Alternatives in short supply as Cards weigh options

Peralta's injury opens door for in-house candidates with few outside choices

March 8th, 2016

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- At some point this week, Jhonny Peralta will receive a second opinion on his injured left thumb and the Cardinals will learn just how deep into the season they'll likely be before the veteran shortstop returns.

But with early indications being that Peralta will need surgery and at least two-to-three months to heal a torn thumb ligament, the Cardinals have already begun to identify potential replacements.

Those include internal candidates Jedd Gyorko, Aledmys Diaz and Greg Garcia, each of whom will continue to get time at short this spring. Diaz made an quick statement, too, going 4-for-4 with two doubles and a pair of RBI singles in Tuesday's 5-3 win over the Twins.

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"We're just happy for him that he had a big day today when there is obvious more attention put on him and the position right now," manager Mike Matheny said. "I think that's an asterisk next to it that it wasn't just another Spring Training game. This was a day when he was put on the spot and we watched how he responded. I thought that was better than just 4-for-4 and driving some runs in."

Diaz, who had been hitless in his last nine at-bats entering Tuesday's game, said he's trying not to get too wrapped up in circumstances and a possible push for an Opening Day roster spot.

"I don't want to think too much about that," Diaz said. "I just want to play and be ready for when the time comes. I don't want to start thinking about, 'OK, is this my time?' I'm just focusing on being healthy and working hard in the field to help my team win. If they give me an opportunity, I will be ready for that."

However, general manager John Mozeliak has already indicated that having internal options won't necessarily stop him from searching for help elsewhere.

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The question is whether there are more intriguing options to be found outside the organization. Ian Desmond could have been an ideal fit, but his extended free-agency foray ended a week ago when he signed a one-year deal with the Rangers. That leaves the free-agent market exceptionally thin, with Everth Cabrera the most accomplished shortstop remaining on the list.

There's a reason he's still there, too. Cabrera hasn't started more than 95 games in any of the last three seasons, and he hit .208/.250/.229 in 29 games with the Orioles last year.

The trade market may present more appealing shortstop options, though that market usually picks up momentum later this month as regular-season roster spots begin to be filled. Perhaps the Braves, who are in the process of rebuilding their Major League club, would entertain listening to offers for Erick Aybar, a soon-to-be free agent. Other clubs may find themselves with a shortstop surplus, a spot the Mets -- with Asdrubal Cabrera, Wilmer Flores and Ruben Tejada -- are already in.

Whether the Cardinals seriously pursue an external placeholder will depend on what they see in their own camp over the next three-plus weeks.

The Cardinals acquired Gyorko in a December swap with the Padres to be a utility infielder, though the expectation was that he would start sparingly at shortstop. While confident that Gyorko could help offset Peralta's offensive output, the Cardinals still have questions about how well he can handle the position defensively.

Gyorko has made 28 career starts at short, all last year.

"It's hard for me to make a summary on Jedd without having enough looks at him," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "We understand that he's an offensive weapon, is a guy who has big upside offensively. Defensively, he catches the ball. We know that about him. We just haven't seen it at shortstop. There are just things we need to see for ourselves."

Garcia, who has been in the organization since 2010, is more of a known quantity. He had notable pinch-hitting success with the Cardinals last season and has started 308 Minor League games at short. But there seems to be some hesitancy from the organization about utilizing him as an everyday player, something that became evident last season when the club kept him in the Minors even when it needed a better backup shortstop in St. Louis.

As for Diaz, the decision will likely come down to if he's ready for the jump in levels. He is the strongest defensive shortstop of the three internal candidates but has also played just 14 games above Double-A.

"Sometimes the worst thing you can do for a kid is [call him up] if he's not ready," Matheny said. "We still have to wait and see. But I know as an organization, we're going to continue to watch him and also watch everybody else we have and also wait to hear what our other final news is [on Peralta] and if we have to go get our eyes on somebody outside the organization."