Tag Archive | "Cedeno"

Depth a growing concern for St. Louis Cardinals

The St. Louis Cardinals will send nine players on to the field Monday at Chase Field in Phoenix for their season opener against the Arizona Diamondbacks, but they won’t have many replacement options if one, or more, of those players can’t play the entire game.

Ryan Jackson

The team will have a dugout full of bench players, of course, but recent injuries have suddenly taken a lot of talent that would be on the bench and put it into the starting lineup.

The Cardinals already had limited depth at the middle-infield positions once Rafael Furcal found out at the beginning of spring training he couldn’t throw and would need elbow surgery. Pete Kozma suddenly became the team’s first option at shortstop with Ronny Cedeno as the back-up.

But then the team released Cedeno on March 19 after he hit .290 in 16 games with the club.

That left the Cardinals with three middle infielders: Kozma, Matt Carpenter and Daniel Descalso.

Carpenter had all but wrapped up the starting job at second base, but third baseman David Freese eventually succumbed to a sore back that had plagued him much of the spring. Freese will now start the season on the disabled list, and Carpenter will have to take over the third base job in the meantime.

As the game of musical chairs goes, Descalso will fill in at second base, and Ryan Jackson will take the spot on the bench as the team’s back-up middle infielder. However, Jackson has hit .136 so far in spring training and hit .118 in 13 games with the big-league club in 2012.

Granted, that is a very small sample size, and the Cardinals have seen with players such as Kozma how past struggles don’t predict a bad future. Kozma hit .236 in more than five years in the minor leagues before helping spark a late-season surge by the Cardinals in 2012 with a .333 batting average in 26 games.

Still, a player who hasn’t hit above .150 as a major leaguer isn’t much of an insurance plan to open the regular season.

The Cardinals made Freese’s move to the disabled list retroactive to March 22 so he will be eligible to play in the team’s home opener April 8 against the Cincinnati Reds.

So if all goes well, the Cardinals should have their starting third baseman back within the first week of the regular season, which would allow Carpenter to move back to second base and Descalso could become the utility infielder that provides solid production when the starters need a day off.

Right now the Cardinals can’t afford for their starters to take a day off.

And that could be something to keep in mind late in the season when Kozma and Carpenter, who have started a combined 95 games in two seasons, start to feel the fatigue of a full Major League Baseball schedule.

The same could be said for the Cardinals pitching staff, as well. Closer Jason Motte’s injury had a ripple effect through the bullpen and the starting rotation.

Mitchell Boggs will have to fill Motte’s spot at the back of the bullpen, but Motte’s injury also made Joe Kelly more valuable in a relief role instead of the fifth and final spot in the rotation, which went to Shelby Miller, who the Cardinals have groomed to be a starter throughout his minor-league career.

Kelly at least pitched out of the bullpen in college and made 15 appearances as a reliever last season for the Cardinals in the regular season and playoffs combined.

The Cardinals have remarkably sustained success through a multitude of injuries in the 2011 and 2012 seasons.

They’ll have to maintain that resiliency again in 2013, but this time there is no Carpenter, Descalso, Jon Jay or Allen Craig to insert into a key situation late in the game. Those players now must be the team’s foundation instead of its accessories.

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Wigginton Should Be Next Cut

The St. Louis Cardinals sent home one unproductive veteran player Tuesday in their latest round of cuts, and they need to do the same with another, even if it costs the team a relatively large amount of money.

Robinson Freese Wigginton

The Cardinals brought Ronny Cedeno in to spring training as an insurance policy at the shortstop position since Rafael Furcal did not recover from an elbow injury he suffered last season, and the team had yet to believe Pete Kozma would be good enough to handle the position full time.

But the Cardinals realized they would not be in good hands with Cedeno, a career .247 hitter, as their primary option at shortstop. Kozma burst out of offseason to hit .429 in the first 10 days of exhibition games while Cedeno struggled to raise his batting average above .167.

Cedeno eventually picked up the pace to finish with a .290 average, and Kozma predictably didn’t hit above .400 the entire spring (he fell to .318), but Kozma showed the Cardinals he could handle the responsibilities of being the starting shortstop. That meant the Cardinals had little need for Cedeno, who had signed for one year and $1.15 million.

Daniel Descalso will now be the Cardinals only backup middle infielder, but Cedeno’s release freed up a spot on the bench for more talented hitters such as first baseman prospect Matt Adams.

But that’s only because the Cardinals will likely be hesitant to release the other unproductive veteran free agent they brought to camp: Ty Wigginton.

Wigginton has just four base hits and a .103 batting average with eight strikeouts so far this spring, yet the Cardinals probably won’t release him because they made the poor decision in the offseason to sign the 35-year-old, who hasn’t hit above .250 since 2009, to a two-year, $5 million contract.

