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Cardinals

Bernie Bytes: A look at the Cardinals and Elvis Andrus

World Series Rangers Cardinals Baseball

Texas Rangers' Elvis Andrus stretches before Game 6 of baseball's World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals Thursday, Oct. 27, 2011, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

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Let's take a look at the latest buzz over the Cardinals' potential pursuit of a a starting shortstop:

The most interesting scuttlebutt comes from Texas.

Evan Grant, the longtime baseball beatwriter for the Dallas Morning News, wrote about the Rangers' glut of middle infielders and what it could mean to the offseason maneuvering.

“Between their roster and top tier of prospects, they have an abundance of middle infielders,” Grant wrote. “It’s all the stuff that goes around them — a catcher, a left fielder, a DH and perhaps a first baseman — that they are missing.”

The middle-infielders cited by Grant are shortstops Elvis Andrus and Jurickson Profar, second baseman Ian Kinsler, and highly regarded prospects Rougned Odor (yes, that's his name) and Luis Sardinas.

As Grant surmised, the Rangers would likely be less willing to move Profar, their talented cost-controlled youngster who won't impact the payroll for several more years. In theory the Rangers would be more motivated to deal Kinsler or Andrus.

Andrus will be paid $6.75 million in 2014; then his contract kicks up to $15 million annually from 2015 through 2018. Andrus can opt out after the 2018 or 2019 seasons. If he doesn't opt out, the total cost of the contract would come to $120 million over eight years beginning in 2015.

Kinsler has a guaranteed $62 million remaining coming to him over the next four seasons. The Cardinals aren't looking for second baseman, so Kinsler is irrelevant to a Rangers-Cardinals discussion. But if the Rangers want to address other needs, they'll likely have to make a move with Andrus or Kinsler.

“Trading one and plugging in Profar would create further payroll flexibility,” Grant wrote. “So that the Rangers could aggressively pursue multiple free agents, such as Nelson Cruz, Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury or Shin-Soo Choo for the outfield, catcher Brian McCann and a DH or first baseman. As it stands, the Rangers probably have the money to fill two holes, not four.”

The Rangers seem ready to make a deal if the right fit comes along. Speaking to reporters last week at the GM meetings, Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said:

“We have three guys (Profar, Andrus, Kinsler) at the major league level and two guys at Double-A (Odor and Sardinas). It would be irresponsible not to consider it. Will we ultimately make a deal? I really don’t know. Teams are getting the lay of the land, see what’s out there and make a decision.”

The Cardinals appear to be a workable fit for the Rangers in a deal involving Andrus or Profar. But for now, we'll confine the speculation to Andrus only because Texas is more likely to move him for the reason (payroll) we've already mentioned. And I think it's reasonable to assume that the Rangers would want more in a deal for Profar, who isn't costing them any real money. 

As for the Rangers and Cardinals doing business, Grant wrote:

“Andrus could headline a deal to St. Louis, which is looking for a shortstop. In an ideal world, it would net the Rangers a young pitcher and a young position player, perhaps even left-handed-hitting outfielder Oscar Taveras.”

Grant added, “If such a deal came along, the Rangers could potentially flip some of their newfound pitching depth for Baltimore catcher Matt Wieters. That could allow them to turn away from McCann and overwhelm Cruz with money as a DH and part-time outfielder and to add a first baseman or an outfield bat.”

Grant is on the right track here, though I doubt that the Cardinals would be willing to trade Taveras _ unless GM John Mozeliak has been fibbing about his organization's excitement over Taveras. (I don't believe Mozeliak is bluffing.) 

After all, Taveras is viewed as the No. 1 hitting prospect in baseball by many neutral evaluators who publish the prospect rankings. And unless Taveras is still physically compromised by the ankle injury that required surgery this past summer _ and there is no reason he should be _ Taveras will likely be the Cardinals' starter in center field or right field in 2014. (The latest: I'm told Taveras will be 100 percent by March.) 

And even if he doesn't start, Taveras figures to get a lot of at-bats in the big-league level in 2014. The Cardinals are losing Carlos Beltran to free agency. That's certain. And there will be plenty of playing time for Taveras next season and beyond.

