The Texas Rangers have two good middle infielders, so the best prospect in baseball is starting the season in Triple-A. The St. Louis Cardinals have three good outfielders, so the second best prospect in baseball is starting the season in Triple-A. The Cardinals one glaring weakness is at shortstop. The Rangers spent all winter trying to trade for a young power hitting outfielder, only to fall short at the end.
So, naturally, there’s seemingly constant speculation about a possible trade between the two franchises. This speculation got pushed to the forefront on Tuesday, when Cardinals GM John Mozeliak was asked about the idea by Jim Bowden:
Mozeliak Cards GM just told us on Sirius 209/XM 89that if Jon Daniels calls him & offers him Profar for Tavares he would think about it
— JIM BOWDEN (@JimBowdenESPNxm) April 1, 2013
Mozeliak’s comment essentially boils down to “yes, I’d consider acquiring a 20-year-old potential superstar shortstop if I had the chance”, which, well, of course he would. There’s nothing there to suggest that the deal has been actually discussed by either organization, or that this hypothetical trade has any chance of happening. Even with Elvis Andrus signing his long term extension today, the Rangers still have plenty of options to keep Profar, and the Cardinals have other shortstop options that won’t require them to give up Taveras.
There’s a reason the #1 prospect in baseball — per Baseball America’s rankings, anyway — has never been traded in the season that he was considered be the best overall prospect in the game. A swap of the #1 and #2 prospects — technically, BA rated Taveras #3 this year, but given that Dylan Bundy is starting the season on the DL with elbow issues, we’ll just give them credit for flipping those two to better account for pitcher attrition — would be historically unique. It’s probably not going to happen. But, let’s just say it was on the table… does either side say no?
It’s a fascinating thought mostly because the two players are so different. Profar is an outstanding prospect, but he’s partially an outstanding prospect because he’s got a very high floor. As a shortstop who can handle the bat, hit for some power, run the bases, and has shown a willingness to draw a walk, there’s not a lot of bust potential here. He’s an extremely safe bet as far as prospects go.
Taveras, on the other hand, is a bit more of a boom or bust guy, because his value is likely to be tied almost entirely to how well he hits. If the bat is for real, he’s Vladimir Guerrero. If the aggressiveness is more of a problem than is being accounted for, then he’s Delmon Young. The spread of outcomes with Taveras is simply larger than with Profar because everything is tied to how well his bat develops, but you could argue that the upside might be larger as well, especially with the way the market pays for power.
In general, I think it pays to be a bit more risk averse with premium prospects, as I’d rather have a 70% chance at a +4 win player than a 55% chance at a +5 win player. I know some others prefer to go the other direction, valuing upside above all else, with less consideration for the likelihood of getting there, so whether you prefer Profar or Taveras might just depend on your personal risk profile.
But, for the Cardinals and Rangers, this completely hypothetical decision has to go beyond simply projecting each player’s future in a vacuum. These rumors essentially sprang up from each team’s current roster construction, and while you don’t want to give up on a franchise talent to patch a short-term problem, there are real efficiency of asset issues involved for each franchise. And probably even more so for the Cardinals.
Oscar Taveras is an exciting prospect, but odds are that he’s not going to make a major contribution to the Cardinals this season. It’s not that he couldn’t perform if called upon, but he’s simply not going to beat out Matt Holliday or Carlos Beltran for a starting job this season. They’re too good to take a back seat to a 20-year-old. Beltran’s durability problems mean that Taveras could end up getting some playing time this summer, but come October, there’s just not a spot in the line-up for him. And this Cardinals team is built to win now. Beltran is 36. Holliday is 33. Yadier Molina is 30 and has carried a heavy workload behind the plate for a decade now. The Cardinals have some good young supporting players, but a marginal win to this team now is worth significantly more than it is in the future.
Jurickson Profar would be a significant step up for the Cardinals right now. The Pete Kozma/Daniel Descalso platoon is projected for about +1 WAR over the entire season, while Profar’s projected to be a +3ish win player all by himself. Slotting Profar in at shortstop could be the difference between a playoff berth and sitting at home in October. Taveras, for all his offensive prowess, will not have the same impact this season.
