The Rangers have been going after numerous players and falling short, being unable to appease the Diamondbacks’ demands for Justin Upton, then missing on free agents Zack Greinke and Josh Hamilton. The Cardinals have made few moves also, but more due to planning to stand pat, so as to hold on to both prospects and current players. However, there are still areas for improvement there.
The two might be able to help each other make major upgrades, if they’re both willing to gamble. The Cardinals only major hole in the line-up is the middle infield (between an oft-injured Rafael Furcal and a cast of call-ups), while the Rangers have two shortstops and a second baseman. Could the two match-up?
The major idea is for the Cardinals to target Elvis Andrus. That’s a big goal, but if any team had the depth to pull it off, it would be the Cardinals. Andrus is one of the top prospects in the game, and still just entering his age-24 season. Not only that, but he’s still under team control for two more years. Such a player would command quite the haul; could the Cardinals pull it off?
I think so; it might require offering blue-chip prospect Oscar Taveras, though. As a 20-year old in AA last year, the center fielder batted .321/.380/.572 with 23 home runs. There is a major issue with this offer though; Taveras might not be ready to jump straight to the majors, and with the Rangers still in contention, they might want more direct compensation. However, the Cardinals are already offering six-plus years of a potential star for two less cost controlled years of a star. Which means this could quickly morph into a complicated deal as the two sides try to strike a balance.
Would a pitcher be enough to get the deal done? The Rangers will start the year with Neftali Feliz and Colby Lewis on the DL. The Cardinals, meanwhile, go in with a surplus of starters (Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, Jake Westbrook, Lance Lynn, Jaime Garcia, Shelby Miller, Joe Kelly, and Trevor Rosenthal will all likely be fighting for starts). Wainwright and Carpenter would likely be off limits as the Cards’ 1-2 starters, but that still leaves a lot to pick from. Jake Westbrook is a free agent after this season (meaning no long term commitments), a decent number four starter, and a groundball pitcher, which should translate well to Arlington.
Miller and Rosenthal carry upside, and are major-league ready, but are unproven. Garcia, Kelly, or Lynn are all under contract longer (although Garcia carries an injury risk). In either case, the Rangers would likely have to chip in something else (another player of varying quality, a decent prospect of their own). Matt Carpenter is a young corner player if the Rangers are looking for offense, but he too would likely require a bigger return.
There are two variations of this I could see. First, the Rangers could decide to keep surer-thing Andrus and instead look to deal 19-year old Jurickson Profar. Profar is widely seen as the top prospect in the game. A prospect-for-prospect swap would not be out of the question; however, the Cardinals would likely need to deal two-to-three top prospects (I would guess Taveras and Miller and then some). That one seems even bigger.
Alternatively, they could shoot lower and try for second baseman Ian Kinsler. Kinsler, however, is 30 and saw his numbers take a dive last year. It would mean a lower asking price and a chance of a bounce-back. The bigger problem is that, with Kinsler’s down 2012, it’ll be much harder for the two teams to agree on what he’s worth, especially since he’s signed through 2017 (with an option for 2018) at $96.5 million.
So Andrus-for-Taveras (or, long shot, another top prospect) looks like the simplest route. Just at that, it would be two years at slightly below-average pay of an All-Star for six or so cost-controlled years of a top prospect who may be anything from just good to MVP-good. The Cardinals would almost certainly need to chip in something else-possibly a pitcher-and the Rangers would probably need to return another player to even the two sides out. What, exactly, depends on what player is included with Taveras, which will in part depend on how close Taveras is to the majors. Including, say, Lance Lynn (five years of a number three-type pitcher) would necessitate more than Westbrook (one year of a number four-type starter).
At the most basic, though, this looks like an interesting starting framework for a blockbuster.