Sure, $5 million isn’t an incredible amount of money in the modern world of baseball, but expecting Wigginton to be a productive player at all, much less two years, is almost asking for a miracle to happen.

Maybe Wigginton will run into a late-inning homerun and ends up helping the Cardinals win a game at some point this season, but they have much more talented players who will start the season in the minor leagues.

Future second baseman Kolten Wong, future outfielder Oscar Taveras and even outfielder Adron Chambers provide more potential benefits to the Cardinals that Wigginton, but they aren’t making $5 million across two years and they are young players who the Cardinals don’t want to rot on the bench.

So Wigginton will probably make the team no matter how bad he hits. Thankfully, there should still be a spot for Adams, who has hit .304 this spring and is tied for the team lead with 12 RBIs. It would be nice if the Cardinals went with Chambers, who provides speed, or outfielder Shane Robinson, who has had a great spring with a .465 batting average and 12 RBIs, but one will likely be left off the opening day roster.

The Cardinals are chiseling away at their roster for opening day. Unfortunately, they will probably leave one blemish and give Wigginton a job based on what they hope he can do, because he certainly hasn’t shown them anything this spring that makes him worthy to make a Major League Baseball roster.

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Oh, So Now Pete Kozma Is Good Enough For St. Louis

Pete Kozma might have gotten sudden public support along with the St. Louis Cardinals starting shortstop job after Rafael Furcal announced Thursday he would have Tommy John surgery and miss the entire 2013 season, but Kozma has deserved some of that respect long before now.

PeteKozma

Kozma hit .333 in 26 games for the Cardinals at the end of last season after Furcal injured his elbow Aug. 30 against the Washington Nationals, and he was a big key to the team’s late-season success that got it within one game of the World Series.

But the Cardinals have rarely viewed Kozma in a positive light.

The organization considered releasing Kozma four times while he was in the minor leagues. Granted, the former first-round pick did put up dismal numbers much of his minor-league career, but the Cardinals have continued to treat Kozma as if he is that same minor-league player even after his big-league success.

The club openly solicited trade proposals to find a different shortstop during the offseason. And when a trade never developed because the Cardinals were unwilling to part with their young pitching prospects, they signed Ronny Cedeno as an option in case Furcal wouldn’t be healthy.

“We were looking at just making sure we have protection (and), in essence, if Pete continues to do what he did, he’ll likely be in the big leagues,” Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said. “We didn’t want to just go into the season and find out that Furcal couldn’t go and find out Kozma was not (going to build on) the six-week period. We had a lot of optimism. It was just shoring up the position.”

But Cedeno has hit just .167 in spring training and played poor defense, at times. That’s probably not where the Cardinals will shore up the shortstop position whether Kozma got the job or not.

Kozma also hasn’t gotten much more respect from Cardinals fans. A forum on stltoday.com Thursday was titled “Is there a worse middle infield in baseball right now?”

There certainly are worse middle infields. Can anyone name the middle infielders for the Miami Marlins, San Diego Padres or Houston Astros?

Plus, Kozma and whoever wins the second base job (Daniel Descalso or Matt Carpenter) are solid fielders who won’t embarrass themselves in the field. Cedeno, on the other hand, might be a liability in the field and at the plate.

Overall, that short period of success is likely a large factor in why people have yet to believe Kozma can handle the Cardinals shortstop position full time in 2013 and beyond. They hadn’t seen that sort of success previously in his career, and they were unwilling to get their hopes up in case Kozma was a one-hit wonder.

Instead, Kozma has excelled during spring training, hitting .429 with five RBIs and two homeruns, and the Cardinals have suddenly started talking him up as someone they really want to have as their starting shortstop this year.

“There’s no doubt given what Kozma did for us in the last six weeks of the season last year we do have a high level of confidence that he can continue to add that energy and be that type of player we saw last year,” Mozeliak said Thursday after the Furcal news broke.

It’s funny how circumstances tend to change those types of feelings.

Kozma would be a huge help to the Cardinals if he can hit for a good batting average and get on base fairly consistently. The Cardinals have enough power in their lineup with Matt Holliday, Carlos Beltran, David Freese and Allen Craig likely to fill the middle of the order, but they’ll need someone on base when they come up.

Kozma would most likely hit in the seventh or eighth spot in the Cardinals lineup, so he won’t face a ton of pressure to be a star at the plate. The Cardinals just need someone who can get on base and hold their own defensively at shortstop this year, and Kozma is a good candidate to fill all of those needs.

He might get his chance this year, but he’ll have done so by overcoming a strong perception by his team that he wasn’t good enough.

For Kozma, that motivation could make 2013 all the more fun.

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Shortstop News Does Not Require Panic

The St. Louis Cardinals announced today that shortstop Rafael Furcal would require Tommy John surgery, ending his season before it starts.

