The 2013 St. Louis Cardinals were a complete team, with quality contributions coming from all areas, culminating in a division crown and a trip to the World Series. The Cards had very few weaknesses, but the most glaring of which was the shortstop position. The offensive production from Pete Kozma and Daniel Descalso was anemic and their defense was not enough to make up for it. As John Mozeliak and the Cardinals’ management looks for ways to improve the club in the offseason, an upgrade at shortstop is an inevitable solution.
The Cardinals seem unlikely to stick with Kozma and Descalso and hope for significant improvement. Descalso is best suited to be a utility player off the bench. Kozma, after an impressive finish to the 2012 season, regressed in 2013 even though he is only 25 years old. Kozma hit .217, including an abysmal .179 after the All-Star break. For a team trying to win a world championship, that kind of production from an everyday player is unacceptable. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, the free agent pool for shortstops is barren.
The Cardinals best chance to significantly improve at short is through a trade. They will have to part with prospects, possibly from multiple positions, but the club has a surplus of young talent, some of which they will be very willing to give up. A trade will only be worth it if they make a momentous upgrade, adding an impact player who cannot be found in free agency or on the farm.
So which shortstop should the Cardinals trade for? The initial thought was All-Star Troy Tulowitzki of the Rockies, but it seems unlikely that the Rockies would part with their franchise player. Some other considerations might be J.J. Hardy of the Orioles, Alexei Ramirez of the White Sox, or Elvis Andrus of the Rangers.
The Orioles might be willing to part with Hardy, who won both the Gold Glove and the Silver Slugger awards for the position in the American League, because they could move their young stud Manny Machado from third base to his natural position of short. But Hardy only has one year left on his contract and the Cardinals will be looking for more long term security if they are liquidating some of their future assets.
Ramirez, 32, is an interesting case for the White Sox, a team that will be looking to get younger. But Ramirez’s production has dipped over the last couple of years, so it may be difficult for the Cardinals to gauge his value.
Could Elvis Andrus and Matt Holliday be teammates next year? (Doug Pensinger/Getty Images North America)
Andrus is the most interesting possibility. Already a multi-time All-Star, Andrus is only 25 and his contract goes through the year 2022(!) with an option for 2023. Despite all of this, the Rangers might be looking to move him because they need to find room for their star prospect infielder, 21 year old Jurickson Profar. The Cardinals would likely be more willing than most other teams to take on the lengthy contract tagged to Andrus if they felt he could finally give them consistent production from the shortstop position. The Cardinals are loaded with trade chips, but a simple package of starting pitcher Lance Lynn, lefty reliever Sam Freeman, and outfielder and former first round pick James Ramsey could possibly be enough to entice the Rangers. More likely, with the market in the Rangers’ favor, the Cardinals will need to overwhelm them with an offer that might include the likes of pitchers Joe Kelly or Shelby Miller.
Whatever the final asking price for Andrus is, if it is reasonable the Cards should seriously consider it and not be afraid to pull the trigger. Shortstop has been a problem area for the Cards for many seasons and a player of Andrus’ caliber could put the team over the top in its search for another World Series.