Again, that's based on the premise that management has been telling the truth about Taveras. If Mozeliak is sincere in his gushing over Oscar, then why would they trade a potential elite hitter who will make very little money over the next six years? It's the same reason why the Rangers are seemingly reluctant to part with Profar.

The Rangers are said to have good young pitching on the way in their system, but they figure to have interest in a young starter who could help immediately.

After all, the Rangers were so in need of a starter this past season that they sent four prospects _two of whom were highly rated to the Cubs for Matt Garza on July 22. Garza, who is now a free agent, had a disappointing stay in Arlington, going 4-5 with a 4.38 ERA in 13 starts.

The 2013 Rangers ranked seventh in the AL in rotation ERA (3.99) and 11th in quality starts (77.)

The Cardinals obviously have several young starters that bring value and glossy appeal on the trade market. It depends on what the Rangers want. It depends on how the Cardinals view Andrus, a talented player and superb defensive shortstop who would intro a speed element to a slow St. Louis team. If Andrus opts out of his contract following the 2018 season, the Cardinals (or Rangers or any other team) will pay him an average of $13.35 million over the next five seasons.

That's a reasonable cost. Andrus, 25, already is a two-time All-Star who has 165 stolen bases in his career. Over the last five seasons his 16 wins above replacement rank third among MLB shortstops behind Troy Tulowitzki (23.9 WAR) and Hanley Ramirez (20 WAR.)

Though Andrus' offense was down some in 2013, he was still a top-10 shortstop at nearly 3 wins above relacement. 

In the sabermetric valuations, Andrus' performance was worth $18.7 million in 2011, $17.9 million in 2012 and $14 million in 2013.

There are cheaper alternatives out there _ which must be considered of course _ but Andrus does represent value for the dollars. And though he's played half his games at the hitter-happy ballpark in Arlington, Andrus actually has slightly better road splits during his career.

One question that may have to be addressed before the Rangers and Cardinals got serious: would St. Louis be willing to part with young slugger Matt Adams as part of an Andrus transaction? Or would the Cardinals be willing to trade Allen Craig's team-friendly contract? I ask only because the Rangers have made it known they're looking for a first baseman and/or designated hitter.

Would you trade Adams or Craig in a deal for Andrus?

And what if Texas agreed to absorb a chunk of Andrus' contract _ would that change your mind on what the Cardinals should or shouldn't give up? 

If so inclined, give us your opinion in the comments section. Thank you! 

Elsewhere on the Shortstop Watch: 

* Here's a look at the Andrus trade value, written from a Texas perspective. 

* Forgive me because this is a few days old, but CBS Sports baseball columnist Jon Heyman offered an assessment of the Cards' shortstop search. One follow-up note: not that the Cardinals had any interest in free-agent Brendan Ryan (they didn't) but he's agreed to terms with the Yankees. Even though the Yankees just signed Ryan to provide Derek Jeter injury insurance, Heyman claims they're still pursuing expensive free-agent shortstop Stephen Drew. Which is exactly what Drew's agent, Scott Boras, wants Heyman and potential Drew customers to believe. 

* Did the Cleveland Indians squander their chance to peddle shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera when he had better trade value? It looks like it, at least based on this view from Cleveland.

Wrote blogger Brian Heise: "Thanks to two less than spectacular seasons, the hope that the Indians could land a solid package for Cabrera may become nothing more than a pipe dream. Teams are going to be less likely to take on what could prove to be a one year rental of Asdrubal Cabrera not knowing what to expect from him either offensively or defensively. Now it looks as if the most likely and obvious scenario for moving Cabrera may be falling apart before it even had a chance to come to fruition."

* Should the Cardinals go all-out to acquire White Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez? Here's an emphatic "Yes" from blogger Chris Flanagan

I'll be back here soon with an update (of sorts) on another potential trade target for the Cardinas: Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy

From now on I think I will call the Bytes "My Daily Shortstop Obsession." 

:)

Thanks for reading...

-Bernie 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Bernie Miklasz is a sports columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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