ST. LOUIS -- This is the third installment in a six-part Around the Horn series that will take a position-by-position look at the Cardinals' projected starters and backup options heading into Spring Training. After previously looking at the club's catching depth and corner infield options, let's examine the middle infield
ST. LOUIS -- This is the third installment in a six-part Around the Horn series that will take a position-by-position look at the Cardinals' projected starters and backup options heading into Spring Training. After previously looking at the club's catching depth and corner infield options, let's examine the middle infield choices next.
During their offseason assessment of how a 100-win season abruptly ended in October, the Cardinals cited a few factors, one of which was fatigue. Few could argue that the push to hold off the pursuant Pirates and Cubs during the regular season left the club with little remaining come October.
That honest evaluation was especially relevant with the skidding finishes by Jhonny Peralta and Kolten Wong, the team's two starting middle infielders. Peralta's first-half production -- a .298/.355/.473 slash line, 13 home runs, 33 extra-base hits and 46 RBIs -- earned him a spot on the All-Star team and made him a key cog in an oftentimes lagging offense.
Wong had a strong case for All-Star inclusion, as well, and even though he wasn't chosen, his first-half slash line of .280/.343/.434 was enough to pull him to the top of the lineup for some time.
But with Pete Kozma offering nothing offensively and Greg Garcia being shuttled between the Minors and the Majors, the Cardinals had unappealing backup options. That led the team, even against its own best judgment, to ride both Peralta and Wong hard all year. And that workload exhausted both in a detrimental way.
Peralta and Wong combined to hit .241 with six homers and 25 extra-base hits after the All-Star break.
"I knew it was going to be a tough season, but I never knew how long it was to play a full season," Wong said of his first full season in the Majors. "[The past two seasons] really taught me a lot and showed me that I needed to do certain things to really keep myself fresh and finish the season off strong and stay consistent the whole season."
The Cardinals believe they can assist, too, by providing more frequent days off for the maturing Wong and the aging Peralta, who turns 34 in May. With this identified as a priority, the club targeted middle infield depth early this offseason, leading to the acquisition of Padres utility man Jedd Gyorko.
Gyorko represents a right-handed complement to the left-handed hitting Wong, and he brings an element of pop unique for a utility infielder. Though Gyorko's up-and-down 2015 season included a demotion to Triple-A, the Cardinals are confident that getting him out of spacious PETCO Park can only augment his offensive profile.
He'll serve not only as Wong's primary backup at second, but also as another option at third, first and short.
"Whenever the opportunities come, I'm not sure where they're going to be yet, but when they present themselves I'm going to be ready," Gyorko said. "It sounds like I'm going to be moving around a little bit, which is fine. Any way to get on the field, any way to help the team is great."
Gyorko's lack of experience at short -- he's started just 28 games there over his three-year Major League career -- makes it likely the Cardinals will also retain another backup middle infielder on their 25-man roster.
Garcia, who was called up three different times in 2015, will enter Spring Training as a favorite to win that job. He thrived as a pinch-hitter, going 9-for-26 in the role, and he's serviceable enough at short to serve as insurance behind Peralta.
Infielders Dean Anna and Aledmys Diaz also made the club's 40-man roster. Diaz, 25, brings the most upside of the two, but after two injury-plagued seasons, he'll need to prove himself in Triple-A before getting consideration for a big league roster spot.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB, like her Facebook page Jenifer Langosch for Cardinals.com and listen to her podcast.