The Cardinals are still reeling from the loss of Jhonny Peralta, perhaps for as long as three months, due to what is believed to be a torn ligament in his left thumb. While the book isn’t closed on Peralta’s recovery timeline just yet — he’s still headed to St. Louis to receive a second opinion on the injured digit — it would appear that Jedd Gyorko will step into the vacancy. Acquired in an offseason swap with the Padres that was made in part to keep Peralta fresh and in part to subtract Jon Jay (and his remaining salary) from a crowded outfield picture, Gyorko is the favorite to absorb Peralta’s at-bats, with Greg Garcia and Aledmys Diaz also representing internal options.
The problem with that scenario, of course, is that Gyorko isn’t a shortstop. He played some short out of necessity for the Padres last year after their widely panned platoon of Alexi Amarista and Clint Barmes failed to yield dividends. Gyorko was about three to four runs below average in 220 innings at the position in the estimation of Ultimate Zone Rating and Defensive Runs Saved, and UZR pro-rated his defensive contributions to -17.6 runs over a 150-game spell. Clearly, there’s danger in extrapolating a small sample of 220 innings in that manner and treating it as fact, but Gyorko wasn’t even perceived as a plus defender at his more natural positions of second and third base, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that he graded out very poorly at the most difficult infield position on the defensive spectrum.
Over at Fangraphs, Dave Cameron provided a quick glimpse at the injury and listed Erick Aybar as perhaps the most logical stopgap the Cardinals could pursue in an effort to upgrade. Aybar is a free agent at season’s end on a rebuilding Braves club, so the fit certainly stands out as logical. Cameron also noted that the Mets have a potential infield surplus with both Wilmer Flores and Ruben Tejada slated to fill reserve roles (the latter of those two is rumored to be on the bubble when it comes to the 25-man roster, anyhow), though he aptly notes that the Mets may not want to help strengthen another National League contender.
As MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosch writes, GM John Mozeliak acknowledged that, depending on the severity of the issue, the club could pursue outside help at the shortstop position. Each of the names suggested by Cameron is indeed a logical fit for the Cardinals. Here’s a look at a few names from around the league that could potentially be looked at if the Cardinals wish to address the unexpected void with a player from outside the organization…
- Erick Aybar, Braves: As noted above, Aybar is one year from free agency on a rebuilding club that has shown a willingness to trade virtually any veteran piece it has (Freddie Freeman excluded). Atlanta has internal options that it could consider long-term pieces (Dansby Swanson, Ozhaino Albies), and while they’re not particularly close to the Majors, the Braves could slot someone like Daniel Castro or a minor pickup of their own in at short in the event of an Aybar trade.
- Ruben Tejada/Wilmer Flores, Mets: Tejada was recently awarded an extra day of service time, making him a free agent following the season. He’s said to be on the fringe of New York’s 25-man roster this spring, and Flores could serve as the club’s primary backup all over the infield even if Tejada were to be traded. It seems far less likely that the Mets would move Flores, who has a fairly productive season last year and offers more offense in a reserve capacity with multiple years of club control remaining, but the team was famously open to trading him last summer.
- Nick Ahmed/Chris Owings, D-backs: As recently as last spring, this combination looked like a potential long-term alignment for the Diamondbacks, but that’s less the case this spring. For one, Arizona went out and acquired Jean Segura to field one of the spots — likely shortstop — thus displacing the defensively gifted Ahmed from an everyday role. Beyond that, Brandon Drury had a strong season and worked his way onto multiple top 100 prospect rankings, giving the D-backs another potential option at second. Drury could play third base as well, though Arizona has Jake Lamb as a big-league-ready option at third base — one that could handle the spot long-term. With Segura, Ahmed, Owings, Drury and Lamb, the Snakes seemingly have five infielders for three spots.
- Eduardo Nunez/Danny Santana, Twins: While Nunez isn’t known for his glovework himself, he’s more experienced than Gyorko at the position and is coming off a solid season with the bat, having slashed .282/.327/.431 in 204 plate appearances with Minnesota. Santana is out options and has yet to proven himself in the field or at the plate. After a BABIP-fueled rookie season, Santana cratered in 2015 and now looks like a utility player for the Twins. Neither player is a definitive upgrade, but both would deepen the club’s infield mix and provide greater shortstop experience than the Cards’ incumbent options. Minnesota wouldn’t be anxious to shed either player, but doing so could create a utility role for top prospect Jorge Polanco. Their preference, though, could be to get him everyday at-bats in the minors.
- Chris Taylor/Luis Sardinas, Mariners: Both infielders are competing for the right to back up Ketel Marte at shortstop. Taylor, a career .313/.394/.460 hitter at Triple-A, struggled badly in the Majors this past season but offers more offensive upside than Sardinas. On the other hand, Sardinas is probably a more sure-handed defensive option despite his own big league struggles at the plate and a more pedestrian .285/.315/.365 batting line in his Triple-A career.
- Freddy Galvis, Phillies: Galvis doesn’t bring much to the table from an offensive standpoint, and the returns on his defensive work at shortstop are mixed. Ultimate Zone Rating feels that Galvis has been about average over the life of his 1567 career innings there, whereas Defensive Runs Saved feels he’s cost his team 10 runs there. If Cardinals scouts feel that Galvis is a passable shortstop, then perhaps they’ll overlook last year’s .263/.302/.343 batting line, which rated more than 20 percent worse than the league average after adjusting for his home park (76 wRC+, 77 OPS+). For what it’s worth, he did homer seven times and swipe 10 bases in his 603 plate appearances.
- Nick Franklin, Rays: Considering how long Franklin’s name has been bounced around, it almost feels like he should be in his late 20s. That comes with the territory for a player who made his big league debut and played a whole season before he even turned 23 years old, though. Franklin only turned 25 last week, and while he hasn’t developed into the everyday infielder that he was projected to, he hit .266/.353/.500 in 221 PAs at Triple-A Durham last year. The presence of Brad Miller and Tim Beckham could effectively block Franklin in Tampa Bay.
- Everth Cabrera: The former NL stolen base champ barely played in 2015, hitting .208/.250/.229 in 105 plate appearances with the Orioles. He wasn’t much better in the minors, batting just .230/.302/.259 in 150 PAs between the Orioles and Giants. Cabrera is nearly three years and a PED suspension removed from providing value at the Major League level, but the Cards could take a look on a minor league deal and hope to benefit from a resurgence.
- Willie Bloomquist: At 38 years old with a .238/.262/.287 batting line across his previous two seasons in Seattle, Bloomquist probably isn’t on radars as anything more than a veteran on which to take a minor league flier with a utility role in mind.
Suffice it to say, there aren’t any enticing options currently on the free agent market, though the Cardinals could find some options late in camp as veterans on minor league deals with out clauses begin to exercise those provisions.