JUPITER, Fla. -- Well aware that this was always a plausible outcome, the Cardinals are now stung with the reality that they will get no help from shortstop Rafael Furcal this season.
A day after Furcal sought Dr. James Andrews' opinion on his ailing right elbow, the organization announced that Furcal will undergo Tommy John surgery next week. With an expected six-to-eight month recovery following the procedure, Furcal is unlikely to play in 2013.
"You know for me, especially myself and my family, it's very disappointing," Furcal said on Thursday. "I worked so hard in the offseason to get everything straight, I was working hard with the doctors and the trainers and doing anything I could do to be ready for Spring Training and be ready for the season. It's tough for me to say that I'm going to lose the whole year. For me, I feel like I don't know where my mind is right now. I can't describe it. It's a tough situation for me."
Furcal's removal from the roster picture leaves Pete Kozma in line to assume the starting shortstop duties. The Cardinals also have Ronny Cedeno available as a backup option, but they seem inclined to give the first try to Kozma, who shined when he replaced Furcal at the position late last season.
"There's no doubt given what Kozma did for us in the last six weeks of the season last year, we do have a high level of confidence that he can continue to add that energy and be that type of player that we saw last year," general manager John Mozeliak said.
Despite plenty of questions from outside, the Cardinals stand behind Furcal and the decision made last fall not to address a Grade 2 ligament tear with surgery. After suffering the injury on Aug. 30, Furcal was advised by Cardinals head physician Dr. George Paletta to begin a one-month process of rest and rehab before being reevaluated.
Furcal followed that program, and when he was reexamined in October, it was deemed that surgery still wasn't the preferred course of action. Thus, Furcal was put on an offseason program of more rest and more rehab.
"My understanding was no surgeon felt like surgery was the first choice in this case," Mozeliak said. "So I know there has been a lot written and a lot of second-guessing that he should have had the surgery back in August or October. Again, nobody told us that was the right choice. I think the conservative approach made sense. Unfortunately, it didn't work."
For several months, though, the organization believed the approach was working. Follow-up exams on Furcal's elbow showed the ligament to be healing. The Cardinals received encouraging progress reports from the shortstop over the winter, and twice sent someone to visit Furcal personally.
Through it all, there were no obvious red flags.
Hoping that Furcal would be on the field in 2013 did not, though, preclude the Cardinals from looking around this winter for additional insurance. But with an underwhelming middle-infield free-agent market and an inability to guarantee playing time, the Cardinals didn't see many alternatives that they deemed a significant upgrade over Kozma.
"We did think this was possible. We hadn't ruled it out," Mozeliak said. "When I think about it, there was nothing that was screaming to go chase in the trade market, free-agent market. But we were open. In the end, it comes down to being confident with what we have."
When Furcal arrived at Spring Training, he was immediately put on a limited throwing program. Still, there was reserved optimism throughout the organization that he'd have time to build up by April.
Signs that things were going awry, however, crept up almost immediately. Discomfort, which was attributed to a bone spur, forced Furcal to stop throwing and halt hitting from the left side. Then, after taking swings in a "B" game last Thursday, the pain pushed Furcal to a point where he had to shut down.
"When I came here the first couple days, I was feeling pretty good, and then I started taking infield and making long throws and it was still bothering me, so some people told me not to [keep going]," Furcal said. "When I started throwing, I could feel like I couldn't do it. I couldn't even put my hand on my head. I felt a little pinch way inside."
An MRI taken last Friday indicated an inflamed ligament. Dr. Andrews also identified a slight tear, which he told Furcal could be addressed in one of two ways. He could attempt the rest/rehab program again but with no guarantees of long-term stability in the ligament, or he could have surgery.
The latter was the one Dr. Andrews recommended if Furcal, 35, hoped to extend his playing career. Furcal said on Thursday that is very much his intention and thus he felt he needed to take the surgical route.
"I think it's not the end of my career," Furcal said. "I want to get this done right now and be ready for next year and see what happens."
The question for Furcal then becomes where he'll have a future. The two-year, $14 million deal he signed with the Cardinals is over at the end of this season, and given Furcal's growing injury history, the Cardinals are not expected to explore a subsequent reunion.
Assuming Furcal has wrapped up his career in a Cardinals uniform, the shortstop will leave the organization with a World Series ring and about a year's worth of contributions. He appeared in 50 games after a 2011 Trade Deadline deal sent him to St. Louis. Furcal made another 116 starts in 2012 before his season ended prematurely.
Hitting mostly from the leadoff spot, Furcal hit a combined .262 and scored 98 runs.
"I feel for him, just knowing that it's not something he wanted to obviously go through," manager Mike Matheny said. "He tried to do everything he could to stay away from this alternative, but now we just hope everything goes well and he can get back as quick as he can."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.