In the midst of political topics and season-ending injuries, back on the diamond, a Spring Training position battle has only just begun.
In what is to be the only major position battle for the St. Louis Cardinals, Spring will decide whether the third baseman job will belong to 34-year-old Jhonny Peralta or 28-year-old Jedd Gyorko.
A case can be made for both players, but their respective arguments for winning the job are vastly different.
Last year, Gyorko came to the Cardinals in a trade with the Padres for Jon Jay. The initial thought was that he would be the utility player the club needed, but after a rash of injuries and a slumping Kolten Wong, Gyorko was pressed into action.
Gyorko led the team with 30 home runs, most of which came after the all-star break. Only Brian Dozier of the Minnesota Twins had more home runs in the second half of the season.
However, the Achilles heel of last year’s team was its defense. Gyorko played a total of 37 games at third base and had a .962 fielding percentage and committed three errors.
Meanwhile, a torn ligament in Peralta’s thumb derailed his season and as a result, was limited to 82 games last season, 67 of which were at third base. While not his best season statistically, he hit eight home runs to go along with 29 RBIs. Defensively, Peralta was better with a .976 fielding percentage while only committing four errors.
Primarily a shortstop, Peralta signed a four-year, 53 million dollar deal with the Cardinals, but moved to third base out of necessity with the emergence of Aledmys Diaz. Gyorko, on the other hand is in the midst of a five-year deal worth 35 million dollars.
Based strictly on financial investment, one would guess the Cardinals would ride a healthy Peralta. As Peralta embarks on his age 34 season and presumably becomes less productive offensively, can the Cardinals afford to hope Gyorko replicates his offensive output from a year ago and keep a 13 million dollar a year bat on the bench?
Spring Training will be very telling and the answer will become more clear as we inch towards Opening Day and a date with the Chicago Cubs.