With Rafael Furcal around, there is always the risk of injury. It doesn't tend to be as bad as the news this morning out of St. Louis, though, where it's been announced that Furcal will likely miss the entire 2013 season because of Tommy John surgery.
Tommy John isn't a typical procedure for position players, but it does happen: Mike Aviles underwent TJ mid-season in 2009 while with the Royals, and Carl Crawford did the same last August while with the Red Sox.
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The recovery situation is much different -- and shorter -- for position players, as their elbows are used in significantly different ways than those of pitchers. However, they don't tend to be fully healed for about a year after the procedure, as Aviles tells it:
"I felt fully healed one the season started, but you could still feel as the months went on that your arm continued to get stronger. I would say right around the year mark is when I felt completely, fully, fully back to normal."
The current case of Carl Crawford tells you that there can be setbacks, as well, that push the timetable back even further. Crawford, who underwent Tommy John in late-August of 2012, has had setbacks and felt pain in his elbow that have seen him shut down, and while he's cleared to resume workouts, nothing is a given at this point. Basically, this all means Furcal would likely feel fully healed by this time next year, a date that's of little consequence to the 2013 Cardinals.
So, what's the plan in St. Louis now? Peter Kozma and Ronny Cedeno are both on the roster, and if you could meld their best qualities together, would form a useful enough shortstop.
Science hasn't brought us to the point where we can treat deficient shortstop options like breedable monsters from Dragon Quest spin-offs, however, so until then, the Cardinals are stuck with Kozma and Cedeno in their natural, underwhelming states.
It's still just March, though, so it's not as if St. Louis is doomed to a life of Kozma/Cedeno forever, should they feel the need to upgrade. They could attempt to make a trade, of course. Maybe for the aforementioned Aviles, who was the Red Sox' starting shortstop in 2012, but is a bench bat for the Indians this year.
Maybe they could work something out with the Orioles for J.J. Hardy, who is under contract for two more years, but is blocking the 20-year-old Manny Machado from his natural position in Baltimore. The Red Sox might move Jose Iglesias for a prospect, depending on how much they believe in top prospect Xander Bogaerts at shortstop, but that would also depend on whether the Cards think Iglesias can hit big-league pitching consistently, and that's an open question right now that Boston avoided answering by signing Stephen Drew. St. Louis could always put in a call to bring back Little Nicky Punto, as well, if the Dodgers are willing to part with their bench infielder.
If the Cards choose to stay put, it's not going to be a disaster. Part of the reason they tried things with Furcal is because depth at shortstop is nonexistent to begin with. Kozma and Cedeno are not ideal, but how many ideal shortstops actually exist in the league right now?
It's a position that's so bad that many teams are satisfied with someone who can either hit or field at the position -- both at once is a luxury.
Kozma has hit in very limited big-league time, but was a nobody at the plate in over 2,700 minor-league plate appearances, and Cedeno is equally uninspiring.
If they can hold down the position with their gloves, though, then the Cardinals will still be worse than if they had Furcal, but not necessarily doomed.
The Cardinals won a wild card last year, and ended up in the NL Championship Series. The lineup still has Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday, Yadier Molina, and Allen Craig, the rotation is still packed even with the loss of Chris Carpenter, and the bullpen, as per usual with the Cards, has enough intrigue and arms to get the job done.
With all that in mind, they should still compete, Furcal or no, even if their response to this news is to stand pat.