Even if you think Taveras is the better prospect, and you prefer upside to a higher floor, Profar is probably the better fit for St. Louis simply due to the discount you’d have to put on when the value would be produced. Or, to think of it another way — if the Carindals already had Jurickson Profar playing shortstop, would they even think about trading him for an outfield prospect that they couldn’t fit onto their 2013 roster? You almost never see teams in St. Louis’ position trading present value for future value, and for good reason. If the players were flipped, I don’t see any way St. Louis even considers this deal, simply due to the construction of their roster at the moment.
So, yes, John Mozeliak would have to consider dealing Oscar Taveras for Jurickson Profar if that was on the table, because even if the Cardinals have an internal valuation on Taveras that places him ahead of Profar — or if they simply trust their evaluation of their own player over that of one in another organization — they simply need a shortstop more than they need an outfielder, and they should be willing to trade some future upside for some present performance. In fact, I think you could make a pretty good case that the Cardinals should be willing to offer Taveras and something else for Profar, even if they don’t see Profar as the significantly better prospect.
For the Rangers, the calculation is perhaps even more difficult, because it’s not just a production issue, but a personality issue. If they keep Profar, it necessitates Ian Kinsler changing positions at some point. Over the winter, he resisted a move to first base when it was brought up. The Rangers have just gone through a bad experience pushing a veteran out of a middle infield spot for a younger player, and probably aren’t in a hurry to sign up for that kind of public circus again. So, from their perspective, trading Profar for a similarly valuable outfielder might help them avoid an unwanted conflict.
And, while the devaluation of a player moving down the defensive spectrum is often overstated, it is true that Profar will be somewhat less valuable as a second baseman than as a shortstop, and Kinsler would be somewhat less valuable as a first baseman than as a second baseman. In terms of simply maximizing individual player value, a trade is preferable shifting players to positions they are overqualified to play. Of course, the Rangers should be interested in maximizing their team’s overall value and not in simply playing each player at the spot that makes them their most valuable. If they’re a better team with Profar in the line-up than Mitch Moreland, that’s still an upgrade, even if Profar is less of an upgrade for Texas than he would be for St. Louis.
The Rangers, though, are in a similar position to the Cardinals on the win curve, and should also be prioritizing present value wins over future roster efficiency. Taveras probably isn’t going to push Nelson Cruz to the bench either, and you may run into the same problems trying to turn him into a first baseman mid-season that you’d have trying to convert Kinsler, especially since Cruz is a free agent to be and probably doesn’t want to increase the perception that he’s a defensive liability. So, while Profar is a great fit for St. Louis, Taveras is a little less of a great fit for Texas at the moment, though he’d be a perfect fit to slide into right field when Cruz departs next season. And Taveras is good enough to potentially push Cruz out of the way this year, while that’s not going to happen with Profar and Kinsler.
And, finally, there’s the elephant in the room that has to be at least mentioned — Giancarlo Stanton. If the Rangers would consider trading Profar for a power hitting outfielder, perhaps they’re better off waiting for the Marlins t put Stanton on the market than they are making a move now and putting themselves in a worse position to be the team that lands Stanton whenever he is eventually moved. While they could always turn around and offer Taveras later if Stanton became available this winter, there’s a bit of a stigma attached to offering up a guy you just traded for, and the Marlins might wonder why two different organizations were willing to trade him in the first place. Toss in the scarcity of shortstops, and keeping Profar probably puts them in a better position to win the Stanton lottery, whenever that occurs.
So, where does that leave us? There are some legitimate reasons for Texas to consider swapping Profar for Taveras, but they also have some real reasons not to do so. St. Louis’ incentives almost all point towards Profar as the better fit for their organization. While there might not be a massive gap between them in terms of future value, it seems like St. Louis would have to include something additional to make Texas give up their young shortstop.
Taveras for Profar works for St. Louis. I’m not sure it works for Texas as well, and once you start getting into Taveras and something, it’s going to be even tougher for the Cardinals to pull the trigger. Which is why I don’t think this trade ever even gets serious consideration. Mozeliak’s public admission of consideration aside, my guess is that this never gets past the thought experiment stage. The Rangers love Profar, the Carindals love Taveras, and neither side is itching to give up their crown jewel.e
Even if it would be one of the most fun trades in baseball history.