ST. LOUIS – Cardinals camp has been full of buzz and excitement in 2017, and with great reason. The Cardinals added on-base machine Dexter Fowler and bullpen arm Brett Cecil to an already talented roster. Workhorse starter Lance Lynn will return this season after missing all of 2016 in recovery from Tommy John Surgery. Jose Martinez has emerged as one of the organization’s elite young talents.
It’s fun to have a surplus of hot topics. After all, who doesn’t love a great storyline?
One of the hotter of those topics for the Cardinals this spring has been at the hot corner. Both Jedd Gyorko and Jhonny Peralta offer value and talent, but only one player can earn the starting role at third base. For St. Louis, the question this spring is who will it be?
The answer to that question? Not so simple.
By the numbers, Peralta provided the better of the defensive numbers at third base last season. In 67 games, he fielded 570 1/3 innings and logged a .976 fielding percentage, well above the .956 mark in Major League Baseball for 2016.
For Peralta, two factors come to mind: injury and age. The veteran will turn 35 years old this season, and the Cardinals dealt with his thumb issue late in 2016. The Cardinals will need consistency and reliability at every position, and thus, it would severely hurt Peralta to suffer any early setbacks, thumb or otherwise. Will Peralta stay healthy? Will he be a consistent hitter? Those are two overlying questions regarding the seasoned veteran.
Gyorko on the other hand only started 28 games at third base last year, accumulating just north of 270 innings while committing 3 errors. His fielding percentage was .962.
Gyorko played at each of the four infield spots last season in St. Louis, and did so previously for San Diego as well. Thus, Gyorko holds an advantage over counterpart Peralta based on his usefulness in multiple situations, whenever and wherever necessary.
Let’s not forget about the thump that Gyorko was able to provide last season post All-Star Break. Although he is less likely to produce similar power numbers in 2017, he can be a valuable bat on the bench and offer the Cardinals a very capable plug-in player in case of injury.
For Peralta, the list of defensive options is far less.
If the Cardinals are going to make the most of both players, it may ultimately make sense that Peralta gets the starting nod at third base. He offers the Cardinals experience at the position, and has demonstrated enough offensive production to remain competitive for an everyday role. While Gyorko certainly has every capability of producing both defensively and offensively, the Cardinals love Gyorko as a utility player, as they’ve shown.
Regardless, Gyorko isn’t just going to go quietly in the battle for starting time. Make no mistake…he’s competing.
Peralta will have to continue to do the same if he plans on retaining a starting role for the Cardinals at third base as he did for much of 2016.