St. Louis Cardinals' middle infield will be a Hot Stove League priority

Help us, Kelly Johnson. You, unfortunately, are our only hope. - J. Meric

The Hot Stove League begins unfortunately early for the St. Louis Cardinals, after their NLCS loss, but at least now we get to talk about... Kelly Johnson.

The St. Louis Cardinals were not supposed to be going for the Hot Stove League pennant this week—not after going up 3-1 in the NLCS against the San Francisco Giants. Things didn't go as planned for the Cardinals, World Series-wise, though, and now we find ourselves with an extra week of offseason with which to ruminate on what ails this team ahead of 2013. First on the agenda, now that the bloom is off Pete Kozma: The middle infield.

The Cardinals have Rafael Furcal back for the back half of his contract, which means that their opening day infield is likely to be better than the one they just took to the NLCS. But it's hard to count on Furcal, who slumped down the stretch before going down for good after 121 games, considering his recent past. Which leaves the Cardinals with Daniel Descalso and a series of not-great options at shortstop—Kozma, the steadier-fielding Ryan Jackson, and then Descalso himself, if Skip Schumaker were to somehow win the starting second base job back.

The free-agent pickings are slim, especially for the Cardinals, who seem unlikely to add payroll. The official SB Nation St. Louis reclamation project: 2B Kelly Johnson, who hit .225/.313/.365 last year and is now two seasons removed from his 26-homer season in Arizona. Johnson's declining bat and average glove would be downers for most teams, but the Cardinals, coming off a .227/.303/.324 season from Daniel Descalso, will need to take on some risk in the hopes of improving at their weakest offensive position.

All that's pretty boring, but at this point it's just hard to imagine the Cardinals going much bigger than that, even with Kyle Lohse and Lance Berkman's salaries off the books. Of course, that hasn't stopped gameplanning an Elvis Andrus trade from rapidly becoming Viva El Birdos commenters' favorite topic.

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