Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak has admitted Brendan Ryan’s job at shortstop is not safe. The organization has doubts that he can bounce back at the plate, and it is looking for options.
Miguel Tejada and Juan Uribe have been hot names because they can play both shortstop and third base. And they can hit a little bit too. Dan Uggla was on the radar for a second until the Braves snatched him up in a trade. So, who are the other names in the Cardinals hat?
Perhaps the most intriguing is Japanese shortstop Tsuyoshi Nishioka. Nishioka is now eligible for the major leagues after being posted Thursday by his Japanese club Lotte Marines. The Cardinals are certainly interested. But so, it seems, is the rest of Major League Baseball. A quick Internet search on his name links him to the Dodgers, Mariners, Giants, Orioles, and well, you get the point.
Though many teams may not have great interest, everyone wants to know what this kid is about. And a whole lot of teams could use middle infield help. Perhaps none more so than St. Louis.
The middle infield was a huge part of the Cards struggles this past summer. Brendan Ryan hit .223 and Skip Schumaker’s .265 wasn’t much better. Neither have power, so their job is to set the table for the big bats. With those batting averages, we all know the table was bare by the time Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday came to the plate.
Though, I have defended Ryan and think he deserves another chance, it can’t hurt to have some options. What Ryan brings to the team defensively can’t be replaced. It’s easy to lose sight of that when a guy’s hitting .223, but after a small struggle early he was arguably the best shortstop in the game. Because of that, his value is still high.
If the Cards decide he no longer fits in the organization’s plans, Nishioka could be an interesting replacement. Despite being projected as a second baseman in the major leagues, I think he could play shortstop. According to FanGraphs, Nishioka has great range, but a below average arm for a shortstop. He made the most errors (19) in the league but no one got to more balls than he did. Nishioka led the league in assists (440) and putouts (222). Bobby Valentine, who managed him in Japan, said he could develop into a Gold Glove candidate.
If he has the range and glove to play shortstop, then he’s a shortstop. It’s easy to get caught up in the physical tools, but sometimes you just have to watch someone play. Ozzie Smith never had a gun, but he was the greatest shortstop of all-time because of his range, soft hands, and quick release.
Plenty of teams have seen him play on tape and I’m sure in person. They’ll have to make that decision when he signs. If the Cards want a shortstop and they like this kid’s potential, then it’s worth a look.
Nishioka hit .346 last season, so he could be an improvement offensively.
But for every Ichiro, there’s a Kosuke Fukudome underachieving in the majors. It’s hard to project Japanese stars’ success. There’s always a risk involved. The question now is do the Cardinals need a shortstop bad enough to take a risk or will they play it safe and sign a veteran to fill a need?