How to Improve at Shortstop Without Selling the Farm

Well, we've made it through the first month of the season, and so far, the shortstopocalypse has not yet struck in St. Louis. It remains true that the Cardinals could stand to upgrade significantly at shortstop. However, this upgrade is not particularly urgent, both in comparison to the other issues this team faces in the bullpen and on offense, especially at leadoff.

A trade to improve at shortstop certainly remains a possibility, but any potential deal for a whiz bang new toy has to be evaluated in terms of how much we would lose. This team has potentially championship winning assets in its young pitching and hitting; is giving away 3 or so players out of Shelby Miller, Carlos Martinez, Michael Wacha, Oscar Taveras, Matt Adams, and Kolten Wong really worth it?

Maybe it will be. But it can't hurt to try some other options to strengthen the shortstop position organization wide first. Here are a few steps:

Let Pete Kozma Play

Draft More Pitching (Yes, Pitching)

Sign an International Free Agent Shortstop

Explore a Trade for Dee Gordon

1) Let Pete Kozma play out the year: Pete Kozma has not been a liability so far; he is still roughly league average thus far (better than Asdrubal Cabrera by a fair clip I might add). All those who would contend that one month is a small sample size--well, let's give him a full sample then. At the very least, Pete Kozma is playing us into better bargaining position if a trade situation ever came up; because of him we are not desperate. Further, he potentially gives us the opportunity to reinforce the high farm system or take on some other project options that may pan out and be cheaper then trading for a premier player. Here is a fair assessment of Kozma's performance so far...I agree, I'd give him a B.

2) Draft More Pitching: No the Cardinals shouldn't draft a shortstop. This draft class is particularly weak at shortstop this year, with below average first round talent and sparse pickings. It is deep in catchers and left handed pitching, and its not hard to find quality pitching anyway. The Cardinals should A) draft the best player possible and B) continue to focus on fostering the excellent depth they have in young pitching. If the time does come for a trade, any team is going to want one main thing from the Cardinals: pitching pitching pitching. If the Cardinals could score another Wacha or two in the first few rounds of the draft they will be that more able to sustain any trade that requires pitching prospects.

3) Sign an International Free Agent Shortstop: This is the better place to target a position of need, for two reasons. The Cardinals will be free to go out and bid on whoever they wish, without worrying about draft pick status and getting the best talent for your pick. Secondly, two of the top three international prospects this year are shortstops, at least according to this report over at SB Nation Minor League Baseball. Here are two scouting reports from their report, on Obipso Aybar-Lara and Gleyber Torres:

A) Obispo Aybar-Lara, SS, 6'0" 165lbs, R/R, Dominican Republic

Trainer: Jaime Ozuna

Age: 16.4 years

A potential five-tool shortstop with plus-plus speed (6.53) and above average raw power, Aybar-Lara is one of the premier athletes available for July 2nd signing period. Defensively he has the excellent range, actions, and plus arm-strength that has one former scouting director rating his defense as a future 6 or 7. He has a wiry and lean frame with lots of room to add muscle, and projects to hit for at least average power down the road. Aybar-Lara has a contact oriented approach at the plate and very good batspeed. He's an an exciting player with the potential to be a power-speed combo at the top of a lineup. Though he can play a little wild at times, Aybar-Lara brings a serious no-nonsense approach to every game. Aybar-Lara is currently being investigated by the MLB for allegedly misrepresenting his age. His trainers are representing him as 16 years-old, but some reports back in the Dominican Republic have him listed as old as 19. If the reports are true, he probably belongs in the late teens on this list, because even at 19 years old his tools are good enough to get a high six-figure bonus.

Comparison: Elvis Andrus

B) Gleyber Torres, SS, 5'11" 184lbs, R/R, Venezuela

Trainer: Ciro Barrios

Age: 16.6 years

Considered the top Venezuelan prospect in the 2013 class, Torres is a product of the Ciro Barrios camp that also trained last year's top prospect Franklin Barreto (Blue Jays). While Torres does not have Barretto's level of international success and experience on his resume, some scouts consider him to be the better overall prospect, due to his power and greater likelihood of remaining at short. Torres is a polished player with a high floor, and though he doesn't offer much projection, what he is right now is already pretty good. A smooth defender with above average arm strength and innate natural instincts on the infield, Torres is exactly what you would want in a shortstop prospect. Offensively, he has a clean swing and shows patience and a good approach at the plate. Scouts see Torres as being the type of hitter who could hit for average while adding 15-20 homeruns a year. Torres only below-average tool is his lack of pure footspeed (7.02), but he has much better range than one would expect from a player with that kind of 60-time. The Cubs are said to be the team most aggressive on him, offering a bonus as high as 2mm.

Comparison: John Valentin

Signing either of these players would have an immediate positive impact on our organizational depth at shortstop. I don't know much more than what these reports say, but I would tend toward Aybar-Lara, who may be late teens, in which case he wouldn't be as far off from being able to play. Additionally, I'm not sure what the status of Aledmys Diaz is, but earlier this year he was also considered a possible option out of Cuba.

4) Explore a Trade for Dee Gordon: Yes, I am aware of his performance last season. I'm aware of his defensive struggles, and his demotion to AAA. That's the point. Dee Gordon is a player with multiple elite level tools whose value has sunk as low as it possibly could. If there were ever a time that he could be obtained for low cost, that time is now. Depending on what the situation is for the Dodgers around the trade deadline, the Cardinals should at least put out feelers to see how cheaply they could get him--depending on the recoveries of some of the Dodgers starters, they could be looking for pitching help, and they're known to need 3B/Utility Infield improvements. From what conversations I've had with Dodgers fans, Joe Kelly could maybe draw some interest. This would be a low cost but risk/reward move--he may never live up to his potential, but IF HE DOES he is an impact leadoff hitter, a Jose Reyes lite. In regards to his defense: he has all the physical tools, a great arm...things just haven't panned out yet. Maybe Ozzie Smith could change that. If acquired, he should be left in AAA for the rest of the year and allowed to compete in 2014--at that point, we'll see if his disastrous 2012 was the result of an over-accelerated development, or an overrated potential. He wouldn't be the first player to find his true potential within the Cardinal Way.

Are any of these options slam dunks? Of course not--that's why they would be cheap. The great thing is, if they fail, the Cardinals are in no worse of a trading position to make the impact trades everyone likes to talk about. BUT: if they succeed (especially the Dee Gordon fantasy) the Cardinals solve their shortstop problem while keeping all those players we're loathe to part with. That may be worth a shot.

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