closer to the .232 total he managed during a full-season at Memphis. The moment admittedly also bore down on him as well, “the moment did get a bit big,” Kozma stated, when referring to the crunch of the playofss. Among those moments was a failure to act, ending up in the biggest infield fly rule debate, as well as a late game error in Game 1 of the National League Divisional Series that led to the game winning run.
Kozma’s return to Earth, when coupled with Furcal’s unknown health status, made the position a red-hot spot for debate on if the team would make a move for more security there. General Manager John Mozeliak didn’t dispel these rumors either, stating as recently as this month at club’s Winter Warm-Up event that “We still have not ruled out any additions in the middle infield, if necessary”. Which was a sentiment apparently not understood by Kozma yet, who revealed it was a point of confidence of his that the team didn’t go outside the organization to make additions in the middle infield this winter.
That possibility became a reality just a bit over a week after he uttered that sentiment when the team added a journeyman in the style of Cedeno to the roster. It is a move that definitively ends any debate about who the top backup shortstop would be, as well as who would be the starter if Furcal is unable to go right away. With Matt Carpenter, Daniel Descalso and Ty Wigginton all presumptively on penciled into the Opening Day infield starter/bench scene, the perspective for the spring has to change for Kozma.
Most importantly, the signing put a final emphasis on the mission of the club to get make improvements where it could a year ago. While Cedeno, a career .249 hitter, will not be counted on to win games, he does give the team experience where it couldn’t find it a year ago. If anything, it reduces the risk of the cupboard being bare if Murphy’s Law does take up residence between second and third base at Busch.
It’s not the death sentence for Kozma, Jackson or even another move being made later, but it’s a clear sign that the organization isn’t leaving anything up to chance this summer.