ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals settled their second-base situation late in the 2012 season, choosing Daniel Descalso to take everyday playing time at a position that had been covered by committee for most of the year.
That stability, which manager Mike Matheny had been seeking for months, worked well in the postseason. Descalso provided steady defense and surprise production at the bottom of the Cards' lineup.
It did not, however, provide the Cardinals with a long-term answer.
One of the organization's biggest unknowns heading into 2013 is how the club plans to cover the second-base position. It's not all too different a spot than the one the Redbirds were in last year, when Tyler Greene, Descalso and Skip Schumaker all entered Spring Training as candidates for playing time.
Greene has since been traded away. But Schumaker and Descalso remain under contract for another season. So how might they fit into the mix next season?
General manager John Mozeliak suggested that Schumaker's opportunities at second will be limited next year, even though Schumaker has made 382 starts at the position since the start of the '09 season. No Cards player has made more during that time span.
Instead, Schumaker will likely slide back into a utility role, where he can fill in at second or in the outfield.
"It's just hard to imagine him getting a ton of playing time there with what we know we have and what we know we have coming," Mozeliak said. "It's again a little too early to tell because there's other things that could happen that could change how we view [his role]."
Descalso returns, too, and the Cardinals like the stability the 26-year-old provides on defense. And if the rest of the Cards' starting position players are healthy, St. Louis should have the flexibility to sacrifice a bit on offense for an above-average defender.
Then there are the two wild cards, labeled such for vastly different reasons.
The unknown about Kolten Wong isn't if he'll make it, but rather when he'll be ready. He's likely to be in the discussion for a roster spot sometime in 2013, though it may not be out of Spring Training.
Wong, who was the Cardinals' first pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, spent the entire 2012 season with Double-A Springfield, where he hit .287 in 126 games. He is following up the Minor League season with a stint in the Arizona Fall League, which has recently named Wong to its Rising Stars Game. MLB.com ranks him as the Cards' No. 4 prospect.
Wong is expected to eventually assume everyday duties at second base, but the Cardinals have to prepare for the possibility that he won't be ready at the start of next season.
As a result, the organization, despite having Descalso and Schumaker returning, sent Matt Carpenter home for the offseason with a specific directive: get repetitions at second base.
"I told him to make it a focus and go and see what he can do and show up at Spring Training ready to be a ballplayer, ready to play anywhere," Matheny said. "How do I see it [going]? I don't know. We'll just show up at Spring Training and watch him."
Carpenter's athleticism allowed him to pick up several positions last winter, when he worked at third base and in the outfield. The Cards stuck Carpenter at second base five times during the season but are eager to see how much his skill set can improve when he applies a narrowed focus to the position.
He has been encouraged to stay in touch with infield coach Jose Oquendo, who is likely to get together with Carpenter this offseason for some extra instruction.
Should Carpenter show a grasp of the position, he'll be a strong candidate for playing time at second. The Cardinals want to find a way to get his bat into the lineup, and there appears to be little opportunity for Carpenter to earn regular time at any of the corner infield or corner outfield spots, unless another starter gets injured.
The Cards have additional infield depth with Pete Kozma and Ryan Jackson, as well, and they will evaluate other external options over the winter. Similar to this past year, however, full clarity is unlikely before the start of Spring Training.