With few quality shortstops available in the free-agent market and Rafael Furcal and Pete Kozma each having question marks, what do you feel Cardinals management aims to do at that position? Is there anyone in the Minors making noise? Think Seattle would trade Brendan Ryan back?
-- Daniel V., Berkeley, Calif.
The Cardinals have a dearth of soon-to-be-ready Major League shortstops in their farm system, so the answer is not there. The options are Kozma -- whose brief eruption of success in the Majors may or may not be a harbinger of long-term sustainability -- and Ryan Jackson -- whose inability to garner any playing time when the Cards were desperate for shortstop help speaks volumes about the organization's view of how he fits.
I can't speak to the Mariners' intentions with Ryan, but know that the Cardinals' level of pursuit regarding a shortstop will largely be dictated by Furcal's rehab process. If the Cardinals are confident he'll return with no elbow issues, the need for a starting shortstop diminishes. Trouble, too, is that the free-agent market is not healthy with shortstop options.
The shortstop "prizes" (and I use that word lightly) in the market are Stephen Drew and Marco Scutaro. Both will likely be overpaid because of the economics of supply and demand, and the Cards do not intend to be the ones overpaying.
Will the Cardinals pursue Asdrubal Cabrera from the Indians and how much talent would general manager John Mozeliak be willing to deal? I realize to get talent you must be willing to deal talent, but some of our young arms like Trevor Rosenthal and Joe Kelly are, in my opinion, untouchable.
-- Marty S., Fairfield, Ill.
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Since I just shot down all optimism about the Cardinals' shortstop options on the free-agent market, it's natural to then move onto the trade market where, if you're willing to pay the price, there are always players available. Cabrera's name has been floating around, though Indians GM Chris Antonetti, when told about the Cardinals' supposed interest in Cabrera last week, told a reporter that "it's news to me."
The Indians will listen to offers on Cabrera, but the asking price is high. Cabrera is set to earn $16.5 million over the next two seasons, a plenty fair price for someone with his skill set. But I'm just not convinced the Cards see a new everyday shortstop as so great a need that they'd be willing to give up power arms from their system. That is, unless Furcal suffers a serious setback in the near future.
If Furcal is unable to play next year, who, besides Jon Jay, could see time in the leadoff spot? Jay is not your ideal leadoff hitter in my opinion.
-- Tyler S., Lawrenceville, Ga.
If there are no substantial additions to the roster, it's hard to envision anyone but Jay hitting from that top spot. The Cardinals are saturated with middle-of-the-order type hitters and not built with tremendous speed. However, the Cardinals are surveying the shortstop market, and, particularly if concern grows about Furcal's readiness, will strongly consider making an addition at the position. Such an addition could also address the leadoff hole.
As for Jay's credentials, perhaps they're not as poor as you think. Of all the National League players to take at least 200 plate appearances from the leadoff spot in 2012, Jay ranked first in batting average (.303) and second in on-base percentage (.362). Where Jay underachieved in comparison was in walks and stolen bases. But even though Jay didn't draw many free passes, his on-base percentage is affirmation that he still did his job.
What is the possibility that the Cardinals reach out to Dan Haren? I know that there are a bunch of young arms coming through the farm system, but I feel like they could get him at a bargain.
-- Jake F., Indianapolis
The Cardinals' priority this offseason is not starting pitching. That doesn't mean the organization won't explore options. However, when it comes to allocating financial resources -- and the Cards don't have a substantial amount -- there are more pressing needs, like middle-infield help, bench upgrades and left-handed relief.
Haren is coming off a down year, which could push him to pursue a one-year deal during which he could build up his value again. With a shallow pool of top free-agent pitchers, someone will pay decent money for Haren with the hope of a bounce-back season.
I know one of the priorities has to be second base for the Birds. I've heard Matt Carpenter is practicing there on his own time and if Furcal comes back, Daniel Descalso is an option. But how close, realistically, is Kolten Wong to cracking this roster and becoming a potential everyday player?
-- Brad C., Chaptico, Md.
I wouldn't put Wong as a long shot to make the Opening Day roster, but I also don't peg it as likely. Though he thrived in Double-A and during his Arizona Fall League stay, Wong could probably use some polishing in Triple-A. Of course, if the Cardinals' second-base situation is dire enough, Wong already has some believing he's ready to make the jump.
Even if Wong isn't with the Cardinals in April, his chances of a midseason callup are strong. He was advanced when drafted and has not slowed in his climb through the system, sitting as the team's fourth-ranked prospect. There's a very good possibility he could be the team's everyday second baseman by the end of the 2013 season.
Any chance Rosenthal will be a closer in coming seasons, or is he expected to be a starter?
-- Doug R., Menasha, Wis.
Rosenthal has been told to prepare as if he'll start in 2013, but room is being left for an audible to be called. It's hard not to envision Rosenthal thriving as a closer down the road after watching how he blew away hitters during the postseason. He'd be able to sit at 99-100 mph in a closer's role, whereas starting would sacrifice a bit of velocity. That said, Rosenthal is also a special talent, and if there is an opportunity to plug him into the rotation, the Cards won't hesitate.
But with so many returning starters coming back, the only openings on the roster might be in the bullpen. If that's the case, the Cards may prefer Rosenthal there (in a setup role) as opposed to having him pitch in the Triple-A rotation. Long term, though, I'd put my money on him pitching the ninth inning, especially when you consider that Jason Motte will be a free agent after the 2014 season.
The Cardinals' defense was exposed during the National League Championship Series. What can the Cards do to bolster the defense?
-- Tim R., San Francisco
Well, the obvious solution would be to get new players, but that's not going to happen -- nor should it. Aside from the middle infield, the Cardinals' defense will look just as it did in 2012. How the Cardinals decide to cover second base and shortstop, though, can go a long way in shoring up the defense.
You'll often hear baseball folks talk about wanting to be strongest defensively up the middle. That theory involves four positions. At catcher, the Cardinals already have the league's best. Jay's work in center field hardly makes him a liability, either. Then there are the two middle-infield spots. If Furcal is healthy, his presence alone will make the defense more stable. Second base is a wild card for the time being.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.