Rafael_Furcal

During the announcement, General Manager John Mozeliak seemed to throw his support behind young Pete Kozma as the immediate solution.  Fans took to Twitter to beg the team to make a trade and acquire someone immediately to fill the void.

Calm down, Cards fans.

Keep in mind that in the grand scheme of things, the Cardinals were not relying on Furcal as much as many fans felt they were.  They signed Ronny Cedeno to be the back up at that position due to the fear that he would not be able to patrol the field.  As Matt Whitener pointed out on last night’s UCB Radio, Cedeno was most likely signed as a back up no matter what.  Furcal’s news does not thrust him into the starting role, it simply means that he will be the backup to someone else.

That someone else, at least for now, is Pete Kozma.  Honestly, doesn’t he deserve the chance?

We all know the Kozma story: first round pick that couldn’t figure out how to hit in the minors, given multiple chances at different levels but never seemed to “click”, then suddenly figured something out on the biggest stage down the stretch in St. Louis last season.

Small sample size aside, those 72 at bats at the major league level last year should, at the very least, earn Kozma the opportunity to prove that it was a fluke.  His defense was suspect last year, but barely below league average, and his offense was suddenly solid with a ..333/.383/.569 slash line.  His strikeouts were high while his walks were low but that is a trend we see with many young players.  Patience comes with experience and experience comes with opportunity.

So far this spring, again small sample size, Kozma has proven that he can hit well, play decent defense, and he is showing an increased level of patience at the plate.  He looks like the first round pick that the Cardinals had so much faith invested in 2007.

Ultimately, we’re talking about the number eight hitter in the Cardinals lineup.  A position that will not be relied on for strong offensive numbers and be looked at to simply handle the position on the field.  The production in this lineup will come from left field, right field, catcher, first base, and third base.

Kozma is showing patience at the plate and the Cardinals are showing that patience with his development might just pay off.  Gaining experience requires an opportunity to present itself.

The opportunity is here.

Bill Ivie is the editor here at i70baseball.
You can follow him on Twitter by clicking here.

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Ronny Cedeno provides depth for St. Louis Cardinals, but little else

In an offseason of sparse, small moves, the St. Louis Cardinals made another signing Monday that will minimally impact their season, and hopefully it won’t be a factor at all.

RonnyCedeno

The Cardinals signed shortstop Ronny Cedeno to a one-year contract to be a back-up option in case starting shortstop Rafael Furcal’s right elbow has problems again in the upcoming season.

The 30-year-old Cedeno is an eight-year veteran with a career .247 batting average while playing for four different teams: the Chicago Cubs, Seattle Mariners, Pittsburgh Pirates and New York Mets. At best, he’s been an inconsequential player on irrelevant teams.

The Cardinals aren’t an irrelevant team, and something will have to go terribly wrong if Cedeno sees much playing time. The team has Furcal penciled in to be the everyday shortstop, and  Pete Kozma would seem to be a fairly solid back-up option given his .333 batting average in 26 games at the end of last season.

In many ways, the Cardinals had no need for Cedeno unless they think Kozma can’t hit above .250 and play decent defense. Both Kozma and Cedeno are righthanded hitters without much power, so the Cardinals certainly didn’t improve the back-up shortstop situation by this move.

Maybe the Cardinals think Kozma needs to be pushed during spring training or during the season if he has to regularly play shortstop with Furcal out because of injury. But still, the team has Daniel Descalso and Matt Carpenter as other middle infielders who could supposedly move over to shortstop if Furcal gets hurt and Kozma plays terribly.

General manager John Mozeliak said the team needed “insurance” at the position. Well, as some television commercials suggest, this is a cut-rate insurance policy and not the Allstate value plan. Cedeno should have to play above his career average in spring training just to break camp with the club.

This move also adds fuel to the fire of people who are already frustrated the Cardinals haven’t improved enough during the offseason, while the Cincinnati Reds traded for Shin-Soo Choo, the Atlanta Braves added the Upton brothers and the Philadelphia Phillies added the steady and productive Michael Young, formerly of the Texas Rangers.

Many of the top teams in the National League made significant moves to improve during the offseason, and the Cardinals basically stood pat. OK, they signed bench players Ty Wigginton and Cedeno. Sorry, but those two won’t even make opponents’ scouting reports.

Overall, the Cardinals are going to need their core players to stay healthy and be consistently productive throughout the entire year because the rest of the league has improved. If the Cardinals fall behind six to 10 games in the division or wild-card race, the teams above them might be too good to allow for another miracle comeback.

Right now the Reds, Braves, Phillies, Washington Nationals, San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers are all built to be strong playoff contenders. Even with the expanded playoffs, only five National League teams will make the postseason, so a playoff berth is far from guaranteed for the Cardinals this season.

That competition should make for a fun season, so long as the Cardinals don’t have to file a claim on the Ronny Cedeno insurance policy.

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