Second guess: Cardinals have open spot in infield
Descalso the early favorite to replace departed Schumaker
ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals will arrive at Spring Training with few position battles to sort out, a luxury that is the byproduct of minimal offseason turnover.
The second base situation, however, cannot be considered so settled.
With Skip Schumaker now a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Cardinals' depth chart at the position has dwindled by one. Schumaker's departure came four months after the Cardinals dealt Tyler Greene, meaning that only one of the three players who competed for the second base job last spring remains in the organization.
That would be Daniel Descalso, who is currently positioned as the favorite to win the starting second base job in 2013. However, neither manager Mike Matheny, nor general manager John Mozeliak has promised away the job just yet.
"As far as second base goes, we have some very viable candidates, and we just go give these guys opportunities without drawing up conclusions at the beginning," Matheny said. "There are opportunities. We're going to give opportunities to all the players and just see how the pieces come together."
One of the biggest remaining variables is the Cardinals' level of activity this offseason. Club officials have confirmed that the organization has looked into acquiring another middle infielder, one who could play second or spell Rafael Furcal at short. But Mozeliak has also cautioned against assuming that a major move is forthcoming, saying earlier this month that "we're not spending as much time as people think in this market."
Rather, the Cardinals are taking an opportunistic approach when considering a middle infield addition. The list of middle infielders still available on the free-agent market is mostly underwhelming, which leaves the trade market as the one avenue left if the Cardinals desire an impact player.
More likely, though, is that the Cardinals keep the battle internal.
Descalso will obviously be in the mix, as could Matt Carpenter, Pete Kozma, Ryan Jackson and even Kolten Wong. Those latter four have only a combined 78 innings of Major League experience at second base.
Carpenter may be the most interesting variable, as his level of comfort at the position won't be entirely known until Spring Training. Sent home with the directive of putting in extensive work at second base this winter, Carpenter intends to arrive at Jupiter, Fla., days before the start of camp to prove that his work has been fruitful.
Of the daily work he's done so far, Carpenter described it as "great." He then added: "Obviously you can't simulate a real game, but there's definitely confidence built when you are working with something every day. There's a comfort level being built."
It could well come down to whether the Cardinals want to emphasize the bat or the glove in their selection of a second baseman. If the Cardinals prefer the sounder defensive option, Descalso would likely get the nod. Carpenter has more offensive potential and could be a key piece in the lineup.
Kozma played more second base in the Minors than Jackson, though both should get some time at the position this spring. Questions remain, though, about how either would fare in an everyday role over a full Major League season.
Then there's Wong, the wild card of the bunch.
The potential of a former first-round Draft pick is seemingly higher than anyone else in this second base mix, but the timing might not yet be right for him to make a Major League impact early in the 2013 season. Wong, who spent all of 2012 in Double-A, is more likely to begin the season as the starting second baseman at Triple-A Memphis.
Should the Cardinals have a need at second base at midseason, don't be surprised if Wong becomes a serious part of the discussion.
This second base situation sets up to mirror the multi-player competition that took place last Spring Training. But while that competition did not conclude with a definitive answer, the Cardinals would prefer one of these candidates to emerge the clear choice in 2013.
"It did turn into a revolving door at times [in 2012]," Matheny said. "Just what we're looking for is for that position to be taken. We have talented guys on this club that can do it. It's just a matter of putting them in position to where they can show what they can do and take advantage of the opportunity."
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.