PHILADELPHIA • It makes for a delicious discussion how a couple of annual contenders, the Cardinals and Texas Rangers, could fill present needs and fortify future lineups by swapping, straight up, two of baseball’s elite prospects.
The notion Cardinals standout Oscar Taveras and Texas’ Jurickson Profar — two familiar names with galactic potential — could be exchanged in the rarest of moves fits all the talking points of the juiciest trade rumor. It must be noted, though, who isn’t talking about it.
The two general managers have not.
They must know better.
“It makes all sorts of sense and there is no way to do it,” said an official with an American League team who has scouted both players but is not authorized to talk publicly about other clubs’ players. “The Cardinals need a shortstop. The Rangers need an outfielder. The answer is there for both for years to come. You just can’t do it. You can’t be the guy who is wrong if one works out and becomes a star as expected and the other doesn’t.
“Then you’re the new Brock-for-Broglio guy.”
Like any juicy trade rumor, hypothetical or actual, this one has big names, bigger potential — and the biggest risk. It links the top middle infield prospect in the minors with the Cardinals’ top prospect. Many consider Taveras to be the best hitting prospect in the game.
At its root, it’s a notion spawned from supply and demand. Texas just signed All-Star shortstop Elvis Andrus to $120-million extension that effectively blocks Profar from his highest-value position, all while the Rangers were known shoppers for an impact outfield hitter last winter.
The Cardinals want to open playing time for Matt Adams, but doing so would require moving Allen Craig to right field, thus filling the spot reserved for Taveras in 2014.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals entered the spring admitting they do not have a surefire shortstop in the system.
Each team has a talented prospect at a position in which the other needs help.
“I understand why people connect the shortstop-outfielder and on a low level find a way for that to help both teams,” Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said Friday. “But the reality is we have just gotten to the point we wanted with our farm system — with more elite talent back and set to contribute to the major-league club. I’m not in the mood to start breaking it up.”
Deal talk goes national
A water-cooler topic to pass time during spring training, the Profar-Taveras scenario gained amplification recently when former Washington general manager Jim Bowden mentioned it on his SiriusXM radio show to the two teams’ GMs.
When Mozeliak appeared on the show, Bowden asked if he would consider a straight swap, Profar for Taveras, prospect for prospect.
Mozeliak later said he was surprised by the question and relied on his usual answer for such inquiries, the one he’s given to local media countless times around the trade deadline.
His ear always is open to offers, no matter the name.
Bowden had Texas general manager Jon Daniels as a guest and asked him the same question. Daniels said then he would “artfully avoid the question.” The two general managers have not discussed the two players with each other, two sources confirmed.
“When you piece it together it does make sense for both sides,” Bowden said Thursday. “When you look at all the (prospect) rankings almost all of them have Profar ahead of Taveras. I personally have Taveras ahead of Profar.
“But it’s that close. That’s why it’s interesting to talk about. …
“I wouldn’t trade Taveras for Profar,” Bowden added. “But I would trade Profar for Taveras. That’s only personal opinion.”
The players have many similarities. Both are international signings. Taveras is from the Dominican Republic, Profar from Curacao.
Both arrived at spring training with a chance to make the major-league club or be there in the event of injury.
Profar, 20, has started his Class AAA season with a home run, a .265 average and a .432 on-base percentage through 10 games. In his first 10 games for Triple-A Memphis, Taveras, 20, has one home run to go with a .289 average and a .325 on-base percentage.
Profar, a switch-hitting shortstop, is a standout at a premium position. Taveras is a potential star at a premium position, too — middle-order power.
A scout with an AL team said of Profar there is “not a hole in his game.”
Baseball America named him the No. 1 prospect overall. Scouts see Taveras as a lefthanded bat without a hole in his swing. He’s No. 3.
“They are both a once-every-five-years, once-every-decade type talent,” said an AL club executive who is familiar with both players. “There is a buzz that comes with a player like that especially when he’s close to reaching the majors. They’re both as impact players as you can get. … That’s why it’s tough to trade them. If Profar becomes a superstar (with the Cardinals), then everybody says you traded for him. If Taveras does, it’s because he’s theirs.”
Neither player is as blocked as it appears, either. Andrus has an opt-out four years into the new deal, in 2018. The Rangers could also elect to play Profar at second and shift All-Star Ian Kinsler. Or, Profar could be packaged in a more traditional trade for a proven outfielder.
The Cardinals could fit all of their power bats into the lineup by 2014 if Taveras continues to improve in center. Mozeliak made the point Friday that he’s open to Pete Kozma proving he can be the needed shortstop.
Mozeliak repeatedly has called Taveras the Cardinals’ finest hitting prospect since Albert Pujols.
At 20, he would be a junior in college. At 20, he’s in Triple-A and would be in the majors for several clubs. He’s the kind of hitter a club covets in the middle of the order and does not often let go, not in his prime.
“Would not trade Taveras for two Profars,” said an NL scout who has evaluated both.
DEAL WOULD BE UNUSUAL
Add into the conversation that top prospect deals are rare.
This past winter, Kansas City shipped Wil Myers to Tampa Bay for a package that included solid starter James Shields. Myers, ranked right alongside Taveras and Profar as the top position prospects in baseball, was only the second top-10 prospect since 1990 traded before making his big-league debut with the team that signed or drafted him.
According to research done at Baseball Prospectus, the only other one was Brad Penny.
Penny and Myers both brought a major-leaguer in return. Profar made his major-league debut last year with the Rangers. Barring injury, Taveras will make his with the Cardinals this season.
Even if the talent equivalency is there in the eyes of officials, history is not on the side of a trade.
And then there just the internal truth shared by two officials with teams outside of the picture and agreed to by Mozeliak when asked.
Teams often just like their own prospects better.
“For us, when it comes to any deal, we owe it to the organization to be open to considering it — could it help us in the short term and in the long term?” Mozeliak asked. “That’s true regardless of the position or the name. The idea is always to find ways to improve the organization.”
It will take a move for Mozeliak to do that.
But it won’t be trading Taveras.
Some day, it will be promoting him.