General Manager John Mozeliak on Monday tempered any hopes of Rafael Furcal or Lance Berkman returning this season. Furcal hasn’t thrown since suffering his right arm injury, and the Cards are hesitant to use him even in a pinch hit or pinch run role. Meanwhile, Berkman hasn’t taken any swings since his second knee surgery of the season. Such signs weren’t encouraging to begin with, but Mozeliak acknowledging Furcal’s losing race against time and Berkman admitting that his return will be unlikely only confirm the suspicions that the Cards will be without both veterans in the last week of the regular season and the playoffs if they get there.
Berkman has hit .303 with 59 homers, 202 RBIs, and a .412 OBP over 331 career games in September and October, including a .317 postseason average. While those numbers are impressive and Berkman has proven himself as a clutch and valuable switch-hitter in the middle of the order over his 14-year career, his loss is not as drastic as it could be. Fortunately for the Cardinals, Allen Craig has broken out this season, more than making up for Berkman’s missing production at first base. However, the Cards’ one concern should be about missing Berkman’s glove. Berkman was never the most mobile or quickest of foot, but he at least had significant experience at first, having played 761 games there. While it’s not Craig’s fault that he had been been asked to play multiple positions throughout his career up until this season, it cannot be ignored that he has only played 91 games as a first baseman in his career while posting -1.4 wins above replacement there over 84 games this season.
With that said, the bigger loss here is Furcal. As Craig provides solid cover for Berkman at first, the Cardinals have almost the exact opposite at the shortstop position. In his career in the months of September and October, Furcal posted a .287 average with 55 steals while scoring 143 runs and recording 249 hits in 220 games played. In those months, Furcal also posted a .343 OBP and a .431 slugging percentage, so it would be a difficult task to replace him regardless of who was doing the replacing. However, replacing Furcal is even harder when the options are Daniel Descalso and Pete Kozma who are disappointing and extremely inexperienced, respectively. Descalso has struggled at the plate and with the glove at short this season, hitting just .237 with 0 homers, 4 RBIs, and a .298 OBP in 76 at bats while committing eight errors at short in just 26 games, and posting a UZR projected over a full season of -12.2 runs saved. Kozma is a 24-year-old middle infielder who was a top-10 prospect in the Cardinals’ farm system as recently as 2009. However, Kozma has not hit higher than .232 and has not posted an OBP higher than .292 in two seasons at triple-A, meaning that his .294 average thus far in his 19 games played at the big league level is realistically going to come down.
Furcal and Berkman are both respected, valuable veterans in the field and at the dish, which means that Mozeliak’s news is unfortunate for the Cards as they enter the last week of the 2012 season. Kozma and Craig don’t need to be Furcal and Berkman — the Cardinals are just hoping that they don’t get injured too.