Even though the St. Louis Cardinals haven't had a strong second baseman in years, it hasn't exactly slowed them down much. But when looking at their roster for the upcoming season, it's clear that the keystone is one weak spot in their offensive lineup.
At the moment, Daniel Descalso is penciled in as the starter. The Cardinals lineup has been strong enough over the years to win titles with the likes of Descalso, Skip Shumaker and David Eckstein in their regular lineup, and this year's lineup appears not to differ from that trend.
But that doesn't mean it's the best strategy.
Descalso is essentially a replacement player. In his two full major league seasons, his ability to be an average player is remarkably consistent, posting a WAR of 0.5 in each of the past two seasons. His most valuable asset is his ability to play every infield position, and that, coupled with his left-handed hitting, makes him a perfect asset off the bench. Only a few teams like the Cardinals, with a powerful lineup around him, can afford to play a player like Descalso every day.
But Descalso is only penciled in at the moment. Nobody is using ink just yet.
Competing for a job this spring will be Matt Carpenter, who is attempting to move up the defensive spectrum at the major league level (a difficult task) and learn second base in order for the Cardinals to get his bat in the lineup, and 2011 first rounder Kolten Wong, who is considered the team's second baseman of the future. The only question about Wong is when that future begins.
No one is suggesting that Carpenter is going to pick up second base and become a gold glover. The Cardinals simply want to see if he can handle it well enough to let him play there. Despite his reputation, defensive metrics don't rate Descalso's defense very highly, and there is a disparity of at least 1-2 wins between the bats of Descalso and Carpenter. If Carpenter can play second base without hurting himself, he should steal at least some of Descalso's at-bats.
Until Wong is ready.
Wong, the 22nd overall pick out of the University of Hawaii, is not a superstar in the making, but he does project to be a solid, and potentially above-average offensive second baseman who also grades out well with his glove. At his absolute worst, he could replicate Descalso's production, and despite not having played a game above Double-A, he could likely match Descalso's output this season, if he made their opening day roster.
But he won't.
Wong is headed to Triple-A to begin the 2013 season. How much time he spends there depends on his production in Memphis and whether or not Carpenter can handle the defensive responsibilities of second base. Descalso is what he is at this point, and we know what he's going to give the Cardinals this season. As soon as the Cardinals deem Wong ready, he'll be up in the majors taking Descalso's at-bats.