Originally posted on The Outside Corner  |  Last updated 3/7/13
This Cardinals team is strong. You'd expect that though, after the team went to the NLCS in 2012 despite losing Albert Pujols and Tony La Russa following their World Championship in 2011. They brought back a pretty similar team for 2013, really only losing Kyle Lohse and Lance Berkman from a year ago, along with Chris Carpenter's career being thrown into question due to continuing shoulder fatigue. So with as many sure things as the Cardinals have this year, finding an x-factor shouldn't be difficult. My x-factor for the St Louis Cardinals in 2013 is Pete Kozma. Kozma got a lot of attention for his play down the stretch in 2012 with the Cardinals after (surprise surprise!) Rafael Furcal got hurt. With Furcal undergoing Tommy John surgery that will likely end his season, the 24-year old Kozma is going to get every chance to beat out veteran Ronny Cedeno for the starting job at shortstop this spring. In 26 games last September, Kozma hit an unreal .333/.383/.569, thanks to a .415 BABIP and 30.9% line drive rate that caused eyes to bug out across the league. The projections for Kozma in 2013 are much more subdued though. ZiPS has him at .226/.284/.328. Oliver has him at .232/.294/.357. Bill James and Steamer both have him at similar slash lines, though in a fraction of the playing time as the other two projections. Is he even a one win player over a full season with that kind of triple slash and league average to slightly above average defense? Comparatively speaking, with a line like that, Kozma is no better than his competition at short, Cedeno. Last year with the Mets, Cedeno had a triple slash of .259/.332/.410. For his career, the 30-year old Cedeno has hit .247/.290/.357 along with playing roughly below average defense at short. If those are the two options for the Cardinals...why not go with the younger, cheaper Kozma, in hopes that maybe his unreal month of play in 2013 translates to something more than the pedestrian projectinos tied to his name. If Kozma is really nothing more than a warm body at short, St Louis will miss Furcal a lot, and could look to acquire another shortstop at the trade deadline or earlier. On the other hand, if Kozma is a roughly league average bat at short, St Louis will be in much better shape for the future, especially considering the low overall replacement level at short in the current state of the majors. Cardinals on TOC End of Season Postmortem 2013 Season Preview You May Say I'm a Dreamer 2013 Burning Question This Is My Nightmare 2013 X-Factor [follow]

This article first appeared on The Outside Corner and was syndicated with permission.

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