[Azru: I thought this was an interesting article that other prospect mavens would enjoy as much as I did. I think the trade packages are light as currently proposed but I'll let others weigh in on that. Good stuff, strider!]
I want to argue here for an approach toward the shortstop position that focuses on bolstering our shortstop depth in the middle level of the farm system, and that #14 overall prospect Francisco Lindor of the Cleveland Indians organization may be a viable and worthwhile target.
As the season develops, there are several factors emerging that should cause some reconsideration in how the Cardinals could improve the shortstop position. In many ways, the Cardinals have more offense than they know what to do with, and prospects like Matt Adams and Shelby Miller are decisively demonstrating why we shouldn't be quick to trade them off. Additionally, Pete Kozma has successfully avoided living down to the standard everyone has reserved for him. These combined factors make it much less pressing to immediately (and expensively) improve the shortstop position. Nevertheless, there is a crowd that still cries for the aquisition of a shiny new shortstop; currently the favorite option is Jurickson Profar - even at the cost of Oscar Tavares.
Now, enough ink has been well spent explaining why it would be a bad idea to sacrifice Taveras, so I won't repeat those arguments. It merits adding, though, that it cannot currently be argued that Pete Kozma is a liability. In fact, right now he has a better batting average, slugging percentage, and OPS than Elvis Andrus, Asdrubal Cabrera, and J.J. Hardy (all hoped for off season targets by Cardinals fans a few months ago). I'm not saying Kozma is better than these players, but I am saying he's probably playing better than them so far this season, and that's no small achievement for someone who many thought would be the living worst. If Kozma maintains a reasonable level of quality going forward this year, I think its seriously questionable whether a high expenditure trade (any trade that includes names like Taveras, Wacha, Miller, Martinez, Wong, etc) is worth it, considering the number of impact bats the Cardinals have in the lineup.
Nevertheless, in the longterm, adequacy at shortstop is not enough if the Reds continue a high level of play, as winning the division has increased in importance since last year. Instead of seeking a high cost alternative now, the better pursuit in my opinion is to find a way to strengthen the short term depth of the farm system SS position. In the process of over-focusing on Jurickson Profar's blocked state, we have ignored a very similar situation in Cleveland that has more opportunity. Cleveland is a team on the edge that is putting its chips in trying to contend. It has an established shortstop in Asdrubal Cabrera who is signed for the next few years. It also has the second highest rated SS prospect in the MLB in its farm system: Francisco Lindor.
According to MLB.com's 2013 prospect watch, Lindor is arguably "the best defensive shortstop in the Minors. Not only does he have an outstanding arm and well above-average range, but those tools play up because of his off-the-charts instincts and feel for the position." Despite being highly touted defensively, he also stands out as an impact switch hitting offensive threat, with decent power. Scouting reports describe him as having "quick, strong hands and. . .above-average bat speed from both sides of the plate and legitimate extra-base power. Currently, he has started the year in Single A batting .348 with a .423 OBP and a .945 OPS.
In many ways, Lindor is a more ideal fit for the Cardinals than Profar, both in style and cost. He is considered the best fielder in the minors, even over Profar, which fits with our ground ball philosophy. He also profiles more as a leadoff hitter than Profar, which is an area of the game where we could stand to improve. With the amount of offense we already have, it is arguable that another middle order masher is not what is needed at shortstop; instead we need an improvement in the table-setting department to get rallies started.
In terms of a deal, Cleveland may be a better fit. While still costly, as the 14th ranked prospect in the minors Lindor would certainly not merit Taveras in return (and any talk of trading him needs to be buried, so good riddance). Further, the needs of the Indians match our strengths better. Their starting pitching is in bad shape, both their rotation and organizational depth. It will be interesting to watch how their season develops; if they are in the hunt around trade deadline time, they may be looking fora boost. Depending on how much value they place on Lindor, we could probably score him for an MLB ready middle of the order asset like Joe Kelly or Lance Lynn. Even if another depth position piece or lower level pitching prospect was needed, I think such a deal would be well worth it as an investment for the future. By next year, this prospect will be considered the best shortstop prospect in the Minor leagues. In terms of cost, I think the thing to emphasize is that it we may be able to realistically attempt to obtain this player without having to sacrifice the valuable upper tier of our farm system.
Here are a range of packages:
Kelly for Lindor straight up. (see update) Long relievers are not hard to find, and with a flood of pitching on the way, this would be a worthy investment. Cleveland needs starting rotation help now. Cleveland would have to be in winning mode probably.
I'd love to hear comments on how realistic this seems. Strongest weakness I think is whether or not the Indians are in winning mode enough to consider this trade. However, it bears considering that behind Lindor, their #3 and #4 prospects are also shortstops. With their need for pitching, you'd have to think they would consider offers with names like Kelly floating around. This may seem like a to give up for a minor league asset, but remember that by next year, this guy is probably going to be AA pushing AAA as maybe a top ten ranked prospect and top shortstop prospect. He won't get any cheaper, and right now, he is significantly cheaper than Profar. With Kozma, we can afford to wait for him to develop.
Given the helpful comment section, Kelly for Lindor straight up is not realistic. I still think Kelly could be a valuable piece of a package in the only situation that I can see Cleveland considering this, which would be to attain win-now assets. Rosenthal could be put into conversation, as well as infield position players and pitching prospects. I still think Miller and Taveras can be safely kept completely out of the discussion, and if Martinez or Wacha were in the conversation, it would only be one of them, preferably Martinez.
I also had one crazy more blockbuster style idea:
Chris Perez, Francisco Lindor
David Freese (or Matt Carpenter), Trevor Rosenthal, Joe Kelly, if that's not enough, Tyrell Jenkins.
This balances now and future for both teams. We get a closer for this year and the next, and SS of the future. Boggs moves back to setup, move Wacha or any of the other young relievers we have ready up to fill long relief. If infield needs boosted for next year if Wong or Lindor are not ready, make a free agency rental. The Indians get one guaranteed back of the rotation arm now (Joe Kelly), which they need bad, Trevor Rosenthal could start or close in place of Perez, and Freese would be an upgrade at third with control until '16, and the Indians would have good years of control on two young possible middle of the rotation starters, both who have good bullpen flexibility. With their serious now and future pitching issues and SS depth (and yes, I think they have good depth at SS), I think you'd have to consider it, and they would offload Perez's large salary, which there has already been talk about.
I don't know, just another option. I guess I take the shotgun approach with these things. The commenting has been fruitful, Thanks.