Furcal Is Out. Is Kozma In?

Every week, it seems, Wednesday rolls around and here we are talking about Rafael Furcal again. Trouble is, ever since last August the things we’ve had to say about him haven’t been terribly pleasant. Torn ligament. Opting for a surgery-free recovery method. Slow healing process. Should be 100%. Isn’t 100%. Not even 50%. Now there’s a bone spur. Can’t throw. Can’t hit. More pain and inflammation. Shut down completely, seeking Dr. Andrews’s opinion on how to proceed.

Opening day? Doubtful. The 2013 season? Honestly? Questionable.

Here’s the latest from John Mozeliak himself:

Mozeliak said it was his understanding now that surgery won’t necessarily be recommended this time either. But he didn’t want to speculate until the second opinion, beyond that of Dr. George Paletta, the Cardinals’ medical supervisor, had been offered.

“We’ve sent many players to Andrews who don’t have surgery,” said Mozeliak.

But, he said, “Furcal’s situation is up in the air. We don’t know the answer as we sit here on March 4. I can envision us by mid- to late week that we’ll have some finality of direction where we’re going. Right now, we’re in that great area of unknown.”

I don’t know about you, but I’m not such a fan of this “unknown” he speaks of …

What isn’t unknown is this — Furcal is out of the equation now, and potentially for the long haul. If he does end up having surgery, his season is done. If he doesn’t heal enough to feel like he can pick up a baseball without his elbow swelling up, his season is also done. I’m not aiming for doom and gloom here, but there is a very real possibility we don’t see Furcal spend any kind of significant time on the field in 2013. Basically, if he is healthy, it’s a bonus.

If Then KozmaNot long ago (but long enough that baseball was still just a conversation about the near future), I was talking with some baseball fans about what the Cardinals needed most this year to give themselves the best chance of winning. As many others have, I pointed to the middle infield, claiming Furcal was the key piece to the Cardinals puzzle. Not that, per se, the team would live or die based on his ability to play, but that, without doubt, his presence — or lack thereof — would dictate how the team could operate.

To keep a long story relatively short, I went on to explain (keep in mind, this was pre-Cedeno) how you could move the pieces around to fill Furcal’s void: Pete Kozma ended 2012 at short stop and could “fill in” (permanently) there again, but he’s relatively unproven. You could move Matt Carpenter to second, and slide Daniel Descalso to short, at the expense of second base defense for that of a quick glove at short. Or, you take a risk on Ryan Jackson who is entirely unproven, and, frankly, doesn’t seem to have the trust of the club. But, if he can’t hack it, and Matty Carp isn’t settled and Dirty Dan has to man second … you get Pete Kozma.

My friend, who sat back and watched the other grizzled baseball guys react to that logic, was quite impressed with my “point-A-to-point-B,” if-then hypothesis.

Impressed or not, you still end up with Pete Kozma.

And, as time goes on, it appears that’s likely what we’re barreling towards, come Opening Day.

That is, in and of itself, not a bad thing. Petey is having himself a fine spring so far.

I know, I know! Small sample size. … let me say it again: SMALL. SAMPLE. SIZE. Seven games. Twenty-two at bats. In spring training. It barely counts as a real indicator of what a season can hold. I know this.

And yet, here we are 10 games into the spring, and it looks like we may be paying closer attention to Kozma’s stat line than we’d hoped. Dare we believe that he might just build on the late-season highlights of last year and surpass the — admittedly low — expectations of his abilities?

Of course we hope that. We’re Cardinals fans. We live on hope.

Hope, though, doesn’t hit .409 with a home run, two doubles and four RBI. But, Kozma does.

Know what else Kozma does? Create double plays. Six of them, to be exact. He’s been part of more double plays ( … defensively!) than anyone else who has spent time at short stop this spring.

Ten put outs. Twenty assists. A perfect 1.000 fielding percentage in 52.0 innings. (Knock on wood, throw salt over the shoulder, etc. and say it with me: “Small sample size.”)

Defensively, this team can handle that. Offensively, they probably can handle it even easier.

What gets tricky is how to best utilize the guys who are in the lineup.

Furcal won’t be leading off. So, who will? John Jay? It may not be ideal, but Jay followed by Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday, Allen Craig, David Freese, Yadier Molina, Carpenter and Kozma doesn’t look too terrible to me.

Here’s the thing — I doubt John Mozeliak makes a blockbuster move before the season starts, or before he gives another guy the chance to claim a starting role. Right now, it’s Kozma’s for the taking. And, while I still don’t love that the dominoes toppled leaving Pete standing as the only front-runner, I’m willing to give it a chance. I’m not jumping ship because our hopes sunk with Furcal’s clean bill of health.

I mean, really … we survived the Tyler Greene experiment, right? We got this. *insert winky emoticon to show humor*

Ultimately, it’s still SO early. At this point, it’s best for everyone to try to ride an even wave through the next few weeks. Not too high on the standouts, not too low on the struggles. That’s where I’m trying to stay. Furcal isn’t going to be the starting short stop to start the year. So, we move on. Apparently, to Pete Kozma.

So be it. Go Cardinals.

Tara is a St. Louis Cardinals reporter for Aaron Miles’ Fastball and a contributor to Around the Horn. Follow her on Twitter @tarawellman.

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